Babylon at The Roof Gardens
by Tracy Muller-King - Friday April 22, 2016 10:04 am
99 Kensington High Street, London, W8 5SA virginlimitededition.com/en/the-roof-gardens
Tracy enjoys seafood among the rooftops, a cow and a flamingo or two…
Unlike its namesake, Babylon (the restaurant) might not be the centre of a civilisation, per se, but it is pretty much slap bang in the middle of those trying to acquire an advanced state of social development in one of the more modern ways – amid varied and upmarket shopping opportunities – and those who lunch. Which, on that particular day, included me and my other half.
Babylon Restaurant at The Roof Gardens has reintroduced its seafood menu, previously only available in April and September, as a permanent fixture for lunch on Wednesdays to Fridays, and for dinner on Tuesdays to Saturdays. Served outside on the terrace, if the weather plays ball, it will be the perfect summer dining experience. And, if the climate proves to be a little uncooperative – well, that’s no problem, thanks to the outdoor heaters and snug blankets that are provided for your comfort.
The menu is all British and includes Colchester oysters, Sipsmith gin-cured Scottish smoked salmon, Cornish dressed crab and dressed lobster, which is served with an Asian slaw. And if you prefer a little bit of everything, a cold selection is available on the Seafood Stand.
We started with wonderfully warm rolls – one with raisins, one seeded, and a rosemary focaccia. The only potential downside to them were the fact that there were three, so who would be getting that second one was a problem that would need to be overcome in the foreseeable future...
After shuffling around everything on our table to accommodate the seafood stand, it made a striking centrepiece, packed as it was with various crustaceans and fish, which were laid out on ice chips and draped somewhat artistically with seaweed and with lemon wedges tucked in here and there. Faced with this all-in-one dish, we decided the best course of action was to sample it in ‘courses’ – starting with the shucked oysters.
Ice cold and plump, there’s something quite theatrical about slurping these slippery yet firm mouthfuls straight from their shells. Hardly exploding with flavour, yet they are a treat every time, offering a salty, sweet bite that is so refreshing – even when dressed as we fancied with the accompanying dishes, which included finely chopped shallots in vinegar, crème fraiche, bottles of both red and green Tabasco, and the obligatory seafood Marie Rose-type of sauce.
Next were the lovely large king prawns, which allowed us to get our fingers a little dirty with the peeling of them. Sometimes, literally taking your food in hand can, for some reason, be just the thing to make it taste even more delicious. Granted, it’s probably more relaxed when this is happening in your home but, with finger bowls at the ready in the restaurant, it would have been wrong not to use them.
The luxurious feel of seafood may be wrapped up in the fact that although most of it has quite mild, almost bland flavours, at the same time it delivers a real punch of creamy richness.
However, the Spanish Auzells wine from Tomas Cusiné, which was recommended by the waitress (a blend with Macabeo grapes), had a freshness that helped cut through this – as did the order of more bread rolls. These not only provided the perfect vehicle for topping with the gorgeously coral-coloured smoked salmon and hot smoked trout, but also resolved the issue of who would get to have that third roll!
The half lobster was everything you could want it to be – sweet and with a feel of delicious decadence, and perfectly timed as our next ‘course’ as it coincided with the arrival of the hot chips. Now these came as a surprise – but they were warmly welcomed, then dunked into the sauces.
It might seem like a bit of an oddity with a cold platter, but is actually just a slightly posher version of ‘fish and chips’ – and was proof that there are very few dishes where fried potatoes can’t sit happily alongside them.
The dressed crab, which included the meat from the whole claw nestled on top, was a real taste of summer. It made it easy to imagine sea and sunshine with each light, wonderful bite, and was a good end to our fishy feast.
Wrapped up in our blankets, we sipped our coffees, which were served with a bite-size passionfruit Turkish delight, chocolate truffle and brownie, and what looked like a mini meringue, but was in fact a marshmallow.
Ahead of us was the magnificent view of London’s skyline (encompassing the London Eye, Walkie Talkie, The Shard and The Gherkin), while a level below us were the gardens, with its lush plantings, Japanese-style bridge across the steam and pink flamingoes wandering around.
It was definitely a memorable and somewhat surreal experience and did make you feel as if you were in your own little world. There’s even a touch of art in the form of Brit artist’s Will Barras’s cow (apparently named Virginia Udderbutter), which sits on the terrace and is painted with English icons, such as the Yellow Submarine and the Blackpool Tower.
Enjoy the seafood menu in summer, and the gorgeous setting and wonderful food will make for a truly spectacular occasion. Perhaps a ‘civilisation’ would be pushing it but, all in all, it was a very delicious, ‘civilised’ experience.