Tracy Ramsden samples the stunning views and classic British fare at Sky Garden's Darwin Brasserie
Vertiginous dining is something of a trend in London right now. It started with the now defunct Paramount at the top of Tottenham Court Road’s Centre Point, boasting 360 degree views of the city. Then in 2012 came Duck and Waffle on the 40th floor, and Sushisamba on floors 38 and 39 of the City’s Heron Tower for a livelier party crowd. So it didn’t take long for one of the newest additions to the London skyscape, 20 Fenchurch Street – otherwise known as the Walkie-Talkie for it’s distinctive shape and domed roof – to get in on the act.
Enter: The Sky Garden, London’s highest public garden, consisting of three floors of lush green foliage, starting on the 35th floor. It’s like a lofty Kew Gardens, a comfortably air conditioned greenhouse that feels a million miles from the smog and traffic of the streets that we left below mere minutes beforehand. You’d think after seeing a panorama countless times it might get dull, but thanks to the unique and vast space at the top of the building, the uninterrupted views are nothing short of spectacular. From the historic dome of neighbouring St Paul’s Cathedral, all the way to the green, hilly patchwork of Hampstead Heath, Primrose Hill and the iconic arches of Wembley Stadium, it’s worth the vertigo. What’s more, access to the garden is free, providing you pre-book online to reserve a space.
But of course, it’s not just about the views. We’re here to sample the menu at the Darwin Brasserie on the 36th floor, a refreshingly informal offering of classic British fare, with a fancy twist, at surprisingly respectable prices. It lacks the stuffiness of perhaps, say, Tower 42’s Vertigo 42 Champagne bar, or the formality of The Gherkin’s Searcys. Instead, it sits just the right side of laidback. The oysters and champagne give it that special occasion nod (go for the half a dozen rock oysters, £17.50, doused in tabasco and you won’t be disappointed). The rest of the menu is generous and unfussy. It’s tasty too – we had the Goodwood Estate pork belly with gooseberry compote and elderflower jus (£17.50), which was tender, moist and big on flavour. Rhubarb’s handmade beef burger, in a brioche bun with chips and slaw (£16.50) was also worth a shout for simple, hearty grub that hits the spot.
As we overlooked the snaking outline of the Thames, tucking into chocolate tart with malted milk ice cream for dessert (big enough to share but you probably won’t want to!) it wasn’t just the views that made this spot feel special. The service was impeccable, prompt but not hasty, friendly but not overbearing. And although in the coming months, Sky Garden is bound to become a haven for camera totting tourists (it already kind of is), the carefully limited head counts and rainforest vibe make it feel like an altogether more relaxed option than navigating through a throbbing Piccadilly circus on a humid summer’s day. Given the choice, we know which one we’d choose. The only problem is, a humble garden on the ground may never feel the same again.