It’s popular, this design trope of papering one wall with loud, geometric and rather 70’s patterns. Stick a Yes poster on the wall and it could be one quarter of my teenage bedroom. If anyone is going to do it in a restaurant though then Babylon Roof Gardens (prop. R. Branson) is the one.
The refurb of this perennial favourite has seen the sunken bar area disappear as well as the fish tank although you have to wonder what happened to the fish, especially as the bathrooms are just a few steps away. Where the fish once swam happily now stand ornate chairs of the siecle known to antique experts as Louis le Faux and the restaurant proper has been reshaped, remodelled and fitted out with restful green furniture. What doesn’t change is the view.
This has always been the Gardens’ main claim to fame and still impresses. How they got full size trees to grow here is a talking point, as is the fun of trying to work out what buildings can be spotted. Today rainy squalls are splattering against the glass and you can see the fat black clouds forming in the distance and the gaps appearing too. It’s like watching the biggest flat screen telly in the world.
My guest’s gaze turns inward. ‘You can tell it’s a Virgin place,’ he muses. ‘There’s something oddly Virgin Business Class about it.’ He would know, being a frequent Business flyer, whereas I fly with the jolly Irish airline that wants to make you pay to pee.
Prices aren’t Business Class at prix fixe lunch though. At the time of writing £19.50 for three courses is good value and the view comes gratis. The prices on the a la carte menu are at cloud level though, so set menu seems a good bet and, judging from a fairly full restaurant, a lot of people seem to think so,
A starter of Fish goujons, anchovy sauce and watercress salad looks the business on the plate, the batter a glorious yellow that suggests cornmeal in the mix. Oddly though the batter is completely soft – not soggy – but completely soft which is most surprising. The fish is well cooked and the batter needs seasoning but the anchovy sauce, as robust and rich as a tapenade, does the salting side well. Watercress, as usual, has a mind of its own and puts up a struggle for each forkful. Not a bad starter but that batter was broken.
Business Class man has gone a la carte. A prawn and crab tiane has sweet fresh crab, a pretty crown of prawns and a soft-boiled quail’s egg. The whole effect is fresh and light and ideal I think for the slim ladies who make up much of the lunchtime crowd. He’s a bit butch for the dish, but seems happy.
My set lunch main is honey-glazed pork belly with a Madeira jus and apple puree. The belly is nicely pressed flat and cooked to fall-apart tenderness but the crackling doesn’t, which is a shame. The puree could have done with being a bit sharper to contrast the honey, but overall, and for the money, it’s a respectable dish. Creamy mash and al dente seasonal purple broccoli are very good indeed
BC has a herb crusted cod fillet, sauté potatoes and creamed leeks with a saffron sauce and is pleased but feels the a la carte price is too high. I was pleased that the basic ‘house wines’ also came in half bottles. My 2003 Bordeaux was still tannic despite its age, but I prefer the edge of tannin to the sugar of jam any day. A good bottle for the moneyI thought.
A coffee millefeuille wasn’t bad at all, rich and sweet. The sticky toffee pudding had an almost savoury edge to the taste, even perhaps slightly over spiced which made it a bit less comforting, but the little dab of clotted cream certainly hit the spot.
Overall, as we disembarked past cheerful staff, we felt that the a la carte wasn’t quite the full ticket at those prices but the set menu, together with the décor and view, equaled a very pleasant flight.