Perched high on top of the Roof Gardens in Kensington, Babylon is out of sight of the street 100ft below, yet gives superb views across west London through its floor-to-ceiling windows. Carmen Konopka takes a look.
Building a rooftop extension to house the Babylon restaurant without disturbing the famous Kensington Roof Gardens was the challenge faced by the design team for Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Hotels Group.
Inspiration for the style of the rooftop extension came from the 1.5-acre garden and the Art Deco design of the 1938 building, once Derry & Tom's department store. Its structure has the feel of an ocean-going liner, with timber decking around the vast windows.
Inside, it is light and in tune with the elements. On the ceiling, a series of golden orbs track the path of the summer sun. A fireplace provides a burning glow, artworks are made of natural materials, and the colour of the lighting is changed to reflect the seasons.
Designer Kracka has had fun with a sunken seating area near the entrance. Reminiscent of a scene from a James Bond movie, it is surrounded by tanks full of exotic fish, and has sculpted sofas and shag-pile carpet.
However, diners need to know where they are going - planning constraints mean there are no signs outside for Babylon, although a sign is to be put in the entrance lobby.
General manager Peter Insall says: "There's nothing wrong with being London's secret - as long as everyone knows you're London's secret!"
The place Babylon, a 110-cover restaurant and 12-cover private dining room at the Roof Gardens, Kensington, London
The challenge Putting an extra floor on top of a Grade II listed building in such a way that it would not damage the famous Kensington Roof Gardens filled with trees, streams, flamingoes and ducks
Timescale October 2000 to July 2001
Design team Kracka interior designers and architects
Suppliers Ben Whistler 020 7622 6246 Byart 01223 560400 CVO Firevault 020 7580 5333 Kracka 020 7620 2247 La Porcellana 020 8671 5959 Louis Poulson 01372 848800 RPA joiners 01274 742111 Waterworld 01943 850200
Lavish use has been made of suede in light, neutral shades.
Artwork from Byart is made of compacted materials such as chalk, dirt and sand to echo the natural feel of the garden (about £600 each). The gas fireplace was bought through CVO Firevault for £1,200 and Kracka added the brass frontage. Glass showplates with the Babylon logo came from La Porcellana for about £17 each.
The main backdrop is the fabulous view of west London and the gardens through a wall of windows. Mixed textures provide the setting inside, where walls are pale, floors are wooden to echo the decking outdoors, there is a subtle, sculpted pile carpet in the dining room and a decadent shag pile in the seating area.
The shortish menu is modern British in style. Food is highly seasonal and some dishes use herbs, figs and mulberries from the garden. Starters include corn-fed chicken sausage with apple and black pudding and cider sauce (£8.50), and Stilton souffl‚ with dandelion and rocket and hazelnut dressing (£7.50). Typical mains are pot roast lobster in its juices with cauliflower (£32.50) and caramelised Gloucestershire Old Spot pork tenderloin with gingered sweet potatoes and five-spice apple (£17.50). A fixed-price, two-course lunch is £18.50; average spend for an … la carte lunch or dinner is £35-£40.
Kracka designed the Babylon logo, incorporating the Roof Gardens name.
Dining chairs were custom-made by Ben Whistler for around £140 each, plus fabric. The fish tanks around the sunken seating area were supplied by Waterworld, while the copper Artichoke lamp above it was designed by Louis Poulson (£2,000).