Glass visits the best rooftops to look over London

SUMMER in London and a consideration for where to go for a drink or meal is the enjoyment of a view, preferably an elevated, outdoor one, with warm sunlight on tap. The tops of buildings suggest themselves and with this in mind it is worth delving into Belgravia for the resplendent Pantechnicon in Moscomb Street.

This building, the prototype department store when it was built in 1830 and restored after a fire forty years later,  retains its  classical façade with grand confidence. Pantechnicon Roof Garden is at the top and, while there is indoor seating, tables in the open-air setting are the most inviting, especially those at either end of the terrace.

Vertigo is not something to worry about as you are only on the third floor and although this precludes skyline views the top of the BT Tower is visible from the terrace; swanky apartment blocks characterize the scene from the other side of the rooftop.

The views may not be Instagrammable but the food is fabulous: hand-dived scallops prepared with a seaweed that endows them with a sea green colour; burrata and beetroot, on faddish burnt hay, highlighted with pomegranate seeds; ‘rare breed beefburger’; and, a triumph for the way every ingredient impresses the palate, grilled cauliflower with smoked hazelnut hummus, kale and rhubarb.

 Pantechnicon Roof Garden

When geared up for a higher ascent, Rooftop Bar & Grill has an agreeable open-air setting on the fifth floor of the Boundary Shoreditch hotel. Parasols create shade at the tables and with the drinks list featuring 14 cocktails it is tempting to stay for longer than intended.

The choice of plates of food is not large but perfect for sharing and includes Maldon rock oysters. It’s walk-in only on the terrace but reservations may be made for the glass-enclosed area and if you eat here an outdoor table will be kept for after-dinner drinks.

Looking down at the view, you see trains riding the rails between Old St and Dalston while on the skyline the Gherkin’s cone makes a modest appearance. The more visible church steeple, nearly 60 metres high, is that of St Leonard’s, an eighteenth-century church that stands at the junction of Shoreditch High Street and Hackney Road.

The church has its own line in the ‘Oranges and Lemons’ nursery rhyme (‘When I grow rich / Say the bells at Shoreditch’) –  should anyone care to break into song.

St Leonard’s Church in the background at Rooftop Bar & Grill

The setting of Skylark Roof Garden is not dissimilar to the fifth floor of the Boundary Shoreditch hotel but it is twice as high and, being situated in Paddington, enjoys views that are unlike those of central London.

The vista is a wide one – the Shard is visible but looking a far distance away – and takes in the green dome of the Royal Albert Hall before stretching westwards towards Heathrow. The ‘rail line’ that runs along the edge of the roof garden holds cradles for cleaning the windows of this ten-floor building and during weekdays the rooftop is used by office staff so bookings are only available for Saturdays and Sundays.

A DJ plays easy-listening house music to suit the mood for unwinding at weekends (as do the cocktail pitchers and eight kinds of G&T) and the congenial tone of Skylark Roof Garden makes it a pleasant place for relaxing with friends; check out the website for special events throughout the summer.

The food is appropriate, being designed for sharing: skewered chicken, calamari, vegetable gyoza with a dipping sauce and chips self-deprecatingly labelled as ‘posh’ (pecorino, truffle and wasabi feature in their making).

Looking westwards at Skylark Roof Garden in Paddington

It takes a 14th-floor terrace on Blackfriars Rd for London’s skyline to display some panache. The place is The Hoxton Southwark and Seabird, its indoors restaurant, is on its rooftop but a drink at least should be enjoyed on the terrace. Oysters – especially Irish and French ones – are a big thing at Seabird and they arrive, ivory-coloured inside their silver shells, on a platter of ice for gratifying slurps.

Views from the balcony need checking out: the towering vase-shaped No 1 Blackfriars (166m) is too much in your face, making the Thames a tranquil presence behind it; across Blackfriars Bridge, the dome of St Paul’s stands serenely as ever.

Indoors, there are more expansive views: the Shard, Canary Wharf and the Strata Tower at Elephant and Castle are readily identifiable but proceed with measured pace to the washrooms for more sightseeing through the windows.

The restaurant itself does not feel like it belongs to a hotel: the mood is informal, buzzing with chatter – moderating as dusk slips into darkness and the lighting dims – while the raffia lampshades and bamboo chairs make you think the restaurant’s ceiling could be happily removed completely and the whole setting gleefully transported to somewhere on the Continent (and especially so for its Sunday Sessions with live music).

A view from inside Seabird

Outdoors at Seabird in The Hoxton Southwark

London sprawls, investing its congested space with an intensity that is breathtaking when you ascend to the 35th floor of The Shard and the reception area for Ting restaurant in the Shangri-La hotel.

Some awesome views of London are available here, taking in structures from The Monument (61 m) to ‘The Walkie-Talkie’ (160m), five bridges (London, Cannon St Railway, Southwark, Millennium and Blackfriars) and multitudes of rail lines heading eastwards.

Inside Ting, views from highly-sought corner tables include the Tower of London and, in the distance, the twin Crystal Palace transmitting towers. My geeky companion felt obliged to use a phone app to track the origins and destinations of the planes criss-crossing the sky.

A table with a view at Shangri-La’s Ting restaurant in The Shard

The food at Ting is as glorious as its views and it takes some thought to settle on choices from between the main tariff, the 5-course ‘Experience Menu’ or their plant-based versions. The Jerusalem artichokes are wonderfully earthy – fully justifying the main menu’s subtitle: ‘rooted in nature’ is – while the Mapo tofu with spicy broccoli explodes in the mouth.

Down to earth and water at Serpentine Bar & Kitchen in Hyde Park

Desserts are accompanied by post-dusk scenes of the city’s landscape transformed by enveloping darkness and pinpricks of red dots on the summits of tall buildings and cranes. Back down to earth at an outdoor table at Serpentine Bar & Kitchen,  the placid spectacle of ducks and swans on water fringed by lines of chestnuts and weeping willows provide a sedate setting in Hyde Park for al fresco breakfasts and tasty wood-fired pizzas from lunchtime onwards.

The tall and ugly building on the south side of the lake is Knightsbridge Barracks, easily ignored if contemplating a postprandial sojourn  in one of the deckchairs under the trees.

by Sean Sheehan

About The Author

Glass Online food writer

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