THOROUGHLY MODERN MAN – The Sky Garden Brasserie

After fighting our way through airport-style security and ascending  a 36 storey lift, we arrived at the beautiful Sky Garden in the heart of the City. Although mid August, there was a heavy layer of cloud over London, but this didn’t tamper with the splendour of the 360 degree views of London with which we were met on arrival.

We had booked a table at the Darwin Brasserie for my 21st Birthday celebration, one of two eateries in the establishment, the other being the Fenchurch Restaurant which is considerably pricier and the more formal of the two. There is also a bar on the main level which is apparently frequented by city workers after hours. We arrived half an hour early for our 12.30 booking, which gave us ample time to wander around the beautiful two storey garden and take in the views from the balcony on the south facing side.

The décor of the Darwin Brasserie is modern and stylish, with a laid-back feel and a menu priced to match. For the location and the quality of the view from the table, the food is very reasonably priced. The attention to detail is extraordinary, a number of days before the event we called ahead to warn them of a member of our party who had difficulty eating certain things; to which they helpfully responded and made a special dish of the day.

The menu is simple but vibrant, offering starters ranging from Steak Tartare and Oysters to a deliciously simple Gazpacho and Tomato Salad. Depending on your tolerance to garlic, however, I would be careful ordering the Gazpacho! Recommended by the excellent and attentive staff, I had the Tuna Nicoise Salad for my main, which was perfectly presented and the fish exquisitely cooked. There was an array of other simple mains, including a perfectly textured Courgette and Basil Risotto and then some more hearty traditional options such as Fillet Steak and Fish and Chips (which we did not order but looked divine on neighbouring tables).

To satisfy the sweet toothed among the party there was a mouthwatering selection. I had the Crème Brûlée, which is a simple desert, but it was done to perfection with a hard exterior and deliciously creamy underlayer.

We had a fantastic day and the staff were attentive and friendly without being overbearing, especially to the older members of our party. With some of the best views available, and food to match, the Darwin Brasserie at the Sky Garden is a must in London!

More information on Sky Garden Brasserie here.

Written by a Thoroughly Modern Man, George Vaughan-Barratt.

Central & Co, Soho

Nothing about Central & Co is very special. A conveniently located, reasonably priced restaurant-bar in Soho with a buzzing atmosphere, popular for after work drinks or a light meal with friends.

When we arrived at 6.30pm on a weekday evening, the venue had a pleasant ambience but a few hours later it was too noisy for me. The modern, laid back design encourages guests to relax and it is a welcoming place to come, with friendly staff and good service.

The menu features a range of British classics, focussing on seasonal ingredients and produce. The drinks menu has variety and flair, though my cocktail was a little disappointing, pretty but too strong.

We skipped starters uninspired by the selection on offer and went straight to mains: British beef burger, Grilled Flank steak and a summer salad to share. Nothing was particularly memorable, an average burger with an excess of red onion marmalade and huge heavy chips, and a tasty but standard steak, a tad on the chewy side. The salad was an attractive mix of colours and ingredients with roast tomatoes, green and broad beans, radish and croutons with Ragstone goat’s cheese, and was a nice accompaniment to our meaty mains.

For pudding we bravely opted for the beetroot and chocolate brownie, strongly recommended to us. It was moist and a good consistency, an impressive recipe, though the occasional chunk of beetroot was slightly off-putting.

For convenience this restaurant gets top marks, but with so many great cheap eats in Soho, Central & Co just doesn’t stand out from the crowd.

More information and book here:

Balthazar, Covent Garden

The big bustling brasserie Balthazar has received mixed reviews since its opening a few months ago. It is a hit in New York so naturally everyone assumed it would be equally brilliant and popular here. It is certainly popular and when I went along for a lunchtime meeting I was astounded by the noise levels and general excitement. With so much hype to boost bookings, does the food even need to impress?

Balthazar New York serves traditional bistro fare from breakfast through late-night supper. The New York restaurant was opened by Keith McNally in the spring of 1997, offering a French menu prepared by chef de cuisine Shane McBride. Diners can also choose from an extensive wine list, a raw seafood bar, and breads and pastries from Balthazar bakery. The venue became renowned for its exceptional design, converted from a leather wholesaler’s warehouse to a spacious restaurant that can accommodate over 200 people in the dining room and at the zinc bar.

The London branch is similar in many ways. Housed in the old Theatre Museum, in a building called “The Flower Cellars”, Balthazar shares space with The London Film Museum. The restaurant is open for every meal and food is available all day long. The menu includes an abundance of fruits de mer as well as a wide selection of classical French brasserie and bistro dishes. The Balthazar Boulangerie is housed next door serving its own house-made artisan breads, as well as a wide selection of homemade pastries, salads and sandwiches to take away throughout the day.

All the usual classics that you would expect in a Parisian brasserie are available, we tasted the club sandwich and burger and a summery salad. The service was surprisingly efficient, considering the volume of guests present. Food was fresh and good but nothing special – of our selection the chicken club sandwich was the winner, tender and smoky chicken accompanied with avocado, bacon, salad and served with extra fine and extra tasty pomme frites.

Balthazar are succeeding in drawing in plenty of customers but I can’t help feeling that somewhere along the way they have lost the essence of France.

More information and book here.