The more glitzy, glass-walled buildings London seems to sprout, the less likely it seems you’ll know what it’s called, or what goes on inside. Take the geometric one that goes for your eyes when you look at it head on: nope. Or that new one that looks a bit like a Toblerone? Not that one either. But one of the few pieces of architecture that’s on the radar of locals, tourists and guide-browsers alike, is The Gherkin. This latticed-glass, pickle-shaped tower comes as one of the capital’s most famed, and though it now, literally, sits in the shadow of some of its neighbours, we don’t see this changing any time soon. Navigation apps are rendered obsolete on the approach: it’s one of the few landmarks where a glimpse of the curved windows peeking through the surrounding historic City buildings will lead you on your way. And once we’ve made the ascent, even the most pristinely pressed-suited business people can’t seem to resist the lure of a cheeky snap of The Gherkin’s vistas, nipping over to the glass between courses: ’cause even the locals can’t resist a from-height shot of the Big Smoke.
It’s a Wednesday evening when we head skywards for dinner at Helix, to the 39th floor and the pride of The Gherkin’s offering. The dining room is in the bit of the building that starts to narrow (something like the stalk of the pickle), so the dining room, while spacious, definitely isn’t sprawling (and makes sure every table has a cracker of a view). Black lacquer and dark wood, and those imposing crisscross windows are the only detail required for the magnificent backdrop beyond (save for some cute little table succulents and whopper flower displays as you enter). It may be ‘humpday’ but enthusiasm for Helix’s incredible British cooking and expertly matched wines (special shout out to the wonderfully charming and knowledgeable sommelier, Jean-Baptiste) is alive and well. There’s a gentle buzz in the room and every table is taken: it would be so easy for such a space to feel a little sterile, yet phones are a-snapping, cutlery clinking and glasses cheersing.
We start with pleasantly squidgy homemade bread and lashings of butter, and flutes of deliciously chilled Nytimbier sparkling wine (a sparkling Chardonnay from Sussex that’s known for its gorgeously apple-apricot finish).
Starter wise, there are dainty, gorgeously presented plates of crab with grape, candied walnuts and celery: the meaty, seaside pang offset with the sweet, blooming grapes, bitter celery and the crunch of walnuts.
Perfectly in-season asparagus and peas were gorgeously crisp and light: the sort of mouthfuls that are so fresh they feel like they’re doing good things inside. This mixed dreamily with salty goats curd.
For main, melt-in-the-mouth-tender meats included Lake District beef fillet with a potato terrine, lightly spiced pepper purée, and earthy oyster mushroom. Juicy Herdwick lamb with a thin sliver of flavoursome fat was offset with the crispness of toasted buckwheat, gently roasted carrots and green leaves that held a satisfying bite. This was all finished with a bowl of wholesome, earthy, comforting artichokes (we discussed how our pitiful attempts at cooking artichokes, which we thought weren’t too bad, were pretty laughable compared to these things).
To finish, classics of rum baba and lemon tart offered the ultimate failsafe choices. The former consisted of light-as-air sponge with a jug of punchy neat-spirit drizzle, fat, juicy blackberries and smooth vanilla cream. A gently caramelised top on the tart gave way to a rich yet zesty lemon filling, light and crisp pastry and old-school raspberry ripple ice cream. We ended things with coffees at the peak of the tower, mulling over the ever changing skyline, but thankful that whatever happens, we’ll always be able to pick The Gherkin out in a crowd…
Helix at The Gherkin
30 St Mary Axe, London, EC3A 8EP