My Fair Lady
Marvellous. We’re off to London’s most controversial building. Or at least the most talked (pun) about. Greedily grasping more airspace than footprint thanks to a bulbous form, 20 Fenchurch Street initially had a few ‘teething issues’. Quibbles over compliance with planning faded (taking a pun) when the building’s reflection melted a Jaguar parked on the street below. Rafael Viñoly simply added architecture’s answer to shades: a brise soleil. Easy as. Jaguar drivers can now park peacefully on Eastcheap, and the Walkie Talkie, as Number 20 is known to all and sundry (slight pun), can bask in its own reflected glory. Lavender’s Blue give it the thumbs up (even slighter pun: check out the building’s outline, smile and move on).
Views. They’re what make London dining so exhilarating. The Leadenhall Building and Duck + Waffle are the Walkie Talkie’s sky high competing neighbours. But canny operators like The Culpeper know that even a judiciously placed third floor roof terrace can enjoy a panorama between the cloudscrapers. At a recent reception we graced in Church House, the view couldn’t have been more different: the centuries old Dean’s Yard dwarfed by Westminster Abbey. “This is the most progressive city in the world,” proclaimed then Mayor-in-Waiting Sadiq Khan. “We are the most diverse; we even have Yorkshire men and women living in London!” The capital’s progressiveness is on 360 display looking out of Fenchurch, the restaurant on the 37th storey of the Walkie Talkie. A 21st century layering of geometric prowess is in full view – a new and bold topography. First class bankers replace the east London world of penny dreadfuls. Hodiernal* over Hogarthian. Not every restaurant needs a view. Brasserie Zédel, a palatial piece of Paris under Piccadilly, otherwise known as our Friday lunchtime office (gorging on goujonettes one week; devouring vol-au-vent aux fruits de mer the next), is 37 – yes, 37 – steps below ground.
Splendid. A five course vegetarian tasting menu 37 floors above ground followed by a private view(ing) of Pretty Woman is our most anticipated event since the release of Daphne Guinness’s majestic music album Optimist in White. The heiress who put the muse into music. Daphne was last seen strutting across Mount Street Gardens, clad (antlers hatted) head to (armadillo shoed) toe in Alexander McQueen, like a reindeer on hind legs. Working zoomorphic zaniness. Ilk of elk. En route to Scott’s naturally. Optimist in White. A Gesamtkunstwerk of an album. Fenchurch. A Gesamtkunstwerk of an evening. Entering the Sky Garden is like drinking the potion that made Alice in Wonderful shrink. It swallows up the top three storeys of the Walkie Talkie. Horizontal planes of galleries and terraces merge and emerge between the foliage of this hangar-like space. A silvery mauve twilight is killed off by a violently red sunset drenching the Sky Garden and the capital all around in a bloody glow.
Politics. As ever armed with a cacoethes* of the camera, it helps that our lawyer hostess is also a whizz behind the lens. This may be a business dinner, but forget the pyrotic* company poor Julia Roberts’ looker hooker tart with a heart has to endure in Pretty Woman. Our meritocratic table comprises law’s finest. The female contingent is out in force. Either it’s the lure of our company or the film choice. Then again the day started over pre House breakfast with a leading female politician: Roberta Blackman-Woods. Now Shadow Housing and Planning Minister, Professor Blackman-Woods first introduced us to Parliament at a University of Ulster Alumni reception. “There has never been such a concentration on planning before,” she observed, noting the move towards an American style zonal system. But right now our heads in the clouds (we’re having lots of pun) as YBC (Young British Chef) Zac Whittle’s vegetarian tasting menu arrives. And yes, the last courselet is deconstructed banoffee:
- Pea soup, mint and buttermilk
- Asparagus and hollandaise, pink grapefruit
- Jerusalem artichoke and ricotta agnolotti, truffle, hazelnuts and sage
- Blackwood cow’s curd cheesecake, strawberry and verbena
- Barbecued banana and chocolate, toffee and vanilla ice cream
*Country Life words of the week