Has anyone else noticed that restaurants around major train stations are usually duds? My completely unoriginal theory is that the guaranteed high footfall drives the rents up and only the big bad chains can afford to open up in those sites. Like many a weary commuter, I’ve had to succumb to their monotonous menus and eat their average food but only after I’ve checked that the WH Smith has run out of edible sandwiches, and I’m at the point where neither a bag of crisps nor a chocolate bar will carry me through. Once the hunger is gone, the seeds of regret start forming and my default position is confirmed once again; restaurants within a five minute walk from these busy train stations should be avoided. I will exercise better willpower next time, I think to myself.
So now that I’ve got that off my chest, you can probably guess what was going through my mind one Friday evening when I was figuring out how to get from the office to Counter in Vauxhall and Google maps told me it is right by the train station. Less than a five minute walk from the station, more like one. Sceptical? Yes. Intrigued? Yes. Pleasantly surprised? Also yes.
Located in one of the Vauxhall Arches, from the outside Counter looks like just another restaurant I would walk straight past… step inside and you could easily forget you’ve just jostled through hundreds of other commuters and narrowly avoided being taken out by a tourist and their trolley case. So far, so good. We settled into our booth and moved onto the wine and the menu; enough options for there to be something to please everyone, but not so many that you’re left wondering how the kitchen could possibly execute them all.
For the starters, we both immediately zoned in on the buttermilk fried rabbit with slaw and ranch dressing, and the scallops with fennel purée and tarragon; admittedly moreish fried nuggets of rabbit and the delicate little scallops probably shouldn’t be on the same menu but we’ll ignore this for the evening. Without a doubt, the rabbit was the better of the two – the tender meat was encased in the crunchiest of coatings while the scallops were a little overcooked and underwhelmingly anaemic.
Our mains were also a little chalk and cheese in style but both just as good as the other. A certain someone got his burger grip on and sunk his teeth into the Counter burger, a classic beef patty with sauce, cheese, pickles and fries. It didn’t have any extra bells and whistles which all the cool kids are doing but the patty was pink and the bun didn’t disintegrate into a sloppy mess – that’s two of my top burger criteria ticked!
Most Fridays we eat fish so I stuck with tradition and ordered the skate wing with clams, samphire and beurre blanc. I remember when my parents used to cook skate and I loved the scraping the soft flesh off the bones, it’s got such a lovely texture. I haven’t eaten it in years, and this reminded me just how fond of it I am; well cooked and well accompanied by the sweet clams and buttery beurre blanc. And they are generous enough to give you a whole wing… at a very reasonable price too.
A whole skate wing later, I really didn’t need dessert… a certain someone had definitely given up, but the night before I had seen a photo of the most delicious looking Mississippi mud cake garnished with brownies bits and I just couldn’t resist; that’s one of the negative side effects of having an Instagram addiction. It was as over the top and sickly as it looked, I couldn’t finish it all, but my goodness I gave it a good go!
Full of good food and wine, Counter gave my default position against train station restaurants a run for its money and proved itself to be an excellent exception to the rule. We will happily suggest anyone in Vauxhall in need of sustenance before or after their commute pay a visit to Counter, and there’s still the added bonus that once you’ve finished your meal, you don’t have far to roll yourself to the nearest station!
Thanks to the lovely team at Zomato for chipping into our bill, essentially they paid for our food while we paid for the wine and service, now that’s great team work! But as always, they don’t tell me what to like and what to write, all opinions are mine!