I’ve always thought that if Leicester Square is London’s bumhole and Victoria its armpit – albeit a recently groomed, freshly deodorised one, in light of its recent reno – then Canary Wharf is its prosthetic thumb. Grey, functional and conspicuously lacking in anything that resembles a personality, it is populated by besuited unsmiling types who, without warning, are prone to throwing themselves off of very tall buildings.
One such building is the Hotel Novotel London Canary Wharf, a skyscraper just lately topped with a triple-decker restaurant to rival City hotspots Duck & Waffle, City Social and the clutch of eateries perched atop the Walkie-Talkie. Bōkan, which occupies the 37th, 38th and 39th floors, actually officially opens on Wednesday, but as it’s only a few stops down from my new digs in Stratford, Hannah and I decided to nab a dinner reservation last week during the soft launch.
The space itself is stunning, with the all the architectural loveliness of its high-rise contemporaries but without the pomp of a place that’ll sell you a portion of chips for a fiver. The roof terrace, barren but for a couple of dedicated chain-smokers on a chilly evening, will no doubt be packed out come summer.
Cuisine is vaguely described as a ‘mixture of local, ancient and adopted British ingredients’, which as anyone who knows anything about British colonialism knows, is pretty much everything. There’s a lot of Italian influence on the menu – Pugliese burrata and spaghetti – plenty of painstakingly sourced British meat and some more exotic dishes, like lobster with green mango salad and orange & jasmine sauce. ‘Modern European’ here translates into ‘whatever we damn well feel like cooking’, but that works just fine. It’s a crowd-pleasing menu from L’Atelier de Joel Rubuchon alumni Aurelie Altemaire designed to appeal to foodies and ‘fussy buggers’ (my dad’s phrase) alike.
We begin with with a small glass of wine each rather than a bottle to share (we’re being good) and a vast quantity of tear ‘n share-style bread that appears unbidden. It’s soon followed by my sea bass carpaccio (£9.00), cut into delicate, barely-there slices and seasoned with lime and olive oil, positively devourable but not as mouth-puckeringly zingy as I’d have liked. Hannah’s squid and ratatouille (£9.00) arrived with the former curled into a meaty fist around a gob of the latter, sprinkled with something called spicy oatmeal dust and accompanied by a perfect dollop of saffron aioli that glistened on the plate like a fresh egg yolk.
We politely bickered over who would get to order the Rhug Estate venison shepherd’s pie (£19.00), but in the end I relented and got the grass-fed lamb cutlets, also Rhug Estate (£24.00), with a side of cauliflower cheese crumble (£4.00) to share.
The pie was filled with all those tedious cliches we use to describe the best kinds of comfort food, the mash extravagantly buttery and the venison velvety soft. That said, it is a dish that any reasonable cook can conjure up at home with the help of a slow-cooker and a gung-ho attitude to saturated fats.
The only problem with my lamb was that there wasn’t more of it. On flavour alone I could have defied the threat of crippling indigestion and eaten a whole flock’s worth, especially with the dish’s silky underbelly of pulpy charred aubergine and acid-green swipe of vibrant chimichurri.
There’s not much to say about the cauliflower cheese except that I sincerely hope I spend my final, toothless days having it shoveled into my gaping maw at the Happy Valley retirement home. It was so soft it could barely keep itself together, which is exactly how I like my veg: extra squidgy and slathered in cheese.
A shared pudding came by way of a chocolate souffle (£7.00), which tasted precisely like a chocolate-flavoured cloud and was well worth the 15 minute wait. (I didn’t like the salted peanut ice cream because, well, I don’t really like peanuts, but fortunately Hannah does so it didn’t go uneaten.)
I was really impressed with Bōkan – its food, amazing views, laid-back atmosphere, thoughtful pricing and amicable staff…especially considering it’s at the top of a chain hotel. (No offence, Novotel, but you are not exactly known for your epic noms.) The name means ‘beacon’ or ‘lighthouse’ in Old English, and against a backdrop of the Wharf’s aggressive soullessness I suppose that’s apt. Just get yourself a (window) table and try it yourself before the suits get at it.
Bōkan, 40 Marsh Wall, Isle of Dogs, London E14 9TP
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.