As one of the most recognisable buildings in London, 30 St Mary Axe, fondly known as ‘The Gherkin’, is a sight I’ve long been an admirer of. Since the bar and restaurant at this London landmark are usually reserved for tenants and members, it was something of an occasion to be sitting down to an evening meal with views that tower over London.
Having got through the airport-like security, we were whisked up to the 39th floor. The view is simply breathtaking, and we started to wonder whether the food could live up to it. The restaurant looks South over London, taking in the London Eye (which looks miniscule) and St Pauls, which glimmered like a fat nugget of history nestled in amongst all the lights below us. I wondered if the people in Tower 42 were looking back at us….
We had been concerned that given the restrictions on booking the restaurant, it might very well be full of suits and a decided lack of atmosphere, but we were wrong. The bar is a mezzanine level above the restaurant and the buzz of music and Friday night revelry floated down and lifted the mood.
Once we sat down at our table, the first round of tasters arrived: tiny little delights, which included boiled quails egg stuffed with mushrooms and rolled goats cheese. Our appetites were well and truly whetted by this early point, so we scanned the short but sweet menu. I opted for the Jerusalem artichoke veloute, with crispy mushroom tortellini. It’s worth noting that the dish came with its very own waiter to pour the soup from a teeny tiny jug. The soup itself was fabulously rich and velvety in texture, with the flavour of the artichoke and mushrooms providing an earthy and satisfying finish. Over on the other side of the table, a classic pan-fried fois gras went down very well indeed.
For our main course, I was torn between the halibut with blue cheese and pine nuts, and the lamb with a “pastry brick”. The waiter recommended the lamb and frankly I was intrigued, foolishly expecting an actual brick made of pastry to turn up on my plate. As it turns out, ‘the brick’ was a single layer of filo pastry, which was wrapped around the lamb. You live and learn! The meat was perfectly pink, melt-in-the-mouth gorgeous and once again came with a waiter bearing a teeny tiny jug, this time of gravy. My partner had ordered the pork, which came with white cabbage and Morteaux sausage. The pork was beautifully moist having been poached in milk, if a little overpowered by the smoky flavour of the sausage. The mash meanwhile, was some of the best I have ever come across.
We decided to go all out and have pudding AND cheese. I went for cookies and cream cheesecake with peanut butter and jelly ice cream, whilst my partner went for a blueberry muffin with condensed milk ice cream. Both our choices were based entirely on the ice cream factor, and neither disappointed.
When the waiter came with the cheese trolley, I nearly fainted. It was heaving and I’m told that they usually have more, but were missing a delivery. I can only assume that they have a second trolley for these nights. I asked for a couple specifically and let the waiter chose the rest. As a self-confessed cheese freak, I was in heaven. Hard, soft, blue, goats and a couple you had to chase round the plate, all coupled with home made walnut bread and crackers. Wonderful.
The food at 30 St Mary Axe was very special, but what made the meal for both of us was the sommelier. The man was nothing short of a genius at matching course after course with the perfect wine partner. Desert wine for the fois gras starter, calvados to go with the stinky bishop, and even a sweet amuse bouche had it’s own glass of chilled sweet red wine which transformed it from chocolate mousse to something extraordinary.
The moral of this meal is simple: go straight to 30 St Mary Axe and hang around the building, trying to make friends with someone who works there. Network, flirt… sing if you have to. Don’t be shy - just be confident that a trip up to the 39th floor of this iconic building, where the food matches up, is definitely worth it.
Reviewer: Tara O’Reilly