BRUNCH AT DARWIN, SKYGARDEN, LONDON

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In three words: Stunning, Impressive, Indulgent

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The Lowdown: There is no doubt that Skygarden is a feast for the eyes – there is, arguably, not much of a better view to be had of London than from its 360 degree wrap-around windows. Well, now it has evolved into a true feast for the stomach too, with a new brunch that is reminiscent of the banquets of old. Tables groaning with all manner of delights great you as soon as your enter Darwin Brasserie – smoked meats, cold cuts, an array of jewel-coloured salads, artisan breads… and this is just to begin. Yes, the completely indulgent meal of brunch has been embraced by Skygarden and pimped to perfection.

The idea is simple and yet marvellous – three courses, where the starters and puddings are laid out in buffet-style for your pleasure. Nibble asparagus with feta, indulge in a spicy prawn cocktail, or layer beef with mustard onto soft bread – all washed down with the obligatory Bloody Mary (there is a DIY station here – a cause of much excitement). Then pick your main course from a varied selection of twelve options – ranging from traditional breakfast items (pancakes and omelette) to Sunday roasts. Still got room after this? Let’s hope so, because the dessert table beckons. Loosen your belt, sit back, and soak up the stunning views of London.

Darwin Brasserie Interior with view 2015 WEB

Location: Sunday Brunch is an event that takes place at Darwin Brasserie, on the 36th floor of the Walkie Talkie Building (that woozily bent tower bang in the city, on Fenchurch Street). Book a table, whizz up in the elevator, and wander through the tropical plants and flowers that add a splash of botanical beauty to the almost sci-fi sensation of being so high.

The Occasion: Perfect for a visit with out-of-towners or those that are taking a trip to London – they will be wowed to silence by the phenomenal views. Come with a friend who you want to catch up with over the languorous meal of brunch, or those that want to be inspired by the city once more.

Decor: There’s little need for much design here, since London is an ever moving tapestry that can have no equal. Simply appreciate the views of the Gherkin and The Shard, or play the game of ‘Name all the bridges’ – all this while wandering through beautiful clusters of fauna and flora. Darwin itself is as well turned-out as a private school class on the first day of term – crisp cream menus, dark wood tables, perfectly pressed napkins and competent staff.

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Atmosphere: Coming to Skygarden is wonderful for the pure buzz in the air – excited tourists, couples on dates of all ages and families snapping photos all mill around. Darwin offers a pocket of refinement in which to take a breath, relax, and succumb to a delicious experience.

Culinary Concept: It’s essentially British, seasonal fare served in Brasserie style, and brunch pretty much ticks all boxes, and includes everything that this luxurious meal should boast.

What we tried: When it came to the buffet, it was more of a case of what didn’t we try. Salmon with capers and a squeeze of lemon, layered onto white bread with a dollop of creme fraiche, started proceedings. We couldn’t resist fresh spears of asparagus surrounded by bright green peas that popped in our mouths, and the potato salad with generous lumps of salty chorizo added a lovely kick. The prawn cocktail with horseradish was just the right combo of sweet seafood with a piquant kick, and we thought we better add some fresh spinach for the veg content…

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For our main courses, my dining partner and I decided to cover all bases with both a breakfast staple and a classic Sunday Roast. The Eggs Royale was, unsurprisingly, pretty perfect – perky eggs atop a fluffy muffin and wafers of delectable pink salmon, which, when pierced by my eager friend, yielded to streams of golden yolk. Insert all kinds of jokes about an egg-cellent dish, please. I went for an item not seen enough on menus in my opinion – honey roasted ham. Slices of tender meat nestled up to crunchy green beans, a triumphant Yorkshire (no soggy bottoms here) and crisp potatoes, all slathered in a shining, almost lacquer-like gravy that pumped up the flavour of the whole dish. Both offerings were absolutely delicious, and we surprised ourselves with how clear the plates were at the end.

And so to dessert. Where to start! A craving for coffee and donuts was appeased (they have chocolate, raspberry and custard, FYI), and then it was time to make our own plate of mini-delights. Creme brûlée was indulgent, creamy, and still had a crackingly fine glazed surface. A chocolate and walnut tart with salted caramel was gooey, rich, and oh-so-decadent. The cheesecake was superb, with crunchy base and silky topping, while the waffles served with fresh berries and vanilla cream were actually one of the surprise favourites of the meal. And yes, we did eat all of the above – it was only pure lack of stomach space that stopped us also attacking the cheese selection.

Best of the booze: Brunch would not be complete with a Bloody Mary – or why not choose from a selection of three? Darwin offers original, beef and seafood (oh, and the virgin kind, if you’re feeling saintly). I chose the rich, flavoursome beef option, while my pal enjoyed the great flavour of clam juice in her ruby drink. We had a merry old time adding horseradish, celery salt and tabasco to our heart’s content. During brunch an absolutely divine Marlborough Sav B was quaffed, and make sure to pursue the cocktail list as well – it’s very good.

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For Next Time: I will 100% be coming again, and think it would be possible to visit every day for a month of Sundays and not get bored. When it came to main courses, I was intrigued by the Salt Beef Brisket with white cabbage, or was tempted by the lemon sole (but then hey, maybe I’ll just go full American and have the pancake stack with bacon).

Vegetarian Options: Vegetarians will be in their element with the selection of cheeses, salads, fruit, sweet things and options on the menu such as spinach and ricotta tortellini.

Overall: Sometimes the idea of a buffet-style brunch can bring to mind dodgy European hotels and slowly hardening croissants. Well, prepare to be ignited with a passion for helping yourself once more, because Darwin has taken this concept and reminded us why it can be such a success.

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There’s a lot of ways in which this establishment embraces contrasts and make them work. Yes, it’s buffet food – and yet is incredibly fine quality. There’s a fabulous selection, but it’s very decently priced – £38 per person for the three courses and unlimited Bloody Mary bar. The lush greenery that is so evocative of the exotic landscapes that inspired Darwin is the perfect polarity to the man-made industry that towers outside.

We left feeling full but not outrageously stuffed; completely satisfied; and with a glow in our hearts for our fair city, London. Bravo Skygarden – brunch has evolved to epic new proportions!

Darwin at Skygarden

@sg_Darwin

BOE Magazine

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Darwin strikes another bitcoin exchange as China’s BTER loses $1.75M in cold wallet hack

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bitcoin-goin-down

Another week, another bitcoin exchange hack.

The latest in the long list of breaches occurred at China’s BTER exchange, which has lost 7,170 bitcoin (valued at ~$ 1.75 million at today’s exchange rates) via an apparent hack to its cold wallet system.

The company is offering a 720 BTC (~$ 170,000) reward for information leading to the return of the stolen funds. The offending transaction can be viewed on the blockchain, meaning that the bitcoin ecosystem has at least some shot at tracking the missing funds and identifying the party or parties responsible.

The company issued a statement in Chinese on its Weibo that read, in part: 

To ensure the safety of other funds, we have taken technical measures to stop and turn off all the virtual currency trading in online wallets in order to do further checks 

At the same time, we plan to arrange CNY and other virtual currency extractions as soon as possible to reduce user’s concerns. 

Please be assured that we will not run away, we will assume responsibility for the user to recover the stolen Bitcoins.

The issues at BTER come a week after Hong Kong exchange MyCoin was revealed to be a $ 385 million Ponzi Scheme and less than two months after Slovenia-based BitStamp suffered a hack that cost what was at one time the world’s largest exchange more than $ 5 million in customer deposits. In late 2013, fraud by the owners of China’s GBL exchange cost customers $ 4.5 million. 

But if BTER’s own statements are to be believed, this incident has the most in common with the Mt. Gox debacle in that both companies saw their respective cold wallets breached – in Mt. Gox’s case costing depositors a staggering $ 450 million in crypto-currency wealth (based on exchange rates at the time of the breach).

The use of cold wallets, which are by definition stored offline and in most cases protected by extensive physical security, are meant to prevent this very type of scenario. Most modern exchanges keep less  than 5 percent of all deposits in their hot wallet at any time, with the balance meant to be safe from would-be hackers. For example, it was BitStamp’s hot wallet, not its cold wallet that was breached, meaning the exchange lost just a fraction of its assets and has been able to continue as a going concern (despite suffering a blow to consumer confidence).

One thing that all of these incidents have in common is that they occurred at international exchanges in jurisdictions that have little to no regulatory oversight pertaining to digital currency businesses. As I wrote last month when Coinbase launched the first regulated bitcoin exchange in the US in partnership with the New York Stock Exchange:

For bitcoin to “cross the chasm” it needs reliable institutions that users of all sizes and levels of sophistication can trust. Coinbase, in partnership with the NYSE and other major financial institutions brings a new level of sophistication and credibility to the market – even if many bitcoin idealists will bristle at the centralization and institutionalization. 

Bitcoin is, in many ways, still navigating its rebellious teenage years. As the technology matures and adoption grows — not only among online anarchists but mainstream consumers and businesses — there will be less tolerance for the type of amateur hour operations and fly-by-night founders that have plagued the industry’s first half-decade. But with several venture-backed organizations like Coinbase, BitPay, Circle, Blockchain, Xapo, Kraken, Ripple, Gemeni, SecondMarket and others seemingly operating under the full scrutiny of US regulations and the oversight of boards of directors with significant vested interests in their success, this transition is already taking place. 

The Coindesk Bitcoin Price Index sits at $ 236 currently, up nearly 34 percent since bottoming out on January 14 at $ 177 – a low precipitated in part by the above-mentioned BitStamp hack and the trial of accused Silk Road mastermind, Ross Ulbricht –  but down significantly from its all-time high of $ 1,120 reached in November 2013. Sentiment within the industry remains high, despite the overwhelmingly negative news cycle in recent months.

Lest you look at the above list of bitcoin hacks and conclude this is a technology that is somehow more risky or less worthy than the existing legacy banking system, note that the world’s leading banks were just hacked to the tune of $ 1 billion and didn’t know for months that it was taking place.

The rule of thumb in bitcoin, as with most things in life, is choose wisely who to do business with and know what recourses you might have if things should go wrong. This isn’t the first time BTER was the victim of a major hack. In August 2014, the company had £1 million ($ 1.65 million) of the NXT digital currency stolen from the exchange.

In the case of BTER, it’s unlikely that affected customers will get their funds back. With the latest generation of regulated exchanges, like the banks affected by the above hack, FDIC insurance covers those unlucky enough to be caught up in any breach.

It’s still early for bitcoin, meaning the Darwinian process of weeding out bad actors continues. At the same time, the industry is beginning to identify and embrace those good actors, who will likely be the seminal companies as the digital currency ecosystem matures. There are now more reputable exchanges and wallet providers than at any point in history. In the meantime, if you have doubts about your bitcoin service provider, trust your instincts and do something about it. This is one lesson no one wants to learn the hard way.

[Illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando.]

PandoDaily

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