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Level 36, 20 Fenchurch Street
Sitting beneath Fenchurch Seafood Bar & Grill on level 36 of the ‘Walkie-Talkie’ building, this casual and bright new venture has the better views of London thanks to its position further back from the Sky Garden’s dramatic atrium roof. The ethos behind the entire building is purportedly environmental friendliness, which may explain why the brasserie is named after Darwin – although a menu that includes the (increasingly resurgent) Knickerbocker Glory doesn’t suggest evolution. The list of straightforward European dishes includes a superbly balanced shallot tarte Tatin with a silky scoop of goats’ cheese. British beef, pork or lamb might follow, or a generously filled, rich venison pie accompanied by jewel-like, piquant mustard fruits. Staff are clued up and experienced, but now that skyscraper dining is no longer a novelty in London, the Darwin needs to boost the quality of its menu if it’s to become the natural selection of high-rise fans.
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Best restaurants for views in London
Level 36, 20 Fenchurch Street
Monument Tube Station 208m
Fenchurch Street Station 298m
The Walkie Talkie 21m
Leadenhall Market 117m
Mon-Sat 7am-11pm (Sat 9am- ) Sun 11am-6pm
Food & Drink:
Rate & Review
Food + drink: 2
Darwinian is the perfect metaphor for the London dining scene. Given the attractions of the city, the diversity of options available and the pounds in consumers’ wallets (a lot more, post-Brexit, for foreign visitors), only the best should survive. Even if you are lucky enough to have your restaurant located in a prime tourist spot, this should in no way guarantee survival. And, it is certainly hard to make the case for the – in this case perhaps ironically named – Darwin restaurant, nestled atop the ‘Walkie Talkie’ building. What is all the more disappointing is that while its sister restaurant in the building (Fenchurch) is a sublime experience oozing class from beginning to end, Darwin was if not quite the antithesis of this, then at least fairly close. Three criticisms spring to mind: service, food and acoustics. A failure on one of these counts might be forgivable; on all three, certainly not. First up, my comrade and I were shown to a table in the middle of the restaurant, sans view – which, of course, is one of the primary reasons for coming here. When questioning this, we were told that the tables with views had been ‘reserved for other guests.’ Since when was there a hierarchy in this respect? Moreover, the utter lack of contrition or attempt to accommodate grated at the outset. Perhaps as a way of atoning, the staff did show subsequent attention to our table, but when this becomes irritating rather than ingratiating, then there is a clear problem. How, for example, could I be expected to assess the quality of my starter after barely one mouthful? Not easy, but it didn’t stop our server enquiring somewhat forcefully and interrupting our conversation. Onto the food and a browse down the list says not cheap (a beetroot salad starter at £12, really?) and not really boundary-pushing (calling fish and chips a ‘crispy plaice fillet’ doesn’t disguise what it really is). Our starters of Dorset crab salad and maple cured trout were both adequate, but the main was a serious let-down. The roast Cladecott chicken with borlotti beans and girolles was a study in monotony, both visually and from a gustatory perspective. Furthermore, with but two girolles per person (in what was actually quite a large dish) borders almost on trades-description failure. Finally, if all of the above were not bad enough, then the fact I struggled often to hear what my comrade was saying owing to the poor acoustics meant I almost had to question why I had come in the first place. Maybe I shouldn’t have bothered.
Food + drink: 1
The whole operation surrounding SkyGarden is best to be avoided. From the rules-laden booking process to the minute details of the space, offering and atmosphere the whole thing is best avoided, especially considering the other great "high altitude" options in London. On our visit there was a huge queue to even get upstairs, admittedly a seperate one for people with dinner reservations, but the problem is maximum capacity which means that if the upstairs space is at capacity no-one is allwoed up. On a private visit this was bad enough but with clients it would simply not be possible. It also indicates the mish-mash they have managed to have with the bar/brasserie/fine dining three-tier "concept" or rather mess. Once upstairs the view is good, but the space is extremely strange and due to the curve of the Walkie-Talkie ceiling feels much lower than, the Heron Tower or the Shard (even at Oblix-level). Having followed reservation's and ground level "rules" there are more at the SkyPod bar. Diners around us had the bad idea of bringing drinks they had bought at the bar to the brasserie and while I didn't follow the details this caused a major management melt-down. Both upstairs restaurants have very basic problems before we get to the lacklustre food. A positive word here, in contrast to the bar and security staff, the dining-room staff are very friendly and trying their best often with a shrug of their shoulders indicating that they are all too aware of the limitations and problems they have to operate with. At brasserie "Darwin" level, the view is OK, but the table layout awkward and the acoustics nothing short of laughable. You cannot hear the waiters and poor them must be suffering from chronical hearing problems, this is compounded by (drained-out) ambient music. So if you have a client whom you don't want to talk to this is a hot tip. The food might acutally go on finish them off compeltely. That is they or you can find anything edible on the extremely "lean" menu. The SkyGarden itself is quite underwhelming also having different levels and then not much at all at the north side. Oh, apart from health and safety notices of course... Errr... Avoid.
Food + drink: 4
The view is totally brilliant - and the food is really nice, but the service is appalling. We booked a table for 1pm and only got seated at 1.30 (no apology) - then they are all over you in a fake manor whilst you're spending. Once you want to pay.... forget it - gloves are off and they just ignore you for as long as they can and then are plain rude. Would not go again because of this which is a shame as it is a great venue.
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