The Square Mile's City Social is collecting awards on an almost weekly basis. Amanda Afiya pays a visit
From the outside, it may not win any beauty prizes, but Tower 42 will always be of historical significance. Bought by the South African businessman Nathan Kirsh for a cool £282.5m in 2011, the former NatWest Tower, which is based on the NatWest logo, stands at 183m (600ft) high and was, until 1990, the tallest building in the UK until it was unceremoniously trounced by One Canada Square in 1990.
On the 24th floor of the tower, where Restaurant Associates (RA) and Jason Atherton's City Social has assumed the space previously operated by RA and celebrity chef Gary Rhodes, the gloves are off again on the design front.
Working with Atherton, Russell Sage Studios ripped out Rhodes 24 to create a contemporary space with "accents of brass and mirror sitting alongside rosewood-panelled boards, chrome and smoked glass". Critically, the reconstruction also presents the restaurant with its first 360-degree view of London since the building opened in 1981.
There's no escaping the fact that the new restaurant and dining room is breathtaking and, as Square Meal puts it: "Walking through City Social is a bit like striding across the deck of a sleek, very sexy ocean liner: dark wood clacks underfoot, floor-to-ceiling glass affords dizzy views to the horizon and it's possible to make an almost entire circuit of Tower 42 to take in the sights of the Square Mile and beyond." City Social's design probably goes some way to explaining why, along with executive chef Paul Walsh's technically faultless cooking, the restaurant guide has just awarded it the BMW Square Meal Award for Best New Restaurant autumn 2014.
Walsh has had an impressive career, which has included periods with Anton Edelmann at the Savoy, Marcus Wareing at the Savoy Grill, Royal Hospital Road with Simone Zanoni followed by now chef-patron Clare Smyth, and three years with Aggi Sverrisson and Xavier Rousset, launching all three 28-50 Wine Workshop and Kitchens. Yet despite this, the Hampshire-born chef (who joined Atherton's Social group of restaurants a year ago) is a humble chap.
City Social celebrates the best of British ingredients. The portion sizes are generous, no doubt pleasing the city boys, and even Jay Rayner finds it in his heart to declare a main of Lincolnshire rabbit saddle and sausage, Pommery mustard mash, trompettes and garlic (£28) "a technical masterclass".
"There are pieces of rabbit saddle, bound together and wrapped in ham to form a cylinder, plus an impressive rabbit sausage and a side dish of a barley-like grain with braised rabbit," opines The Observer reviewer.
This dish also serves as an excellent example of Walsh's skill set. While lack of wastage is obviously an appeal, Walsh says that is out of deference to ingredients, as well as the producers and suppliers, that he is inspired to use the animal to full effect.
"It's just been bred into me over the years: we try to use everything. We don't write dishes in order not to throw away elements, but when you see the lengths suppliers go to source your ingredients - the waves faced by our fisherman to get their catch - I just want to show our produce some respect."
A starter of guinea fowl and truffle terrine (£15) takes on a similar approach and is served with a parfait made from the livers, crispy skin and grilled sourdough.
From the five-strong dessert menu, soufflé stands out as something of a debut dish for an Atherton restaurant. "When I started writing the menu, I put a soufflé on - I've always done them - but Jason said we don't do them in any of our restaurants, but if we are to introduce them, they have to be great," explains Walsh. "I think they show real technical ability."
Varieties gracing the menu include a strawberry soufflé with macerated strawberry salad and yogurt sorbet, and the current flavour of choice, Earl Grey tea soufflé with cocoa nib ice-cream.
Alongside the 90-seat restaurant is the clubby City Social bar, which seats 85 people and, in keeping with the art deco design, serves a selection of cocktails inspired by the 1910-1930s prohibition era. Beyond that, there's a private dining room for 22 and a chef's table accommodating up to 10 people, which has a window into Walsh's kitchen as well as a window looking out at the arresting City skyline, taking covers at lunch to between 100-120 and 150-160 at dinner.
From the menu
•Young Kentish vegetable salad, lemon purée, lettuce leaves and olive salsa verde £10
•Beetroot-cured Cornish mackerel, Cheltenham beetroot, watercress, goat's cheese sorbet £13
•Smoked Scottish salmon with celeriac spaghetti, fennel, horseradish yogurt £14
•Cornish sea bass, deep-fried oyster, cucumber, cauliflower, oyster velouté £32
•Highland venison loin and braised shoulder, red cabbage, smoked chestnuts £32
•Whole Dover sole, caper gnocchi, samphire and citrus sabayon £38
•Exotic fruit pavlova, passion fruit cream, kaffir lime and coconut sorbet £8.50
•Yogurt and London honey parfait, figs, goat's milk and blackberry ripple ice-cream £8.50
•Black Forest cherries, Valrhona chocolate sponge, cherry sorbet £8.50
24th Floor, 25 Old Broad Street
London EC2N 1HQ
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