The devil is in the detail for Michael Carr, who has taken his cooking to new heights at the Sky Garden with a menu that celebrates "fun dining". Jennie Milsom reports.
Perched on the 37th floor of 20 Fenchurch Street – otherwise known as the Walkie Talkie building – is Fenchurch Restaurant. Its streamlined interior overlooks the cascading, landscaped Sky Garden below and out across panoramic views of London. It's the very definition of rooftop dining.
Head chef Michael Carr has had a busy few years. Having cut his teeth at Michelin-starred Northcote in Langho, Lancashire, he landed in London at the Gordon Ramsay Group where, aged just 19, he "hit the ground running" fuelled by the "high-end, produce-driven perfection" of fine dining. He moved to Alyn Williams at the Westbury, then to Harrogate to open Restaurant 92, which he ran for three years until "major burn-out" forced its closure. Last year he was named joint head chef at Simon Gueller's Box Tree in Ilkley but, in January, he packed his bags again to join Fenchurch.
Since reopening on 4 September, Carr has run the kitchen with a bare bones brigade of seven despite being "crazy, crazy busy" with 120 covers per sitting. "It's not ideal, but it's the situation we're in," he says. He refused to simplify the menu to compensate, stating: "I don't want to sacrifice people's experience." In place of the corporate diners and city workers of yesteryear, recent guests have been mostly "foodies", who make the trip specially, says Carr.
Carr describes his style as "power-driven food" and he uses classical techniques with a focus on sustainability and seasonal ingredients. He is determined to put his own stamp on the restaurant, which is managed by event caterer Rhubarb. "That's why I took the job," he explains. "I had to have full control. I want to build my brand here." However, his perception of fine dining has relaxed over the years: "Food is about having fun and harnessing flavour to the best of your ability. My ability is very high. It's playing with emotions. It's ‘fun dining'."
Food is about having fun and harnessing flavour to the best of your ability. My ability is very high
The menu changes every few weeks and consists of six starters, six mains and four desserts. The wine list, curated by group head sommelier Alexandru Pastrav, contains "lots of classics" (Sancerre, Chablis, Malbec) with a focus on organic, biodynamic and quirky wines from smaller and English producers.
Carr works closely with suppliers on new dishes in order to bring out the potential of every ingredient. In starters, Scottish scallop, cauliflower purée, bacon jam and coriander dressing (£18) is a dish of many components designed to showcase the natural sweetness of the scallops: the jam is a sweet, salty, molten mass of smoked streaky bacon, coffee, treacle and shallots; and the dark, velvety purée is made by blackening whole cauliflower heads over a flame. The dish is finished with a squid ink wafer and pickled cauliflower florets.
Mains include a dish of aged beef fillet with braised cheek, bone marrow, carrot purée and thyme jus (£42), which comes with a beef-fat crouton made from Carr's potato sourdough recipe. The best seller is monkfish in seaweed butter, mussels, grelot onion, new potatoes, sweet wine velouté (£34), for which fishtails are brined in an umami stock, air-dried for 12 hours, then cooked in butter and dusted with dehydrated scallop roe.
Desserts feature Fenchurch tiramisù, coffee, Manjari chocolate (a single origin from Madagascar), mascarpone (£13). Built in a glass dish, it's a complex construction of layers including liqueur-soaked sponge, mascarpone cream, ganache and coffee jelly. Sealed with a cocoa-dusted disc of 75% cocoa chocolate and topped with a gold leaf-flecked quenelle of milk chocolate and coffee sorbet, its contrasting textures and flavours merge with each mouthful.
Carr says his "overactive mind" drives him to reinvent his favourite classicss. For the caramelised banana, puff pastry, toffee mousse, bay leaf ice-cream (£12) – his take on a banoffee pie – he uses a pipette to aerate and separate the layers of pastry during the folding process. The sheets are turned on their sides and brushed with salt and icing sugar for extra flavour and crunch (a technique inspired by Ferran Adrià, says Carr).
As soon as operating restrictions are lifted, Carr will add a tasting menu. "I'm itching to do it," he says. "Visuals are a massive thing for me. You eat with your eyes. It's a super-beautiful venue overlooking the whole of London. The food has to match that."
Fenchurch Restaurant, 1 Sky Garden Walk, London EC3M 8AF
From the menu
- Heirloom tomato carpaccio, smoked aubergine, toasted seeds and herb dressing £14
- Burrata, roasted fig, shaved fennel, pickled radish, fig leaf oil £15.50
- Pan-seared turbot, peas, broad beans, white asparagus, Amalfi lemon cream £37.50
- Roasted chicken breast, pomme purée, girolles, creamed chicken jus £29.50
- Sweet potato gnocchi, Wiltshire truffle, preserved lemon, capers and pecorino foam £24.50
- Rum baba, poached peaches, milk ice-cream £13
- Selection of British cheeses, house chutney, honeycomb, crackers £15.50
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