When asked to visit COLUMBIA restaurant, a nautical-themed restaurant set within a Doubletree Hotel in London Docklands, I wasn’t quite sure what I could expect. Had I heard of it? No. Did the ‘nautical’ theme, or the fact it was in a Doubletree Hotel, fill me with scepticism? Yes. As I walked through the brightly-lit hotel reception, where the carpets dampen every sound and all you hear is the occasional library-esque cough of someone awaiting a business associate or the sound of laptop keys, my scepticism seemed highly warranted.
A long, polished steel bar adjoins the main restaurant. A gloriously well-made Old Fashioned down, more bitter than sweet, and we go to our table. The restaurant has dark blue windows, exposed brick, and a lacquered boat deck for a ceiling. However, the ceiling aside, I see no further evidence of a nautical theme at all. A good sign. Our table has a wonderful view of the river, and of Canary Wharf across it. A good selection of beers and an acceptable wine list, and this place hasn’t made a bad start.
The menu is a limited selection of ‘pubbish’ classics, though all have little tweaks that communicate this is a chef with ambition and skill that is willing to show restraint for the restaurant's clientele in a ‘it’s been a long day and I just want a good steak’ kind of way. An emulsion here, a jus there.
The Szechuan Peppered Squid is a near-perfect balance of texture, citrus and heat. The Black Pudding Scotch Egg, with sharp piccalilli, is a little - how do I say it - meh, and not a touch on the squid.
My 10oz Rib-Eye is perfectly cooked, up there with some of the best I’ve had in London. Smokey, charred and further evidence there are people here who can cook. The Triple-Cooked Chips, a fad that shows no sign of ending, are faultless. The Spiced Cod Loin, with a mildly-curried risotto, is far too mild for my taste, but a lime emulsion and crispy shallots add interest.
Desserts - a Chocolate Pot with Hazelnut and Praline Brittle, and Sticky Toffee Pudding with Butterscotch Salted Caramel Ice Cream - are as good as they sound. Amusingly, just before I forget I’m in a Doubletree hotel, my double espresso comes fresh from the Costa concession nearby.
Truth be told, I don’t quite know how to sum up this restaurant. For business people and for tourists using the hotel, this is an excellent, on-your-doorstep eatery which delivers classic dishes to a very high standard and, considering the position and view, offers surprisingly reasonable prices. Would I travel here from Stoke Newington, again, specifically for this restaurant? I’m unsure whether it’s worth an hour journey. Would I recommend it as a place to stay and dine for business people and tourists alike - undoubtedly yes. It’s a find.