The Sky Garden is one of the latest ways to enjoy a birds eye view of London. And it’s free!
Unlike some of the other tall buildings of London, it’s not a gherkin-shaped office block with no public access nor a soaring pay-to-ascend tourist attraction. You don’t even have to book a table for dinner and drinks – you are welcome to enjoy the terrace and garden area completely free, as long as you book in advance.
The Sky Garden is on the 35th floor of the building most commonly referred to as the Walkie Talkie, though personally I think it more closely resembles an old-school mobile phone.
We booked our free visit to the Sky Garden for a sunny weekday afternoon in March and marvelled at the views but didn’t stop for a drink or snack at the Sky Pod Bar, as all the available seating was taken.
Those looking for a full meal can book a table at Darwin, a brasserie located on the 36th floor, or Fenchurch up on the 37th, which serves a ‘British contemporary’ menu.
It was drizzling mid-September evening when we visited Fenchurch but the rain didn’t temper the glory of the views.
Our table, next to the windows at the West of the restaurant was one of only a handful to look out across miles and miles of London.
Other tables along the south-facing internal windows had their views almost entirely blocked by a large empty terrace just outside the restaurant. With the building’s glass roof overhead, locating tables out on to the terrace would be so much lovelier and make use of a somewhat pointless space.
We wondered if the original name for Fenchurch was 37? The menu branding seemed to suggest so.
Fenchurch offers a regular a la carte, a Tasting Menu (£70) and a vegetarian Tasting Menu (£50). The Wine Pairing for both Tasting Menus is an additional £39. With cockles and mussels both featuring in the regular Tasting Menu, Pete decided to order the vegetarian one, which allowed us to try many more dishes between us.
The bread was excellent. The olive bread and rosemary focaccia were superb in taste and texture, and very fresh; the butter was soft and spreadable, rather than fridge cold. So many restaurants give scant attention to these two elements so it’s always a good sign when they are given proper respect.
Although we giggled that the popped rice amuse bouche looked suspiciously maggot-like, the tiny nibbles were delicious. My crumbed pork was fantastic, Pete’s vegetarian one a little burst of flavour.
First course on the non-vegetarian tasting menu: Chopped mackerel, pickled cockles, sea herbs and oyster cream. I loved this delightful jumble of tastes, textures and colours. Soft fresh mackerel, sweet pickled cockles and the most fantastic crunch from crispy tempura bits scattered through the mixture. Lovely bursts of flavour and salt from the sea herbs. A super dish.
The vegetarian first course: Pea soup, poached egg yolk, mint and sourdough croutons. This was a beautiful soup; the essence of pea and mint, crunch from the croutons and richness from the oozing yolk.
My second course was my absolute favourite of the menu: Rabbit bolognaise, harissa, Berkswell and sourdough. Again, the balance of textures between soft pasta, meat which was tender but not pappy and crunch from the sourdough was spot on. Likewise, the balance of flavours between rabbit and harissa was superb, with the harissa giving just the right level of heat and flavour.
Second for Pete was Burrata, peach, grapefruit and fennel. The combination was given a thumbs up but the burrata was enormously disappointing, with none of the oozing creaminess that a burrata should have, this was far more like a regular ball of mozzarella and not a very creamy or fresh one at that. Still, the flavours worked.
Confusingly, my next dish was not the Cornish turbot described on the Tasting Menu but Dover sole with brown shrimps, capers and samphire and a single squid ink pasta parcel stuffed with scallop mousse and more brown shrimp. Once again, the combination of ingredients was very good, with sea salt and crunch from the samphire, acidity from the capers and a welcome oomph of fishiness from the brown shrimp but the dover sole was a little overcooked, giving it a texture that was on the chewy side.
Next for Pete was a dish very poorly described as Baked potato mash, sour cream and lovage. The description in the a la carte menu of the main dish version was far more accurate: Textures of potato. I loved this more than Pete did – he enjoyed it but felt it was more of a side dish, whereas I thought it stood alone rather splendidly. Potato was showcased three ways – a rich, layered block of fondant potato, a pool of smokey mash and soaring crisps that broke with a satisfying snap. Flavours were subtle but delicious. Pete was particularly impressed with the wine pairing for this course, a Tokaji Dry Furmint Béres 2013.
Goodwood Estate lamb, garlic, artichokes, basil and olive jus was a generous dish with lamb cooked four ways – there was loin served rare, another cut I forget, a meatball and a pulled lamb croquette. The garlic puree was a little too raw garlic pungent for me, but the rest was well presented and delicious.
Pete’s Jerusalem artichoke and ricotta agnolotti, summer truffle, hazelnuts and sage was one of his favourites. The dish was not the most attractive but once again, textures and flavours came together nicely. The tomato sauce was delicious but the fresh tomatoes were seriously under-flavoured and lacking in oomph. Our message to the chef – if you can’t source better tomatoes, take them off the menu! Critical sourcing of ingredients, and rejection of any which don’t meet standards, is surely a basic tenet of a restaurant of this calibre?
The two dessert courses were the same across both versions of the Tasting Menu. The first was Coconut cream, lime granita with mango and sesame, a gorgeous little pot bursting with flavours. Very intense. Rich and yet refreshing.
Last was this Glazed peanut and chocolate bar with banana yoghurt ice cream. I loved this! Intense, rich, sweet and salty peanut and chocolate against tangy yoghurt with banana flavour, this was, as we were coming to expect, a lovely combination.
Petit fours were a decent chocolate truffle, soft and melting in the centre, and a mouth-puckeringly sharp elderflower lemon fruit jelly – so sharp the waiter gave a warning about it as he served it. Pete liked it, finding the level of acidity quite refreshing.
Our meal at Fenchurch was certainly enjoyable and fairly priced for the City location.
The cooking was accomplished; most of the dishes were very well conceived and cooked, providing superb balance of textures and flavours, with visual appeal an added bonus.
It’s a shame the layout of restaurant and terrace doesn’t give diners the view you might expect and I’d have been disappointed had we been seated elsewhere – we were allocated one of just a handful of tables with a wow-factor outlook. Of course, you can enjoy the views by walking around the Sky Gardens before or after dinner but be warned that if you don’t get the right table, you won’t enjoy the full effect of the views while dining.