In three words: Stunning, Impressive, Indulgent
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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!