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The Refinery Review

Casey Gillespie has found the perfect place for lunch with mum

Written by . Published on July 19th 2011.

The Refinery Review

There is one question that plagues anyone whose parents come for a visit — where do I take them for lunch? The menu should be interesting, but not too interesting. The atmosphere has to be comfortable, but not too loud or trendy. Service and presentation has to be top notch because I don’t know about you, but in my book, unhappy parents equals a bomb of a weekend. After much research, I decided that The Refinery in Southwark was the ideal destination for a mother-daughter outing. Judging from the website and online reviews, it seemed I couldn’t go wrong.

We arrived at The Refinery around 2pm on a Thursday and the dining room was practically a ghost town, save one table of six men who were drinking pints and tucking into steaks and giant pots of chips. They looked like they were enjoying themselves, so we decided to stay despite feeling a bit apprehensive about the apparent lack of other patrons.

‘Beef was tough and had bits of grizzle and bone. The ramon-like noodles and salad were fairly tasteless. It looked prettier than it tasted.’ Ouch.

After about five minutes of flagging down a bartender who then had to flag down a waiter, we were seated. Not such a great start, but I was still optimistic. It’s hard not to enjoy the atmosphere at The Refinery — each table has an herb plant in full boom while the décor is one part industrial, one part shabby chic, with a dash of garden party whimsy thrown in for good measure. It’s the kind of place that immediately makes you want to go home and redecorate your flat.


I ordered a very tasty albeit boring glass of Aussie Chardonnay (£3.50), and mom ordered a bellini (£7.25). We were instantly wowed by the presentation of the bellini — it was served on a wooden board with the peach puree in one glass and the bubbly in another allowing the imbiber to mix according to his or her tastes. The fresh white peach puree was to die for. It’s worth mentioning that they offer a very impressive and quite extensive cocktail list with delicious-sounding ‘skinny’ cocktails, as well as tempting wine flights (I foresee a cocktail night with friends here). Anyway, onto the food. 

Mediterranean flatbreadMediterranean flatbread

We decided to start with the Mediterranean flatbread served with three dips (hummus, oven-roasted tomato and goat’s cheese salsa and taramasalata (£8.25). The dips were delicious, but the bread was a bit bland. While I would have preferred something that brought out the flavours in the dips, at least the flatbread was warm and chewy — and there was plenty of it. The dips were also served with a meal-sized portion of greens, which I found a bit odd, especially as these plates are billed as “perfect for sharing”.  Not a big deal, just a friendly observation.

Beef Thai saladBeef Thai salad

There were so many tempting options for our mains, that we took forever to decide. I opted for the grilled polenta with mozzarella, pepperleaf salad and tomato chutney (£8.95), and mom ordered the marinated Thai beef salad with egg noodles, red peppers, spring onions, pak choi, sesame seeds and crispy cabbage (£9.95). Now, with a laundry list of ingredients like that on the menu you would expect to be swept away with flavour, right? Not so with this salad. Direct quote from mom, ‘Beef was tough and had bits of grizzle and bone. Ramon-like noodles and salad were fairly tasteless. Looked prettier than it tasted.’ Ouch. Luckily, she was still impressed with the bellini and taramasalata to be too upset by the lack of flavour in this dish.

My polenta and mozzarella, on the other hand, was delish. The cheese was creamy and melted in your mouth, and well, polenta is a no brainer. The tomato chutney was… interesting. I loved the strong flavour of the first couple of bites, but about halfway through, the strong clove piquancy became overpowering. I’m funny about cloves as they remind me of the pungent clove cigarettes and a deadbeat boyfriend from college, so I’m not going to hold it against the dish. Again, the presentation on both dishes deserves top marks. A flat wooden board is the perfect backdrop for a dish bursting with colour, and the Thai beef salad was served in a paper take-away box perched on said wooden board.

Truffle friesTruffle fries

Because I have never been known to resist anything with truffle oil, we also ordered a portion of the parmesan truffle fries (£4.25). The chips were fat and rather lovely, but sadly, not all that truffley. A great bar snack, but not for hardcore truffle addicts like myself. We were stuffed as the portion sizes are very generous, so we ended the meal with a latte (£2.75) and a tea (£1.95), which came with a tiny, chewy chocolate brownie bite. Perfect.

A word about the service: This is not the place to grab a quick bite to eat. The waitstaff tends to disappear while diners sit and watch their dishes awaiting delivery. At one point I even considered getting up and grabbing our flatbread myself. If the restaurant was busy I could understand the wait, but we were one of two tables the entire 90 minutes we were there.



Rating:             14/20

Breakdown:      7/10 food
                         3/5 service
                         4/5 ambience


The Refinery Bar & Restaurant
110 Southwark Street
London, SE1 0TF


Follow @caseygillespie on Twitter 


Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: We get carried away.

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