Londoners just love to get high. So much so that all available slots to visit the newly opened Sky Garden at the top of the Walkie Talkie have been snapped up until March.
If you don’t want to wait until then to see the vistas from Fenchurch Street — and what is being billed London’s newest public park — then your best bet is to do what we did and make a reservation at one of the Sky Garden’s three restaurants.
We ate at one, had a drink at another and scoped out the whole joint in order to bring you the full lowdown on the Sky Garden.
When you enter the building, be prepared for airport-style security before a lift whizzes you up to the 35th floor. This means you’re not allowed more than 100ml of liquid unless it’s either baby food or medication — but the security staff were pretty sensible when it came to the likes of make-up and aftershaves.
Let’s cut straight to the chase — this is probably why you’re visiting. The Sky Garden’s main level is a large, spacious area dotted with tables and sofas. There’s deliberately little to get in the way of the striking 360 degree views, which has led some to suggest it looks a bit like an airport terminal — but don’t listen too much to the cynics, we’ve never been as wowed on entering Heathrow as we were here. When you first arrive you’ll find yourself eye-to-eye with The Shard and peering down on HMS Belfast, but the best bit is around the ‘back’, where staircases take you up to the 36th floor and the Sky Garden’s more gardeny parts, along with up-close views of Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, The Gherkin and The Cheesegrater. Calling the space a public park risks being a little bit over-the-top, but there are plenty of plants, pathways through beds filled with overhanging ferns and even little seating spaces in ‘clearings’. Add a carefully chosen soundtrack of ethereal atmospheric music and you have a pretty special atmosphere.
If you’re looking to reserve a space at one of the Sky Garden’s restaurants, you have three options.
The Sky Pod is on level 35, and is more of a kiosk than a restaurant. It’s open from breakfast through to dinner, serving well-priced snacks and platters — sandwiches start at £4 — along with cocktails, wines and beers. Dinner slots here seem to be fully booked well into next month, which is probably because it’s the cheapest way to get up to the Sky Garden, as there’s no commitment to having a full meal.
A level up is the Darwin Brasserie, where we ate. Peak time slots are filling up, but currently you can still get tables here within the week. This restaurant is set right at the front of the space overlooking the river, and probably boasts the Sky Garden’s best views. The menu is relatively moderately priced, with the cheapest mains (club sandwiches) costing around a tenner. We splashed out on slightly more expensive options but were very impressed with the quality — this is serious cooking rather than tourist attraction fodder. A large king prawn cocktail decked out with quail eggs and a Bloody Mary sauce (£13.50) made an indulgent starter, while a venison pie (£18) boasting a flaky pastry crust, rich gravy and tender, robustly gamey-flavoured meat was a hearty and satisfying main. A wobbly and seriously citrusy lemon tart (£7.50) made for a classy pud and also allowed us to linger long enough by the window to see London light up as night fell.
The third dining option, one further flight of stairs up, is the Fenchurch Seafood Bar & Grill on level 37. This looked pretty empty when we visited, so could turn out to be the easiest place to get a table — but given it specialises in oysters, seafood platters and caviar, it doesn’t take much for it to get pretty pricey. It’s set much further back from the windows than the Darwin Brasserie, so views aren’t quite as good either.
The Sky Garden blows The Shard out of the water. There, we said it. The Walkie Talkie may not be the most popular silhouette on the skyline, but that doesn’t matter when you’re at the top, as it’s pretty much the only thing in London that you can’t see. It’s known as the building ‘with more up top’ and that really shows in the space there is to walk around — with a drink, if you like — and explore: it’s a much more free experience than visiting London’s other towers. Thanks to the Sky Pod bar and the Darwin Brasserie, eating and drinking up here is also much more affordable than at its counterparts.
Any other way to get in?
Short of abseiling? Well, maybe. We asked the reservation teams while we were there, and apparently if you try your luck after 6pm on weekdays you’re reasonably likely to be able to get up there for a drink. Good luck!
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