City Social at Tower 42 in the City: With food this good even London’s best views take a back seat
Jason Atherton’s City Social is suspended amidst the capital’s iconic skyscrapers, a guest at the most exclusive gathering of glass giants. Located on the 24th floor of Tower 42 in a sea of shimmering panes, below the sharpened points of the Shard, this Michelin-starred oasis proves that grandeur can be achieved at humble heights. Granted, the humility is relative – this is still a fine-dining restaurant in the heart of the financial district with tables so well polished they threaten to ruin your Instagram shots. But those who are content to forgo the champagne bar on the top floor and leave the lift a little early will certainly not be disappointed.
Despite the remarkable buzz (in a socially distanced kind of way), as we are seated at a corner booth at sunset overlooking the sleek symmetry of the Gherkin, it almost feels as though the city is putting on a private show. The service is just as intimate and immersive, the tables well spaced and the staff managing to convey smiles through their face masks with admirable aplomb. The décor doesn’t draw the eye but it’s just as well given that the eye has enough work to do appreciating the scenery – before it’s upstaged by the food, that is.
The Roasted Loch Fyne Scallops delight in every way: from the smell of the sea that wafts in as the plate is laid down, to the caramelised cauliflower positioned like delicate coral, to the intense, buttery flavour of the scallop itself, which comes nestled in tasty pearl barley. The starter that follows, Dexter Beef Tartare, is every bit as balanced, the rich meat marrying with a creamy miso crème fraiche cut through with tart-pickled mooli and crunchy croutons. This is paired with Atherton’s own Pollen Street Social house white, a fittingly colourful accompaniment.
New head chef Dan Birk’s food is sophisticated without being overcomplicated, a trademark of Atherton’s group of restaurants: the pleasure is in the details, such as the generous dollop of smoky charcoal butter accompanying the bread like the last embers of an Indian summer. Similarly, when it comes to the pasta course – an impossibly tender lamb neck tortellini – it’s the thoughtful addition of intense tomato jam that truly elevates the plate.
The two mains adorn the table like sculptural centrepieces, both offering an artistic ode to UK produce. The braised short rib, in particular, is so elegantly decorated that it feels like a desecration to tuck in. But there are certainly no regrets: the meat melts in the mouth, well met by acidic Roscoff onions, earthy heritage carrots and an olive oil mash so light and silky it almost makes up for all the times it’s ever been done wrong. The roasted cod dish elevates the notes of an often underrated – or over-battered – fish, the celeriac and kelp butter subtle enough to let every semitone sing. These plates are partnered with la Guerre des Bouchons, a smooth but surprisingly light French red blend.
When it comes to dessert, we are advised to go for both chocolate options – though admittedly it’s exactly what we wanted to hear. The first, a dark chocolate pave with pistachio and milk ice-cream, is the picture of decadence, and though packing big flavours, the dish avoids the bitterness or heaviness that often come with high cocoa content. The perfect grand finale, though, is the Brogdale Raspberry Parfait, which is not at all sickly in spite of the blend of white chocolate and meringue, even when paired with a wonderfully fruity dessert wine, a Beerenauslese Cuvée from Austria – a truly inspired choice.
After seating guests in stunning surroundings, City Social serves up dishes so enchanting that even the best views in London take a back seat. This restaurant is a creative haven amidst the grey bureaucracy of banking and business, where you don’t require a briefcase or a designer handbag to receive a warm welcome, but you can expect a menu so stylish it could command a catwalk.
★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Photos: Cristiana Ferrauti
To book a table at City Social, Tower 42 25 Old Broad Street Cornhill London EC2N 1HQ, call 020 7877 7703 or visit their website here.