High anxiety

28 May 2015

1:00 PM

28 May 2015

1:00 PM

Fenchurch is a restaurant that is scared of terrorists. It cowers at the top of 20 Fenchurch Street, a skyscraper which looks like an enormous and unfashionable Nokia 3120 mobile telephone; has it been designed explicitly to telephone for assistance? But who would it telephone? The Shard? I cannot imagine the Shard doing anything for anyone. It is 525 foot high blah and replaces a building that was only 299 foot high blah and so deserved to fail, being so mean and little; I never tire of the rampant Freudian anxiety of property developers and their architect slaves, because, like the phenomenon of the competitive super-yacht, it tells me they, too, are frightened; isn’t everyone? The Nokia 3120 also reminds me quite startlingly of Tony Blair, but 525 foot high blah and therefore more annoying.

The entrance is a security checkpoint next to a lift. The initial interaction with Fenchurch is, therefore, reminiscent of the security aisle at Gatwick South Terminal, but without the possibility of escape to somewhere better, or a W.H. Smith. One day, in some tyranny of the future, we will all dine like this, if we dine at all — behind checkpoints, 525 foot blah above the earth, where the windows do not open but the sky, as an insult, is huge and untouchable. I ask the guards why the security checkpoint/entrance is necessary. They say they are worried about ‘guns’. Isn’t everyone?

A lift takes you to the ‘Sky Garden’, a vast atrium that resembles the Hollywood interpretation of a colony on Mars in an ancient Arnold Schwarzenegger film called Total Recall, in which psychic mutants, including one with three breasts and another who was only a head, rebelled against an establishment that charged them for oxygen and shut it off them when they tried to unionise. This establishment was not, sadly, called Atos, Capita, G4S or Serco. Plants wobble mistily, like a fragment of Kew Gardens on a spaceship being transported from a dying planet; tourists gape at the shrunken and irrelevant city below; for some reason, I wish they had added micro-dinosaurs and Lebensborn hedge-fund managers.

The restaurant is a glass box in a glass box, suspended over the atrium/Nokia 3120 screen; it is, essentially, a restaurant inside a panic room and it came here, explicitly, to panic. Is this the very definition of pointless? It is ugly, timid and smooth; stone-coloured booths, warmly anxious service, glass, greys and browns. This is boring; who rises 525 foot blah above the earth to exist in a Marriott lounge? The only excitement comes from awaiting my editor, who has been detained at the checkpoint 525 foot blah below; we panic-text.

The clientele are gym bodies in Armani suits and women with stick legs wearing other people’s faces.

The food is OK, but it cannot overcome the deadness of the box in the box. It is plane food, business class, nicely done; but what joy is there in claustrophobia, vertigo and suave bread?

A heritage tomato salad with goat’s curd and focaccia is fine; asparagus with crispy egg and hollandaise likewise, but up here the food could be grown in an incubator, or Margaret Atwood’s brain. Chateaubriand for two is slightly tough and overcooked; chips are monumental; strawberry doughnuts and caramelised chocolate puff pastry is good; but I long to flee.

I was expecting an immense seafood and steak joint for City boys, with competitive floor space to outscream Quaglino’s and naked women jumping out of cakes and shouting, ‘Sterling is up against the euro!’ I think I was expecting Viking Chic to the glory of neoliberalism — but Fenchurch is more muted than a glass Valhalla in the winds; and this is disappointing.

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