Dining up at the Sky Garden sounds exciting doesn’t it? A little novel? Darwin’s menu boasts being “inspired by the very best of British”, but in reality means they have no imagination, catering for tourists that expect British food to be bad, and will charge what they like (extortionately).
A prime example of somewhere relying on what and where it is, rather than what it does. The setting of the Sky Garden is also spoiled by this familiar airport lounge look with an underlying sense that they don’t want you hanging around for too long. Having to put on sunglasses as the sun sets in your eyes is also where the novelty of dining in a glorified conservatory began to wear off.
Darwin’s décor comprises of creams, pastels, greys (perhaps symbolising shades of clouds), and cute little succulent plants on each table. I liked the way the cocktail menu was set out, in that it would describe each one’s composition and then break it down into two/three of its dominant flavours, enabling (and potentially persuading) swift decisions.
Their wines start at around £24 for a bottle of white. With so many lovely and popular roses around it was a little disappointing to only find one on the menu and priced at £39 (2014). Our waitress was on the ball and everything seemed okay at this point. That was until our food came- at a concerning speed consistently through courses (again feeling like another “please leave” nudge).
To start I had the Ham Hock & Parsley Terrine (£9.50). There wasn’t much to the actual terrine, and the amount of parsley was depressing with only a few flecks. The sourdough bread served was over oily and felt more like fried bread than grilled. However, the sharp and fresh veg piccalilli that came with the dish was really lovely and packed flavour where the ham lacked. Altogether the plate needs more oomph and cannot solely rely on the pickle as its star.
Also to start, English Aparagus (£14.50)- not entirely sure where the price for this dish was plucked from (literally from the Sky it would seem, sorryboutit). Bearing in mind asparagus is in season, and the pot of sauce that came with it is basically made from cream, egg, and lemon- all relatively minimal costing. The dish was served a little too cold and verging on undercooked.
For my main, Cornish Lamb Rump (£26), and I’m baffled as to how the classically strong lamby flavours of the flesh had been utterly eradicated. The “aromatic” couscous was screaming with colossal amounts of cumin and the “ras el hanout jus” tasted more like just jus, which actually suited me after taste bud apocalypse via the couscous. On the plus side, the lamb was not stringy fatty.
Roast Chicken Breast (£17.50) – A dish laden with errors for me. Its fricassee of cocoa beans, peas, broad beans & rosemary- lacked even the most subtle of cocoa notes and its gravy tasted a little akin to my “ras el hanout jus”. Cold tomatoes were laced through the dish, and came served in a bowl. Confusing as it resembled a warm salad, but we didn’t want a salad- otherwise, we would have ordered off the separate salad menu. Whatever it was- this dish was limp.
A sad affair for the sides of Tenderstem Broccoli (with chilli & preserved lemon), and Steamed Spinach (both priced at £5 each). They both tasted rather odd and almost metallic. I did bring this up and was advised that one of the dishes was cooked in a steamer so possibly that is where the metallic-y thing is coming from. Oh.
Choosing from a dessert menu comprising of tediously boring dishes, we went for the Chocolate Pudding with hazelnut praline, and the Champagne Strawberry Jelly with pannacotta and lime (Both @ £7.50) To detract from the dishes plain titles (all I read was ‘cake & jelly’), it would only take a bit of re-jigging to sound a little more exciting. i.e. Hazelnut Praline Pudding / Lime & Panna Cotta with Champagne Jelly. Perhaps its over simplicity again is a reach out to the tourists.
The chocolate pudding was singed and there’s nothing worse than bitter, burnt, dry cake. The jelly dish was served in a martini glass, yes really. Jelly, fruit, pannacotta and a meringue which was literally egg froth with a blow torched top. It would have been nice to have a crumbly meringue to give texture amongst the different wet consistencies of the dish.
Darwin also has a cheeseboard (£9) on the menu with cheese from Neal’s Yard. This was probably the best part of the meal. Climaxes came from the Brie, the blue and goats. So if you do visit the Sky Garden and find yourself dining at the Darwin, I’d recommend you have the cheeseboard.
I must firstly say as I conclude, that the service we received from our waitress was consistently caring- she was wonderful. I can totally understand when venues and menus are designed with tourists in mind, so I never would expect five-star dining from the Darwin. But with high prices and low levelled execution you really feel like they just don’t care, reinforcing that going to the Sky Garden is probably something you would only ever do once in your life- tourist or not. Perhaps being on level 36, they have spent too much time with their head in the clouds.
REVIEWED BY: Jordan Lohan
ADDRESS: Darwin Brasserie- Floor 36
20 Fenchurch Street
PHONE: 0333 772 0020
PRICE: £££££ (explained)
TIPPING POLICY: http://skygarden.london/darwin