The restaurant: Darwin Brasserie, Level 36, Sky Garden, 20 Philpot Lane, London EC3M 8AF
Sky Garden is a date place. A second or third date place for Londoners, a special occasion date for out-of-towners. And a tourist hub for those who know better than to go up the Shard. It isn’t the sort of place you’d think to book your family in for lunch. I’m here to explain why Sky Garden’s Darwin Brasserie is a viable option for a pleasant family outing.
Book into the Darwin Brasserie late afternoon or early evening. The tourists have almost dispersed and the cocktail crowd haven’t yet convened around the Sky Pod bar. Skip out of the elevator past the lower bar and dip straight into the restaurant. It’s much calmer. You can enjoy the view and with the convenience and amenities of a restaurant: chairs, food and booze. The view from the lower Sky Pod bar is much better than that from the Darwin Brasserie, and the Fenchurch Grill above it. The Guardian’s architecture blogger hates it: ‘The more you pay, the worse the view’ he says. He’s right. But there’s an opportunity to enjoy the 360 views from the Sky Garden before and after lunch. My apprehension of visiting the Darwin Brasserie wasn’t the quality of the view but rather the care that goes into the food and service. If you’re dining overlooking a tremendous city, the experience should be enjoyable, regardless of whether the food is top-notch.
We were whisked to table 217. ‘The best seat in the house,’ the host noted just within my earshot. It was a table shunted off in the corner that had gained its prestige because you and your partner look out into different compass directions. I peered down at St Pauls, while my pal looked Shard-side, south of the river. Yet, from that table you can’t see the Shard because it’s obscured by the steelwork holding the Sky Garden together. With that, I don’t believe there’s a best seat in the house. It all depends on what you fancy looking at — and there’s always plenty to look at.
The food is gastro-pub grub, for both children and adults. There are dizzying hints of haute cuisine, but everything is served with a dollop of mayo so you know even at a height, burger and chips is still burger and chips. Except this time it’s confit duck with truffle mayo and red onion chutney. Very easy on the truffle, very heavy on the mayo. Elsewhere on the menu you’ll get lamp rump, sirloin steak, Caesar salad, and roast fish. For the kids: beef burgers, roast chicken, and penne pasta, followed by ice cream. Everyone is content.
The kids’ menu, complete with colouring page and word-search, is a new addition to Darwin. The moment you see a menu for the little ones, you know they’re going to be welcomed and looked after. No need to call up the restaurant and enquire if they’re make smaller versions of adult meals or if kids are kicked out before a certain time, it’s all confirmed here.
The service is efficient and streamlined. We realised this is because clock starts ticking as soon as you enter Darwin Brasserie. Everyone has an hour and a half in the restaurant. Don’t fiddle about with olives or cocktails — there won’t be time. There is plenty of time for two courses, but I felt three was a push. We ordered Darwin’s bespoke smoked negroni, a delicious smoky, sticky, almost tobacco flavoured aperitif. You’ll likely have to enjoy this with your starter, so choose your cocktail well. My advice here would be a skip straight to the wine list. The cocktails are good, but perhaps better taken as digestifs at the Sky Pod bar after dinner, where there is more time to relax.
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For starter was crab on toast. It came with pickled shallots and spiced brown butter – pleasant quality and very simple. For main, I chose the duck burger. It felt more in line with the all-day brasserie feel that the restaurant aim towards. The confit burger came with an egg slapped on top, and chips with mayo on the side. The serving was generous and filling.
Dessert was my favourite part. Darwin Brasserie has taught me that a lemon tart can be many things, as well as a lemon tart. It’s a lemon sorbet, a chocolate crunch brownie, a mascarpone cheese, and a mushy lemon marshmallow meringue, all fantastically collected together on one dessert plate.
Spun into one great experience, Darwin Brasserie is worth riding up to the 36th floor. Make it a brilliant day out with the family. Enjoy the cityscape novelty, the deliciously welcoming brasserie atmosphere, and spending some quality family time dining somewhere where a bit different.
To book visit the Sky Garden website here.