Shaking things up is something that’s more often than not, seen as a positive thing (see, ‘a change is as good as a rest’, yaddah yaddah). However, when things ‘change’ in the culinary world, it often fills the seasoned restaurant-goer with dread. Finding your groove, especially in a space as competitive as London, can take time, tweaking this and that, refining menus and wine lists, and the like. It’s probably why soft launches are such a ‘thing’ these days: almost giving licence for some hiccups to occur while ironing-out happens.
And so it was with hopeful optimism – but not without an awareness that this one might not yet be firing on all cylinders – that we headed to the peak of London’s famed pickle-shaped building, with its gently curved walls and criss-cross windows, to experience the freshly launched Helix (Restaurant) and Iris (Bar) – taking their names from sprawling English ivy, and the delicate blue and yellow flower, respectively. With the current vogue for armfuls of Columbia Road blooms and plant-filled window ledges in full force, we were hoping for a ‘gram-worthy restaurant experience (who can go wrong with flowers and views) with a skilled kitchen to back it up. Having been lucky enough to dine with some of London’s finest vistas as the backdrop to dinner, there is always the wondering whether a restaurant will ease off on the cooking, knowing they have other selling points to save them. Spoiler alert: no sirree at Helix.
After we’ve made our way past the mammoth blue hydrangeas that greet us as we emerge from the lift, the interior is befitting of a spot that doesn’t want to take anything away from the scenes that lie beyond it. Cue chic black lacquer, glossy tiled floors and those famed criss-cross windows (no need for white-tablecloth fuss here).
A quick scan of the menu piques interest good and proper: a tight, seasonal foray through playful, novel flavour combinations. This is a new kitchen, but one that isn’t afraid to experiment with texture, tastes and colour.
We start with crisp champagne and a couple of minutes to take in the inspiring sunset, imposing angled architecture and encircling orangey-pink hued sky (Instagram fiends take note).
Mini plated artworks arrive in the form of burrata with sweet, juicy tomatoes and black olives, and little kisses of lime green-hued basil cream.
Next, meaty crab and the bitter pang of grapefruit, with tender asparagus and soy. One of our favourites of the night.
For main, a salty-fresh slap of crispy-skinned bass, slivers of octopus, veg-of-the-gods samphire and a squid ink cream that left one unperturbed at looking like you’d eaten the innards of a biro.
An almost autumnal main was filled with colour and earthy flavours: rosy pink lamb, pepper, aubergine, courgette and salty feta, drizzled with a rich, punchy jus.
Creativity for dessert resulted in artful swipes and streaks of ingredients across plates: torched meringue sat underneath a ruler-precision lemon and shortbread oblong, and big, sweet, thimble-sized juicy raspberries, and a coulis.
An indulgent, lip smackingly sweet banana and salted caramel dessert was offset with earthy chocolate soil: served with a honeycomb appearance that seemed to dissolve into a bitter cocoay dust on hitting your tongue.
Before we leave, we head up to the peak of The Gherkin (the similarly brand-spanking-new Iris bar) to take in the spellbinding views from the top floor, where counter tables encircle the outer window, offering uninterrupted vistas out over the city.
This newbie has blossomed into a beautiful flower from the get go: I can’t wait to see what’s in store for next season, and the one after that, and the one after that.
Helix Restaurant at The Gherkin
30 St Mary Axe, London, EC3A 8EP