Darwin Brasserie: Case for extinction? (November 2016)

Darwinian is the perfect metaphor for the London dining scene. Given the attractions of the city, the diversity of options available and the pounds in consumers’ wallets (a lot more, post-Brexit, for foreign visitors), only the best should survive. Even if you are lucky enough to have your restaurant located in a prime tourist spot, this should in no way guarantee survival. And, it is certainly hard to make the case for the – in this case perhaps ironically named – Darwin restaurant, nestled atop the ‘Walkie Talkie’ building. What is all the more disappointing is that while its sister restaurant in the building (Fenchurch) is a sublime experience oozing class from beginning to end, Darwin was if not quite the antithesis of this, then at least fairly close. Three criticisms spring to mind: service, food and acoustics. A failure on one of these counts might be forgivable; on all three, certainly not. First up, my comrade and I were shown to a table in the middle of the restaurant, sans view – which, of course, is one of the primary reasons for coming here. When questioning this, we were told that the tables with views had been ‘reserved for other guests.’ Since when was there a hierarchy in this respect? Moreover, the utter lack of contrition or attempt to accommodate grated at the outset. Perhaps as a way of atoning, the staff did show subsequent attention to our table, but when this becomes irritating rather than ingratiating, then there is a clear problem. How, for example, could I be expected to assess the quality of my starter after barely one mouthful? Not easy, but it didn’t stop our server enquiring somewhat forcefully and interrupting our conversation. Onto the food and a browse down the list says not cheap (a beetroot salad starter at £12, really?) and not really boundary-pushing (calling fish and chips a ‘crispy plaice fillet’ doesn’t disguise what it really is). Our starters of Dorset crab salad and maple cured trout were both adequate, but the main was a serious let-down. The roast Cladecott chicken with borlotti beans and girolles was a study in monotony, both visually and from a gustatory perspective. Furthermore, with but two girolles per person (in what was actually quite a large dish) borders almost on trades-description failure. Finally, if all of the above were not bad enough, then the fact I struggled often to hear what my comrade was saying owing to the poor acoustics meant I almost had to question why I had come in the first place. Maybe I shouldn’t have bothered.