This week I had the wonderful fortune of being taken to lunch at Darwin Brasserie on level 36 of newly-opened 20 Fenchurch Street. Known as the Walkie Talkie, the building is nicknamed for its odd shape that cleverly expands at the top to create more office space where it can charge the most for it.
Suffice to say the building has not been without its share of controversy. From a forced scaling-down of height to preserve the London skyline (from 200 m/656 ft down to 160 m/525 ft), to a public enquiry brought about by heritage groups with concerns of its impact on the surrounding area, to the small problem of the curved glass sides of the building acting as a magnifying lens, melting cars parked nearby on hot summer days -- the Walkie Talkie has seen it all.
Finally, after a three year delay (blamed on the impact of the 2007 financial crash) the building finally opened last week. As you can imagine bookings are rare as hens' teeth so I was excited to check it out.
Self-described as "laid back luxe", Darwin carries the botanical theme through from the Sky Garden (more on that in a bit!) with potted succulents on the tables and cool wood and neutral tones throughout the decor.
Of course you'll be surrounded by city types, but don't worry -- the modern British food is so deluxe and the views are so stunning you'll barely notice. I could easily have ordered half the menu without blinking but settled on the venison pie + kale + curiously candied mustard -- all perfectly cooked and presented. Delicious, and I'd go again in a heart beat.
Onto the Sky Garden! Don't mind anyone who says it looks like an airport terminal. I can see where they're coming from however I found the stripped-back look works because it allows the views to dominate at every angle. Straight ahead you've got The Shard; look left and you've got Canary Wharf; to the right is St Pauls and behind there's the Gherkin. Impressive at every turn.
The garden is beautiful, stretching up over three floors, although it struggles to live up to its public park moniker as it just doesn't feel big enough. While not quite the "Kew in the sky" we were promised, it's certainly a lovely place to spend some time, and excellent that it is free for the public to visit (not like its south-side counterpart The Shard). I've heard complaints about the need for ticketing and security; but given its location I think it's understandable.
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