Does an average diner reach the same conclusions about restaurants as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Rebecca Seal and olive reader Michelle Lee compare notes on Fenchurch Seafood Bar & Grill at Sky Garden.
Rebecca Seal is a food and drink journalist and presenter on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch. Her latest book, The Islands of Greece, is out now. (£25, Hardie Grant)
olive reader Michelle Lee is an actress and administrator living in London. She eats out four times a week and counts Dover sole with beurre blanc at Corrigan’s in Mayfair as her best dining experience.
Sky Garden, a three-storey-high public space at 20 Fenchurch Street, is a jumble of gardens, open-air terraces, bars and restaurants.The highest, on level 37, is Fenchurch Seafood Bar & Grill – an elegant space specialising in oysters, fish and crustaceans.
Start with salt-baked heritage beetroot with whipped goat’s cheese and oysters, seafood or caviar; then mains such as whole Dover sole with brown shrimps and beurre noisette. If you’re in the mood for meat, there’s an extensive ‘grills’ section – order triple-cooked chips on the side. An impressive wine list has a good New World range, and Fenchurch also specialises in whiskey cocktails.
To get to Fenchurch, you meet a lot of Sky Garden staff: first at the airport-style ground floor check-in (with X-ray security); then as you leave the lift; and finally the team at the restaurant, right in the rafters on level 37. They were all charming, particularly as we had a sleeping baby in tow. We’d booked an early lunch, but were not hustled out of our seats, and there was no problem ordering tap water. *I wasn’t recognised
Service was excellent – discreet and friendly. We don’t drink but there was a varied wine list and a sommelier on hand. The bartender whipped up a couple of non-alcoholic cocktails for us on request. When I asked about the oysters I was invited to view the display and talk to the chef.
Unsurprisingly, given its prime City expense- account location, Fenchurch is far from cheap – the seafood platter with lobster is £60, and Iranian beluga caviar goes for £190/30g (the catering company in the kitchens, Rhubarb, also runs Bond & Brook restaurant in Fenwick on Bond Street, and the Gallery Mess at the Saatchi Gallery).
We steered clear of the flashier dishes. There are some delicious options on the menu: mackerel escabeche topped with a pretty tangle of cucumber, fennel and harissa was zingy and crisp; and sweet scallops came with earthy butternut squash and meltingly soft pig’s cheeks. Next, we had sea bass with gnocchi, cauliflower and mussels (pictured), offset by tiny pieces of tart apple, and duck breast, served with a slice of caramelised chicory tart tatin and orange. Triple-cooked chips were the best I’ve eaten in ages, and the puddings were, frankly, insane – a soup-bowl sized portion of creamy orange posset with basil and kumquats, and an oozing chocolate tart with gratuitous caramelised bananas, honeycomb and yogurt sorbet.
The cooking here is almost flawless, and the presentation beautiful. Our Lindisfarne oysters were fresh and salty, and a starter of soft roast scallops came with rich, tender pork cheek and sweet tangy raisins. Flaky, soft Cornish mackerel escabeche with a dill and cucumber harissa was a delicate dish.
My main of fillet steak was soft and juicy, chargrilled on the outside and light pink in the centre. Marrowbone shallot sauce was buttery and sticky, and a smoky roasted garlic clove on the side oozed deliciously. There were a few too many peppercorns at the bottom, though. Tidenham duck breast was tender and pink, and sat on a crisp chicory tart tatin with walnuts; but the dish was marred by a slightly musty, thick blood orange sauce. The macaroni cheese side had a heavenly gooey, cheesy sauce and punchy truffle crumble topping.
For pudding, a rhubarb soufflé was fluffy and filled with warm sauce and lightly stewed rhubarb cubes. Ginger ice cream gave the dish extra kick. Warm chocolate tart was sinfully dark, the pastry airy and light.
The bottom line
The really baffling thing about Fenchurch
is that there are very few tables with a view. Fortunately, as long as you’ve got deep pockets and aren’t a vegetarian (expect only one starter and one main if you are), the cooking makes up for this weird omission.
FOOD 8/10; ATMOSPHERE 7/10; SERVICE 8/10; Rebecca’s total: 23/30
It’s worth going early to see the Sky Garden and the city skyline. Watch out for prices though, and it’s not the best place for vegetarians. The restaurant has a slick, hard city feel to it but the quality of food and the service left us with a warm satisfied glow, so we’re likely to make a return visit.
FOOD 8/10 ATMOSPHERE 8/10 SERVICE 8/10 Michelle’s total: 24/30
Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) rating:
There’s lots to like here. Scallops which are hand-dived and Cornish line-caught mackerel was in season for this visit. The meaty mains eaten get a big high welfare tick too – the pig’s cheek is from free range, organic pork from Suffolk and the duck is free-range from Cornwall. It’s early days so, while they’re already very busy recycling, there is no evidence of energy and water saving initiatives. But there’s time to fix that.
Written April 2015
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