“I feel a bit sorry for the Gherkin,” said Mike, who had correctly guessed where his second surprise birthday meal was as soon as we’d emerged from Liverpool Street Station. “Remember when it went up and everyone was really impressed. Now it’s just a little chubster surrounded by proper skyscrapers.”
He was right but also wrong. The Gherkin may now be virtually hidden from every angle by other
towering monuments to the noble art of dick-waving skyscrapers, but it’s still my favourite building in London. It’s so voluptuous and…ergonomic.
Also, the view at the top, at Searcys, is the best in town. Tables are practically pressed against the glass of the semi-circular dining room, so you have a little patch of cityscape all to yourself. And everything is so close. If Health and Safety didn’t expressly forbid the opening of windows, you could almost lean out and share a pot of tea with someone in the Cheese Grater.
The sommelier who mans the champagne cart is a wily one. Within 30 seconds of sitting down, while you’re still awestruck at the absolutely stupendous view laid out before you, he descends. Like a magnum-toting vulture. It actually wasn’t a champagne cart but a Nyetimber English sparkling wine cart, which was fine by me until I discovered two hours later that two glasses of Blancs de Blancs had set me back £45, an ambitious mark-up of nearly 400% on the RRP. Oy vey.
I suppose they have to make their money somewhere – that view isn’t going to pay for itself, and we were booked on the ‘Coastline’ pop-up menu via the inestimable Bookatable, which came in at £49.50 a head. A lot for lunch, perhaps, but not so much when you’re inches away from a view like this. Cleverly designed to face west, i.e. towards all the interesting bits, there’s some fun to be had picking out various landmarks.
We ordered a bowl of pork scratchings to ‘snack’ on while we mulled over our lunch options, because I wanted to know what £6 pork scratchings tasted like. The answer is: not a lot. They had the texture of Quavers, and tasted a lot of those supermarket own-brand bacon crisps that are actually suitable for vegetarians because they owe any vaguely piggy flavour to something synthesised in a lab. Like Frazzles. Except not like Frazzles because Frazzles are delicious (nostalgia has a lot of answer for, kids), and, moreover, only cost 45p a bag. The accompanying Bramley apple sauce, which was a cool, smooth, pleasantly yoghurty dip presented in a little jar, was quite nice, the kind of thing I hope they feed to me when I’ve lost all my teeth and/or marbles.
Both craving some actual swine-flesh, we plumped for the two pork starters, neither of which were especially good-looking specimens.
My pork terrine was positively anaemic and Mike’s pork pie looked like a horror story from a 1970s cookbook. There was nothing pie-like about it. But like casseroles, hummus and anything with lentils in it, appearances were deceiving and they were, actually, Quite Nice. Nothing to write home about, but good.
Mains arrived, and we were in business, because these were both excellent. The Peterhead cod and chips, a high-end riff on the seaside classic, was fantastic, coaxed gently into soft, buttery flakiness.
I chose the cannon of lamb with a square of what was described as lamb hotpot but was more potato gratin stuffed with pulled lamb shoulder, which obviously is nothing to complain about. There was charred cauliflower, wilted greens and a joyful, unadvertised swirl of hazelnut puree.
Unfortunately, it all went tits up at pudding time. It was like that morning the Head Chef had had a manic episode and decided he didn’t want to do puddings today, so in a panic someone called in their mum, who used to be a dinner lady. Now, there is nothing especially wrong with the stodgy ‘sweets’ that Brexit-types like to call ‘British classics’, but you don’t expect to see them on a fifty quid lunch menu. It could have a view of the bloody Moon for all I care, but for that money I’m expecting something I can’t make at home.
If I’m being a little harsh, it may be because my bread and butter pudding was indistinguishable from eggy bread, its only redeeming feature an icy bollock of lemon curd ice cream. Mike, however, demolished his doorstopper wedge of Victoria sandwich, which was admittedly both moist and generous jammed.
The bill came to over £170 including service, a pretty penny even to sit atop a pretty pickle, but if you want to drink in that luscious view at a more sensible price point there’s a fantastic menu on offer for London Restaurant Festival (with decent looking puds this time): two courses and a cocktail for £32 at lunch (or £37 at dinner). Just evade the champagne guy and you’ve got yourself a bit of a bargain.
Searcys at the Gherkin, 30 St Mary Axe, London, EC3A 8EP.
Header image credit: Bookatable.
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 Islington and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.