“This was never designed as just a garden, but the public have free access to the top with wonderful views across London.” Peter Rees
Sky Garden opened in early January this year and it was top of my ‘must-do’ list for London this summer and what better occasion to visit than my son’s Graduation celebration dinner. Located at 20 Fenchurch Street, unofficially known as the Walkie Talkie building, my dining venue of choice was in one of the three restaurants, the Darwin Brasserie.
It was practically impossible to get my booking finalised (five e-mails, six phone calls) but I like a challenge so not deterred by the somewhat stressful customer service, I was on a mission to achieve my goal (or get my own way, you pick the right phrase). Take note anyone wishing to book a table of more than eight people as you automatically become a group booking where only three course set-menus (three options with varying prices) are offered, perseverance is the key here and I got my desired A La Carte preference but it was exhausting! Let’s not dwell on the negative, Sky Garden, London’s highest green space is a stunning location offering visitors the most amazing 360 degree sweeping vista across the city of London, once you get through the doorman, the airport like security checks including scanners, one express lift followed by another lift or stairs (oops gone all negative again).
Darwin Brasserie is a cube like space on the 36th floor that hangs above the Sky Pod Bar, an all-day informal drinking and dining venue situated amongst the landscaped gardens. The restaurant is a contemporary but minimalist space with a natural stone, wood and glass interior inspired by nature and punctuated with containers of various flora. However stylish it’s not about the decor here, Darwin Brasserie wants its menu and view to do all the talking. I am pleased to report that the seasonal menu offered excellent choices and the service was faultless, our waiter was most attentive and jolly which counteracted the previous customer service booking debacle.
The menu is a mix of European and British cuisine with good options for vegetarians and there’s even a children menu available on request. Our party of nine indulged in various dishes from oysters to burgers, asparagus to steaks and I finished off with a rather delightful rich chocolate tart, all washed down with fine wines and beers of course. On the down side we were asked to vacate our table after two hours as new guests arrived, everything is booked in slots not an unfamiliar system in London establishments, but we were welcome to enjoy drinks at the bar not rushed to leave completely. Prices were as expected in London but not as inflated as you might expect in a new tourist location.
Despite all the booking angst Darwin Brasserie and Sky Garden were both memorable places, the perfect location for a celebratory occasion which I would recommend to anyone looking for a new venue in London. Alongside the all-day Brasserie, which is open seven-days a week serving breakfast and dinner as well as lunch, the aforementioned Sky Pod Bar that does great cocktails there is also Fenchurch Seafood Bar and Grill sitting directly above the brassiere on the 37th floor which is the most pricey and upmarket. The Darwin Brasserie expanded its menu a couple of months ago by introducing an all-day Sunday brunch for £38 per person that includes breakfast and dessert buffets as well as one hot dish from the kitchen, the full dining extravaganza with spectacular views sounds perfect, read the full brunch menu here.
In the modern large public areas that are free to visit (must be booked online and many rules apply) there are an array of tree ferns and fig trees sitting alongside Mediterranean and South African flowers in slopped lush planting areas of the observation deck. Particular flowers and shrubs were selected to work with the light under the roof such as the African Lily (Agapanthus), and Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae) peppered with fragrant herbs such as French Lavender and Rosemary. Large expanses of glass offer an uninterrupted view of the city from the distant Canary Wharf along the Thames to the majestic Tower Bridge and Tower of London right up to the London Eye and Westminster. On closer inspection you can spot more iconic London landmarks such as the Cheesegrater, the Gherkin, the Nat West Tower and the Stock Exchange.
Directly opposite across the river glistening in the sun in all its glory is The Shard which was my must-do last summer. Where Sky Garden differs from The Shard is that it offers incredible views without charging an entry fee (saving £25 straight away) and you are able enjoy a bite to eat/drink at the Sky Pod Bar without a booking (more going on here than the top of the Shard too). Both the Darwin and Fenchurch venues MUST be booked in advance. There is also an open-air terrace but we didn’t get to go outside on this occasion. Entry to the Sky Garden might be free, but spaces are strictly limited (many days already sold out through the summer) so visits MUST be booked online in advance www.skygardentickets.com. There are a vast list of Sky Garden Visitor Rules and Regulations which must be adhered too, read them here
The Sky Garden is located over three levels on the 35th, 36th and 37th floors of London’s newest skyscraper that has courted controversy from the off. Prior to Sky Garden’s opening, the concave Walkie Talkie building sat like a giant magnifying glass responsible for melting cars and frying eggs back with the situation getting so bad that the developers had to cover the entire fifty-seven storey glass frontage with non-reflective film (read about that here). Since the garden opened it has also suffered from bad press for not fulfilling its original brief and not complying with its building permissions to offer a free garden open to the public. In reality it does offer the public free access but with the requirement of pre-booking, has limited availability and tight security (must bring ID). It’s also much smaller than originally planned and does not have the public observation (non-dining) terrace that was a requirement. Whatever its issues I for one enjoyed my visit and would definitely return to watch the sunset whilst enjoying a cocktail!
Sky Garden is now offering early rising Londoners Sky High Yoga, one-hour sessions every Wednesday morning at 6.30am throughout the summer until the beginning of September. All yogis can then enjoy a post-session breakfast at Darwin Brassiere, with an exclusive 20% discount (must bring you own mat – find out more here).
20 Fenchurch Street, London. EC3M 3BY
Telephone: 0333 772 0020 (number for all enquiries including restaurant reservations)
Open: Breakfast: Monday to Friday 7:00am-10:00am and Saturday 8:00am-10:00am. Lunch: Monday to Saturday 11:30am-4:00pm. Sunday Brunch: 11.30am-3.30pm. Dinner: Monday to Saturday 5.30pm-10.30pm and Sunday 5.30pm-8.30pm
Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this page © Jo Brett 2015. All rights reserved. First photo used courtesy of www.standard.co.uk
Read more about Sky Garden here