Tables with a view

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Londoners are getting high like never before, dining and wining with  aplomb at the top of skyscrapers, experiencing their city like never before. Until very recently Londoners of all classes associated such restaurants with foreign cities – New York, Shanghai, Dubai and the like – comforting themselves with the conviction that their own city’s charm was strictly terrestrial, best appreciated at ground level. This is so yesterday. Vertical perspectives have added pzazz and glamorama and Londoners are on a visual binge as they catapult themselves upwards for that table with an aerial view.

The 38-storey Walkie-Talkie, nicknamed after its curved and top-heavy shape, is an eye-catching but not obviously attractive building. For critics, its bloated appearance is perfectly suited to the excessive wealth generated on its home turf, the City of London, but there is no denying the pictorial extravaganza that awaits you on level 35. Stepping in here at night – the visual equivalent of a Taser shock –  feels like standing on the flight deck of an interstellar cruiser approaching a galactic sky station of dazzling proportions.

This is the Sky Pod, a vast café-bar space with views encompassing Tower Bridge, London Eye and everything in between. Level 35 is just one part of Sky Garden  and, architecturally speaking, there is a giddier sugar rush when you head up the stairs past the garden of indoor plants: a flamboyant and  arresting  frontal view of Tower 42, the Cheesegrater and the Gherkin standing next to each other.A View of London

A View of London

Ascending another flight of stairs accesses level 37 and Fenchurch Seafood Bar & Grill,  an eatery acoustically sealed off from the rest of Sky Garden, while below it there is the Darwin brasserie. Either of the two restaurants at Sky Garden may be your destination but it’s the journeying to them inside the building that you will remember.

Something similar can be said about Radio Rooftop Bar at the Me Hotel on The Strand. The tapas menu and the cocktails are a splendid delight and not to be scoffed at but before you reach the rooftop bar the hotel’s lobby has first to be seen; do not make the mistake of just gazing down on it from the rooftop. Moreover, sitting for a few moments’ contemplation on the lobby’s curvy seats brings into play the unique aesthetic of this pyramidal space. When you do reach the rooftop, apart from looking down on where you came from,  the sofas under the retractable ribbed canopy offer superb al fresco views stretching across London from Tower Bridge to Westminster. Across the street, a bird’s eye take on Somerset House and its quadrangle opens up, a sight rarely seen from this angle before the Me hotel opened its doors.

Given that Radio Rooftop Bar is only on the 10th floor, its perspective over the city is all the more satisfying but the need to go higher is strong and London’s first proper skyscraper beckons.  Throughout the 1980s Tower 42  was the capital’s tallest building – when it was called the NatWest Tower – and in the intervening years it has lost any novelty value  it may once have possessed. As skyscrapers go it is now London’s eighth  tallest and while it remains architecturally uninspiring its 24th floor is the setting for a snazzy restaurant, City Social, under the auspices of super chef James Atherton. The prospect of  good food and grand vistas is sufficient inducement to shoot up there in the exclusive lift by the side of the building.

The view while you dine

The view while you dine

First impressions are promising: dusk is approaching, nocturnal vibes are well in place with the low-level lighting and a witty mood is quickly established with a Damsel in a Stress cocktail that lists “hate mail” as an ingredient; all is revealed when the drink arrives but let’s not spoil the fun by revealing the little joke. City Social has a Michelin star and so one expects a sleek menu both alluring and finicky; hence, starters like violet artichoke with black truffle, parsely root and celeriac crumb and a dessert trolly with a choice of over 20 different cheeses. All suitably fastidious and all the more surprising then to find between these opening and closing treats a Dover sole spoiled by a citrus sauce that engulfed the taste of the fish.

City Social has London’s best view of the Shard – the tallest building in the EU but  looking unfinished at its summit, as if they run out of building material at the last moment and just buggered off – but before the airborne experience of dining there at Ting you should take a short-haul flight to the 52nd floor for a high-altitude drink at Gong. The fun of identifying buildings and bridges that lay below is best undertaken at a table in Ting, on the 35th floor, while enjoying  British ingredients graced with European and Asian touches: Dorset crab with mango, lamb from the Rhug Estate in Wales with erengi mushroom, free-range chicken from the Cotswold with a French sauce. Between courses there is time to look down on historic sites on the north bank of the Thames – the old Billingsgate Market, Custom House, the Tower of London – and take in eccentric architecture like the Gherkin, a mere 180 metres tall compared to the 306-metre-high Shard.

Minako at the Met offers, from 23 floors up, a panoramic view  that takes in most of the tall structures that  define modern London’s skyline  – Heron Tower, Shard, Gherkin, Cheesegrater, Centre Point, Walkie Takie, London Eye, Post Office Tower – but one that also encompasses Hyde Park as well as looking down on the remarkably straight  Edgeware Rd that follows the course of  ancient Watling St that the Romans paved over.  In the sky above you can watch planes descending for Heathrow and others  ascending from City Airport.

Feast your eyes on the glorious view

Feast your eyes on the glorious view

It’s a view from a north London fringe that allows you to take in London as a whole and Minako at the Met, lacking the celebrity status of the restaurants previously mentioned, is not somewhere you need to book weeks in advance to be sure of snagging a window table. The food is Asian fusion and my pal thought the spiced fillet steak was perfectly cooked while I savoured the serene blend of tastes in a Thai green curry. Tapas-style small plates of Asian favourites are also available for sharing.

Not every table with a view of London need be a potentially vertigo-inducing one and Eelbrook, in the heart of Fulham, is a welcome find for anyone seeking not a skyscape but a landscape. The restaurant, occupying the site of what was the park keeper’s lodge, is situated in a corner of Eel Brook Common and while some tables face New Kings Rd the seating to be desired is outside, benefiting from a pastoral aspect.

The interior décor has a clean, fresh look with a small lounge area and stools at the bar for enjoying the house cocktail; service is smartly managed by Junior while Chef Bret Barnes commands the kitchen. The British/Mediterranean food is superb — grilled squid, Armenian flatbread, smoked eel from Lincolnshire, lamb with exotic, North African touches – and you’d have to be cranky to find fault with any of it. To enjoy fine food in a neighbourhood restaurant while gazing out on  a calm scene of trees and grass is a sane reminder than the good things of life reside at ground level.Evening Drink Anyone?

Evening Drink Anyone?

A line of Edmund’s Spencer’s poetry from the 16th century – Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song – suggests a way of concluding this search for restaurant tables with a view. From high altitudes, the course of the River Thames through central London has an abstract appearance and the small amount of traffic on it is hardly noticeable. To see and sense the river as water in movement, head east to the grungy foothills of Canary Wharf and a table at the Scoff & Banter restaurant .

It’s a short walk there from Blackwall station through  a maze of construction sites but when seated in the restaurant the Thames flows calmly past the windows and occasional speedboats buzz by going who knows where. There is a clear view of the Emirates Ski Lift, the cross-river cable car service between Greenwich and Stratford that hardly anyone uses, while directly opposite is the O2 arena.

On a warm day, a meal at Scoff & Banter is best enjoyed outside on the terrace with the river tangibly close while you tuck in to traditional fare, like rib eye steak, shepherd’s pie, poached river trout, and consider a nicely priced wine list and artisan beers. You’re in London at ground level, far from the maddening crowds and 52 floors below Gong in the Shard.

by Sean Sheehan

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Glass Online food writer

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