Does the venue need much by way of introduction? This is a ring announcer’s dream – it’s the Walkie Talkie. The London-melting. The Laser-shooting. The Chaos Ex Machina. It’s 20 Fenchurch Street.
And arriving downstairs, in something of an anti-climax, it feels mostly like the departures gate at Stansted. If you’re into security guards and the lingering possibility of a stripsearch then your time has come; if what you want is dinner then getting to the food feels a lot like work.
Work that’s possibly worth it just for a view inside the mammoth of a building, depending on how you feel about it. Among my friends, at least, opinion seems to be divided between people who think it’s an architectural treat on the London cityscape and people who think it’s a malign nugget. And then the people in the malign nugget school of thought are subdivided into the ones who think the obvious response is to shun it, and the ones who feel that the top of 20 Fenchurch Street is one place you can be certain that the top of 20 Fenchurch Street isn’t going to spoil your view.
In theory and before coming I was leaning towards the latter, but arriving in Sky Garden and attendant restaurant areas, it’s proving to be oddly endearing. Inside the building and 35 levels up, the aesthetic is less of an airport and more something which I have dubbed, for lack of it having any name that I know of, The Future As Imagined Through the Prism of the Late Seventies. I promise that what it lacks in catchiness it makes up for in accuracy. If you grew up on dodgy sci-fi of Logan’s Run and Blake’s 7 vintage then the white tiles, rising glass and curving chrome everywhere are going to strike a serious chord.
Entrance to the restaurant levels are through the bar on level 35, which is spectacular of view and, in keeping with the sci-fi feel, cold like a post-apocalyptic nuclear winter. Level 37, the Fenchurch Seafood Bar & Grill, is a high-end, high-up glass box of a restaurant, the innermost of concentric circles rising from the bar on level 35. It’s warm, almost tropical in comparison to the levels below. From a window-side table there’s an equally good view of the – distinctly Holodeck-like – Sky Garden below, and, beyond it, the outside world.
As you’d expect, the food is both excellent and, at the same time, totally subsumed by the rest of it – by the view, by the sommelier’s persuasive way with champagne, and by the way the restaurant feels slightly more intimate and slightly less corporate than you’d guess from the outside. We start with some unexpectedly brilliant chicken liver mousse amousse-bouches, then move on to roasted scallops with pork cheek, and a harissa-marinaded mackerel escabeche. The menu’s divided loosely between what you might think of as Food-food and Dieting Oligarchy-food; by silent consensus we’ve both avoided the extensive oysters-lobster-caviar sections and focused on the grills. My reward for this solid decision-making is a fillet steak. You can’t argue with fillet steak, and not with this one in particular. My date has venison loin with celeriac purée, a reminder that the food here is, regardless of the views, impressive in its own right; it’s also proof of his unerring ability to identify the thing on the menu I want but don’t know I want, and then order it for himself.
We manage to do justice to a quince and macademia crumble, which is excellent, and a less overwhelming chocolate tart, before we find ourselves with very strong coffees and not much to do but stare out of the windows. Which is, obviously, the highlight of the night.
This is a restaurant that is aimed at the deep of pocket and probably quite corporate in tastes, and it makes no pretence not to be. But if what you want is a venue that’ll offer you perfectly-judged wine and fantastic venison – and London spread out for you in the night like a twinkly, expectant lover – then you could do far worse than this slick, semi-futuristic treehouse.
Fenchurch Seafood Bar & Grill, 20 Fenchurch Street, London EC3M 3BY. Website.