Few, if any, London restaurants are best approached by water. And probably none has its own pier, with a boat carrying the name of the hotel that houses it.
Terrazza on the Thames, a summer “pop-up” eaterie housed in a former warehouse in London's Docklands, ticks both these unusual boxes.
And this makes it difficult to write a traditional restaurant review, which would typically wax lyrical (or otherwise) about the food and drink. It's good – more of that later – but that's not why you make a trip east of Tower Bridge.
It's not about service, either. This is fine – it's there, but not obsequiously so.
No, what Terrazza is all about is the third leg of the restaurant reviewer's Holy Trinity – ambiance. If you don't want to take in the décor, and even more so the setting and the view, then this place is not for you. If you want to concentrate completely on the dishes and the wine, then don't even bother with the trip to Rotherhithe, on the south side of the river in what used to be London's busy and – as far as most Londoners were concerned – very closed off docks. Terrazza is on the outside of the Doubletree Hilton, an hotel built into Columbia Wharf. And it is a double dose of “ambiance”. As the pop-up is a partnership with Bolla, a Venetian winery specialising in Prosecco and which wants to increase brand name awareness, the décor imagines itself in a carnival-time Venice. There are long, low comfortable couches on which to lounge and laze. The light fittings are Venice-inspired. And of course, you can take the recommended arrival by water.
Sadly, the background music consists of strictly middle of the road US staples. If you have to have this sound, what about Vivaldi, Albinoni, Monteverdi, and Gabrieli? Venice also claims to be the first city to have invented opera so there should be plenty of choice. Perhaps, I should blame licensing fees and the fact that Terrazza operates out of an international hotel chain premises. But if you want to be Venetian, then 1960s US Rock does not work. Back to the second “ambiance” - and one that is unforgettable. As you lie around, drinking the prosecco-themed cocktails – I had a “One Night in Venice” (£10) which was picture perfect served, a mix of prosecco and a generous amount of Bombay gin, you can't fail to be amazed by the view.
It starts with the towers of Canary Wharf, London's second business district built on what was dereliction. At night the lights are fascinating. By day (when we visited), you can indulge yourself in imagining the billions won and lost on each computer-generated transaction behind the glass walls.
Even better, is the parade of boats up and down the river. There are the rigid inflatables, red, yellow and blue, that carry screaming passengers at top speed over the waves (Terrazza is on a choppy corner of the river), there are fast ferries to Canary Wharf, the sedate tourist boats, many with dining, and the regular procession of containers of London's muck going to landfill somewhere in Essex or Kent. The ferry takes a few minutes (and runs every ten minutes or so). According to the restaurant website, it's free, but there seems to be some confusion over this with the ferry operators.
The food is “small plate” but the portions are generous, especially the cheese. I had a Brushetta, with three different toppings – all very good. And my partner had a Zuper Salad, which was also good. The Pizzas are small but perfectly formed – again with good filling. And everyone has to have the polenta chips. The venue boasts space heaters so that should be fine in colder evenings. And you have to be careful with the menu or other paper-ware as the breeze can carry these away unless weighed down. It's a different experience – and one that's difficult to forget. It's there until the end of September – and if you don't fancy river travel, there's always the land side into the hotel (C10 bus or taxi from Canada Water station).
Terrazza on the Thames at Columbia Restaurant at
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel 265 Rotherhithe Street London SE16 5HW
Nearest station Canary Wharf, walk to pier and take ferry.
Phone 020 7064 4464