Wednesday, 27 May 2015
Fenchurch Seafood Bar & Grill, the City
Despite coming from a family of visual artists, I do not have much of an aesthetic eye; most art in galleries is lost on me, and I've never knowingly gone out of my way to offer an opinion one way or another on a paint scheme or wallpaper print or any of those other things that people seem spend inexplicably vast chunks of their lives fretting endlessly over instead of just getting on with important things like eating.
So probably because of this missing part of my brain, when it comes to tall buildings, I'm very rarely offended. I liked the Gherkin, but then so does everyone; it's a wonderful thing, soft and organic (and ever-so-slightly risqué), an instant comfortable classic of the London skyline since it opened a decade ago. And I also liked the Shard - bold, futuristic, vaguely terrifying, following you around London like the Mona Lisa's eyes, wherever you happen to be and whether you like it or not. And now, at the risk of sounding like a complete pleb, I even quite like the Walkie Talkie. I like the way it defies gravity, splaying out ridiculously towards the top, and I like the idea of a sky garden, something I'd been patiently waiting for since seeing Empire Strikes Back as a kid.
Mainly, though, I like the Walkie Talkie because its flagship restaurant, Fenchurch Bar & Grill, housed in a cosy pod overlooking the bustle of the sky garden itself, is really rather lovely indeed. I don't know why I should continue to be surprised when restaurants in skyscrapers turn out to be good; since Galvin @ Windows, Hutong, Duck & Waffle and Sushisamba, the Curse of the Tall Restaurant has surely long been broken. And here is another to count amongst that number, where slick service and impressive food are accompanied with views that would be a reason to visit alone.
Given what followed, I'll forgive them the first mis-step of a bland amuse. But then given what followed, that they saw fit to serve it makes even less sense. A teeny pot of decent truffled goat's thing is one thing - ordinary but pleasant - but why serve it with horrible unseasoned, fridge-cold, mushy carrots? Anyway, moving on.
From a pretty tempting 'Vegetarian' menu came "Asparagus, crispy egg, hollandaise", pretty as a picture (though what would I know) and full of the joys of early summer. The grilled asparagus stalks came in green and white varieties, and the egg had been perfectly poached. More than that you could hardly ask for, but some little bits of toasted seeds provided crunch. Even the watercress draped on top (which I'd usually dismiss as unneccessary) was, like the staff, immaculately dressed.
The only real problem with the Tartare of Mackerel (with cockles, sea herbs & oyster cream) was that if something is presented in a scallop shell, I'd generally expect it to contain at least some scallop. But that aside, it was a super little seafood starter, the smooth mackerel and sweet flavour bombs of cockles combining to marvellous effect. Not a vast amount of food for £11 perhaps, but balanced and easily enjoyed.
Whole Dover Sole, dressed in seaweed (I think) butter, brown shrimps & samphire was literally faultless. The bright-white meat lifted off the bone in huge, solid chunks, the shrimps & samphire made tasteful extra notes of the sea, and even the price - £36 - seems incredibly reasonable when you consider Scott's in Mayfair do the same for £50 and the only view you'll have there is the back of some C-lister's head. This one dish makes about as good a case for making a booking in the Sky Garden as I can think of, it really was quite something.
The steak, sadly, didn't quite live up to the fish. Though accurately cooked, I'm always going to miss the thick dark crust of meat cooked with a bit more intensity - in a Josper grill, for example, or even just over coals. If Fenchurch are using such a grill then they need to be a bit more brave with the temperatures. It had a decent flavour, but the texture was a bit sad and flabby. Having said that, a mini pot of truffle macaroni cheese was good enough to have me groaning out loud quite embarrassingly, and the bone marrow sauce was top notch as well.
Little did we know, however, that best was yet to come. Both of the desserts at Fenchurch were exceptional; the work of a supremely talented pastry chef who (we later discovered) used to work for Simon Rogan at Fera. But even Rogan would have his work cut out to top first this, a "Caramelised chocolate puff pastry" where the finest cocoa, banana and passionfruit were combined to dazzling effect...
...and then "Strawberry doughnuts, buttermilk, lime ice cream & honeycomb", a tempting enough description but which goes hardly any way at all to describe the joy of the colours, flavours and textures of this dessert. I can barely remember a better end to a meal, which I realise may sound like hyberbole due to the relatively "familiar" ingredients but the care given to each element, the balance of citrus, sugar and dairy, shows the hand of a true expert.
In fact, before I do spill over into embarrassing babble, perhaps I should stop. Obviously, I had a great time up at the top of the Walkie Talkie, but as with any of these invites, I've since had to stop and consider if I'd being paying for it myself, would I have been quite so enthusiastic. I'm kicking myself for not asking for a "fake bill", but I think with the wine we had (and I do recommend asking the sommelier for advice, who was a delight) could have pushed the bill to about £100/head. But you know what, I would have paid it and I will go back and I'm entirely convinced Fenchurch is great. Painting, sculpture, skyscrapers, get someone else's opinion. But I'm pretty sure I know a good restaurant when I see one.
Photos by Hannah. I was invited to review Fenchurch Seafood Bar & Grill. There's every chance this restaurant will make the next version of the app. Meantime, if you haven't yet, download it yourself to find other amazing places to eat in London.