One of the first things you should consider when pairing wine with food is whether to mirror or contrast the bottle with the dish. For some people the like-for-like flavours of say, chardonnay and lobster make the perfect duo, whereas others opt to contrast with the crisp and bold flavours of champagne. Either are absolutely fine to do, but one of the big no-nos is to juxtapose great with humble or humble with great, and it’s a sin Darwin Brasserie is woefully guilty of.
Set in the glorious surrounds of Sky Garden Darwin is one of three restaurant/bar options in this famous enlarged glass dome. It is an undeniably great environment. The gardens are airy and spacious and the views are as breathtaking as they are accessible, with the panoramic walkway creating a much more immersive experience of London’s skyline than the ones offered elsewhere.
Overlooking the Thames on Level 36 Darwin is a rooftop all-day brasserie which claims to be inspired by the very best of British. If that were true its pairing with Sky Garden’s unrivalled setting would be an eye watering prospect, but as it is the humble food drags the experience back down to earth like a lead weight on a hot air balloon. And there’s nothing quite as sobering when you’re sat 36 floors up.
The evening got off to a good start. A window-side table for two was warmly welcomed but you soon realise that such a prestigious position means constant interruptions from the happy-snapping guests who were less fortunate in the seating lottery. A basket of bread and butter and delightfully marinated olives raised the prospect of a culinary triumph to match the surroundings, but it was all down hill from there.
A starter of asparagus with fettle cream and mackerel with beetroot slaw offered the first indication that “bland” was to be the buzzword for the evening. A glance around the restaurant shows table after table of people fervently grinding salt and pepper over their respective dishes to give them a semblance of flavour, but all the salt in the Dead Sea couldn’t rescue this level of tastelessness. Despite being pleasing on the eye both dishes were bereft of taste – a statement that should be stapled to the door of this eatery on arrival.
And the main course brought little joy either. The chicken milanese can be found in vast quantities in the freezers of Iceland – see “Bernard Matthews” – and the roasted stone bass was a tenner’s worth of decent fish bullied in to a mediocre main course with a big price tag. Not that there was much solace to be found elsewhere. Why you need cod, hake AND stone bass on a main course menu of just seven dishes is beyond me, and given what we knew of the vegetable quality the other dishes were probably best avoided.
You can forgive us, therefore, for playing it safe with the desert. A chocolate bar with jivara ganache and a British cheeseboard were promptly dispatched to the table by an increasingly panicky waiter who couldn’t quite fathom why the breathtaking view had not managed to blinker our tastebuds. But he needn’t have waited around for long. Two mouth-fulls and we had our fill of the place. A disappointing end to a very disappointing evening and yet more evidence to back Jon Hatchman’s long-term feud that stunning environs are not always conducive to stunning food.