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It’s what’s inside what counts! Visiting the Sky Garden at the ‘Walkie Talkie’

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

The Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street offers 360 degree views of London

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

The 35th floor features large windows offering expansive views over the River Thames

20 Fenchurch Street, aka as The Walkie Talkie, is one of London’s most controversial buildings. During construction, it hit the headlines in summer 2013 after the building ended up channelling the sun’s rays into a powerful beam, which singed mats and melted cars parked on the streets below (this has since been rectified!). While most of the building is dedicated to offices, the top floors feature a garden, a bar and two restaurants. Since opening in January 2015, the restaurants and bars have been mostly well received, but the structure itself hasn’t been embraced by most Londoners as a prominent piece of the skyline. In September 2015, it was awarded the Carbuncle Cup for being the worst new building in the UK.

Designed by architect Rafael Viñoly, 20 Fenchurch Street stands tall at 160 metres. It’s the fifth tallest building in the City of London so shorter than the nearby 30 St Mary Axe, aka The Gherkin (180 metres), Tower 42 (183 metres) and 122 Leadenhall Street, aka The Cheesegrater (225 metres). But what is lacks in height, it more than makes up for width wise with its decidedly ‘top heavy’ design. The tower was controversial from the planning stages, with many concerned how the building would impact on the City’s skyline and views of iconic architecture such as St Paul’s Cathedral. The designs were granted permission because it promised a free public garden on the top.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

Enjoy views of the River and The Shard

Personally, I’m not a fan of the building architecturally. Although when I paid a visit, I did enjoy the inside of it. Alongside the other skyscrapers of the City, the Walkie Talkie is just too big and dominates the view. However, going inside, you can’t deny there’s a great vista. There’s two ways of getting up to the top of the building – either book a table at the Darwin Brasserie, Fenchurch restaurant or Sky Pod bar or apply for a free slot to visit the Sky Garden.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

20 Fenchurch Street stands tall at 160 metres

Arriving at the base of the Walkie Talkie, there is the airport security-style scanners that is typical in most skyscrapers. Visitors to the Sky Garden may need to queue a bit, although diners with reservations are able to bypass the queue to the lift. Exiting the lift on the 35th floor, you are greeted by huge windows on the façade of the building, with a balcony overlooking the Thames and The Shard across the river the dominant view. The Sky Pod bar is open for walk ups and serves cocktails and light snacks.

Turning north, you are faced with east and western terraces of garden spanning three storeys. In the middle are the two restaurants – Darwin and Fenchurch – in boxes, which have been compared by some to Portakabins. The horticultural display features Mediterranean and South African plants, giving a greenhouse feel. On the day I visited it was sunny, but hazy so the views were pretty good. However, the position of the sun made it difficult to take photos due to the reflection on the glass. Despite there being up to 200 people in the Sky Garden at a time, the huge expansive space means it doesn’t feel too crowded – except on the balcony where there were security guards controlling numbers. There’s plenty of seating both near the bar and on the terraces so you can sit amidst the greenery and enjoy a spot of nature in the middle of the city.

  • Sky Garden is open from Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, Weekends 11am-9pm. Located on the 35th floor at 20 Fenchurch Street, City of London, EC3M 3BY. Nearest station: Fenchurch Street or Monument. To book a free slot, register on the Skygarden website.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

Nice view! Looking east towards the Tower Of London and Docklands

For a review of the Darwin Brasserie in the Sky Garden, click here.

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Darwin Brasserie review: The best of British with a view at the ‘Walkie Talkie’

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

Smoked Haddock, Jersey Royals and Beurre Blanc at the Darwin Brasserie at the Sky Garden

I love eating and drinking with a view. Like others, I have to admit I wasn’t quite sure about the 20 Fenchurch Street skyscraper – aka ‘the Walkie Talkie’ – when it was being built. However, with the huge cranes gone from the top, the building doesn’t look quite so walkie talkie like and it’s starting to blend in to the City’s skyline. As many have heard, there is free access to the public garden, although you have to register for a time slot on the website in advance. There are a total of three eating and drinking venues – the Sky Pod Bar, the Darwin Brasserie and Fenchurch (a seafood bar and grill).

I recently booked a weekday late lunch spot for two at the Darwin Brasserie – the name obviously inspired by the plant life in the Sky Garden. With a reservation at one of the restaurants, we were fortunately able to bypass the queue for the public garden and after going through security, were whisked up to Level 35, where the Sky Pod Bar and outdoor balcony is located. To access the Darwin, we wove our way up the stairs and plants to the next level. Darwin is located in a large box-like unit which juts out over the garden with views overlooking the Sky Garden, the Thames and the City.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

Meat feast: Goodwood Estate Pork Belly and ‘bubble & squeak’ roasted spring vegetables

We arrived at the end of a busy lunch period and had to wait about 5-10 minutes at the bar for our table which wasn’t an issue. We were then shown to a table for two – one seated in standalone chair and the other on a comfy bench. Unfortunately we weren’t by the window so didn’t get to enjoy the views, but planned to walk around the Sky Garden afterwards so that wasn’t a huge problem. Our waiter was very friendly and answered all the questions we had. To start with I ordered a glass of Prosecco which was light and refreshing, while our water glasses were topped up throughout our meal.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

The Brasserie is located in a box-like structure overhanging the Sky Garden

I knew I didn’t have the appetite for a three-course meal so forewent the amazing choice of starters to go straight for a main, with the plan to eat dessert later. I ordered the Smoked haddock with Jersey Royal potatoes, which came served with a poached egg and hollandaise sauce (£16.50). The dish was very well presented and was absolutely delicious. The fish was tender and smooth with the accompanying egg, sauce and vegetables really complementing it. Thanks to a combination of my hunger and the taste, I ended up devouring the whole thing pretty rapidly, to the amusement of my fellow diner. My companion ordered the Goodwood Estate Pork Belly with ‘bubble and squeak’ roasted spring vegetables (£17.50), which she said was really good and cooked perfectly. To accompany our dishes we also ordered some Steamed Spinach (£5), which was, again, lovely.

The dessert menu had some good old English classics such as Lemon Tart, Knickerbocker Glory and Rhubarb Crumble. However, I was up for a chocolate fix so ordered the Chocolate Pavé and Banana and Chocolate Ice Cream. While it was certainly sweet and chocolatey, the ice cream balanced it out so it wasn’t too sickly. The presentation was particularly fabulous with some edible golf leaf on top, but I didn’t spend too long admiring it before tucking in.

Overall, the food, service and views were brilliant. I found the prices reasonable for such a high quality of food. The restaurant’s interiors of natural-influenced contemporary design proved for a relaxing setting. Then of course, you have the added bonus of being able to enjoy the views and the scent of the Sky Garden following your meal. I will definitely be returning.

  • Darwin Brasserie, Level 36, Sky Garden, 20 Fenchurch Street, City of London, EC3M 3BY. Nearest station: Fenchurch Street or Monument. For more information and booking, visit the Sky Garden website.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

Sweet treat: Chocolate Pavé and Banana and Chocolate Ice Cream

For a review on a visit to the Sky Garden, click here.

For more of Metro Girl’s bar and restaurant reviews, click here.

For reviews of other restaurants in London’s skyscrapers, check out SushiSamba or Duck & Waffle at the Heron Tower.

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Square Meal

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A revolving restaurant and communications hub: History of the BT Tower in Fitzrovia

The story behind one of London’s iconic landmarks.

BT Tower © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Lofty: The BT Tower in Fitzrovia stands tall at 581ft, with the aerials bringing it to 620ft

It’s a dominant symbol on the London skyline, yet many city dwellers don’t quite have the same affection for the BT Tower as other lofty landmarks. Maybe this is because most of us haven’t had the opportunity to have a shared history with the building because it’s been closed to the public for over three decades. Many visitors to the capital may be surprised to know the building has been hovering over the streets of Fitzrovia since the 1960s and is a Grade II-listed monument.

Originally commissioned by the GPO (General Post Office) and designed by Eric Bedford (1909-2001) and GR Yeats, the tower’s main function was to carry telecommunication signals from London to across the country. Although construction began before the Millbank Tower (387ft), the latter was erected quicker and was briefly the tallest building in London until the BT Tower was completed in 1964. At 581ft high, it reigned supreme as the tallest in London until Tower 42 was built in the City of London in 1980. Opened by the then-Prime Minister Harold Wilson (1916-1995_ in October 1965, the £2.5million BT Tower included 37 floors and two elevators. Seven months after the official opening, the building was open to the public with quite a variety of amusements to keep them occupied in May 1966.

Monument view St Paul's BT Tower © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Dwarfing the great dome: The BT Tower stands over 200 feet higher than London’s previous tallest building St Paul’s Cathedral (as seen from The Monument)

BT Tower © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

The Tower is still used by TV and satellite companies, as well as to monitor air quality

One such attraction was the Top of the Tower revolving restaurant. When I was a child growing up in London in the Eighties, I remember my parents talking about the restaurant on the 34th floor, which was sadly closed in 1980 due to terrorism fears. In 1971, an IRA bomb exploded in the men’s toilets at the restaurant. I remember for years not realising it had actually closed and in my young girl’s mind, fantasising about hanging on to my table for dear life as the restaurant whizzed around at speed. Actually it was one gentle revolution every 22 minutes. Also towards the top of the building were public viewing galleries and a gift shop. However, a year after Top of the Tower closed, public access was also halted.

Of course, while telecommunications have changed drastically over the past 30 years, the BT Tower is still used by TV and satellite companies, as well as to monitor air quality. Since 2009, a 360 degree LED display has been wrapped around the Tower at the 36th and 37th floors projecting messages and the BT logo.

Although we are spoiled for choice when it comes to seeing London from a height – most recently with The Shard and The Orbit at the Olympic Park, I believe there would be demand and many willing, paying customers who would love the chance to eat in the BT Tower’s revolving restaurant again. While this appears unlikely to happen at the moment, who knows what the future will hold…

  • BT Tower, 60 Cleveland Street, Fitzrovia, W1T 4JZ. Nearest stations: Warren Street or Goodge Street.

For Metro Girl’s other blog posts on London’s tallest buildings, read about Tower 42, the Lloyd’s Building, the inauguration of The Shard laser or Galvin at Windows at the Hilton.

For more of Metro Girl’s history blog posts, click here.

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Inside out: A rare chance to step inside the Lloyd’s Building at Open House

The Shard laser light show – gallery