The Gherkin’s 40|30 restaurant and bar
A couple of times a year, the bigmonster and I treat ourselves to a special night out and try to find somewhere neither of us has been to before. Last Thursday, that special place was 30 St Mary Axe, more commonly and better known by its nickname, The Gherkin.
Without doubt, the Gherkin is one of my all-time favourite buildings in London. In terms of architecture, it’s only surpassed by three other famous London landmarks that I love:
1) the National History Museum
3) The Tower of London
So when I received a special promotion to visit/dine at Searcy’s 30|40 restaurant, I jumped at the chance.
I don’t generally agree with the idea of ‘members only’ bars and clubs in London because I think it’s ridiculous to pay an annual (and expensive) membership fee for little more than access to some fancy (and usually overpriced) restaurant and a private bar. However, I’m afraid I let my baser, shallower side win out this time just so I could take a lift up to the 39th floor of the building that I never tire of looking at.
We booked a table for dinner at 8pm but arrived at 7pm so we could treat ourselves to cocktails at the bar. That’s really where you want to be because it’s the highest floor in the building with 360 degree views across London. Unfortunately, it was pissing down with rain on Thursday night so I never got a chance to take my own photos of the Gherkin from the outside while it was still daylight. I found this picture from Google images and it’s from this website: http://www.originalbuzz.info/index.php/2011/04/the-gherkin-skyscraper/
I was going to try my hand at writing a ‘proper’ restaurant review but then thought, sod it, most people will be more interested in the photos anyway .
So, our story below is really just a collection of random comments and thoughts which I noted throughout the evening. We tried to snap as many pictures as possible without disturbing too many of the suits around us.
In terms of the architecture, it was everything I’d hoped it would be and the bar is simply stunning.
Despite all the glass and metal in a big open space, the atmosphere in the bar is really warm and surprisingly intimate (friendly waiters too!). A table runs almost around the entire circumference of the room, with more tables scattered around the centre’s open space. We were seated right in front of the glass walls and by pure (lucky) coincidence; we faced south looking onto Tower Bridge and could also see where the River Thames snaked around Southeast London, just by where we used to live!
As for the food, it was good but I wouldn’t say it was spectacular. I think the service let the experience down a bit. We asked twice for butter to have with our bread (I don’t think they really liked the fact that we asked for butter) and it took about 15 minutes for them to bring it. As it stands, it’s only slightly more expensive than most London restaurants and while I’ve had better food elsewhere, I’ve also had worse in places far pricier than at the 40|30… anyway, here’s our take on dining at Searcy’s:
Getting into the Gherkin is exactly like going through security control at the airport. I would have taken a picture of the big scanners and metal detectors that both you and your bags need to go through but the Gherkin’s security detail came with exceedingly grumpy security guards and I didn’t dare to ask them for permission.
Looking out over our old neck of the woods, we were treated to seeing the Tower Bridge being raised to let a small Dutch barge through.
My blue blossom martini was divine but the best drink of the night was actually the bigmonster’s non-alcoholic Thai daiquiri.
We ordered spicy nuts to have with our drinks – these were so crunchy and flavorful and what looked deceptively like fried peanuts in their shell turned out to be rice crackers with a peanut centre.
The house’s special cocktail was made with champagne and called The 30 St Mary Axe. Pretty nice but that strip of peel is annoying. The bigmonster ordered another non-alcoholic cocktail called the Fantasia – great colours and looked fantastic but was a tad too sweet.
Now onto dinner… once we were seated, we were served firstly with some pork scratchings (my favourite!) which you dipped into the most divine toffee and rosemary-infused olive oil foam. Really, really delish!
The official amuse bouche was called the BLT– as in bacon, lettuce and tomato – the bottom layer was tomato jelly, topped with a bacon and onion foam and a sliver of tomato over which was poured liquid lettuce. As some of you will know, I LOVE amuse bouches and this tasted amazing! It was really palate cleansing and the tomato jelly was unbelievably moorish though I could take or leave the liquid lettuce. I am determined to get hold of that tomato jelly recipe somehow…
At about 8.30pm, the skies really started to darken and this was when the full impact of being up high in the Gherkin really took effect. London at night from up high is breathtaking!
For starters, the bigmonster chose the organic egg fondant, popcorn and sweet corn puree. Strange combination but the egg fondant was really good – runny yolk encased in a marshmallowy meringue. The meringue itself didn’t really taste of anything though but maybe that was deliberate.
I chose their famous pig on toast – it looked amazing and I really, really liked it, more so than the bigmonster did because it certainly had liver and other types of offal mixed in.
Unfortunately, our choice of wine wasn’t very good. We went for the Saint-Aubin premier cru 2007, perfectly drinkable but not particularly noteworthy. It’s not a wine I’d choose again. I wonder if that wasn’t a particular good year for the pinot noir? I’m no wine expert so will have to turn to my French friends for advice.
With quite a long break between courses, we were able to fully enjoy the view and spent some time building spotting, which became increasingly difficult as it got darker.
20 minutes after the first course, our mains arrived. Exmouth brill and Gloucestershire old spot pork belly for him, roasted rump of veal for me. Portion size wise, both were a little on the small size, his more so than mine but his brill was cooked to perfection and the pork belly was moist and tender.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for my veal. You’d expect baby cow to be sweetly tender but this bordered on tough hide with little real flavour. Also, we’d had foam this, and foam that, on every single plate and the foam fetish was getting a little old. A bit disappointing as mains go.
We were originally going to push the boat out and have both cheese and dessert but with time running out and a train to catch, we decided to just have the cheese plate and coffee.
I’ve come to really appreciate a good cheese board and the cart at 40|30 was superb. We both tried two cheeses we’d never had before, a morbier and an abondance, and they’re now on my list to track down because they were simply divine!
An extra pleasant surprise came with our coffees when a petit four cart showed up offering a selection of chocolate vanilla and peach macaroons, chocolate truffles filled with salty caramel and an array of sugared jellies. I wish I could describe how lovely these small treats were. All I can say is that they’re lucky we had to leave to get back to Waterloo, or else we would have stayed for another 3 coffees and further helpings from the jars!
With the taxi waiting in the rain to whisk us back to the station, I only had time to grab a few more shots of the building but my iphone’s not good at night shots so all I could manage was this semi-decent shot of the Gherkin’s outline.
If you ever get a chance to go to Searcy’s 40|30 , then do because it is genuinely worth the trip. I’d be quite happy to go again though I’d probably stay in bar and skip the restaurant. In addition to a great cocktail menu, they have substantial bar snacks to keep you fed while you take in the views.
The combination of the architecture, the surroundings, the views over London, the friendly bar staff and the food made for a really special night out – one that I will certainly treasure for many years to come. Hope you liked the pictures!
Lots of love