Back in 2003 the Barbican was awarded with the unenviable title of London’s Ugliest Building, and as the concrete monstrosity looms out of the darkness on a teeth-chatteringly cold December evening, it’s not hard to see why (The Queen, however, does not share this view. Apparently she pronounced it ‘one of the wonders of the modern world,’ when it opened in 1982).
Inside Searcys restaurant and bar on the second floor, there is thankfully no brutalist architecture in sight. Instead, the décor is bizarrely retro considering the restaurant’s recent refurbishment; all striped dark oak panelling, oversized lampshades and understated elegance.
The executive chef, Quentin Fitch, has previously catered for Jasper Conran, Gordon Ramsay and the Queen, and his menus champion simple seasonal British produce, sourced locally where possible. So, my expectations were high.
The reality, though, was somewhat disappointing. My starter of cauliflower and Stilton soup was satisfyingly thick but far too salty. And, although the main course of steak pie was delicious, with melt-in-the-mouth pastry, the accompanying parsnip mash had the unappetising texture of baby slop. The chocolate cake I had for dessert was too dry, but the Spanish Rioja I washed it down with was fruity and light, selected from an extensive wine list that would make even the most ardent sommelier drool.
The window tables, with their view over the Barbican lakeside and city skyline, are a seductive feature when it’s dark outside, but I’m unsure as to how attractive they are during daylight hours. The ‘lively atmosphere’ promised by the press release was somewhat lacking, but that may have been my mistake for visiting on a weeknight.
With the place almost empty, however, the service was speedy and friendly, with attentive staff. Also, it may have been quiet because the restaurant has only this month re-opened from its refurbishment. Conveniently located for patrons of the arts attending events at the Barbican, and with precious little other competition in the surrounding area, I envisage this must be Searcys’ target market, along with City workers from the offices nearby. And although not entirely to my tastes, it’s competitively priced, with a three-course meal costing £29 per person.
Once it overcomes its teething problems and develops a stronger identity, Searcys might be a welcome addition to the sterility of the area in and around the Barbican. But until then it is one of many restaurants of this calibre and style, and not worth the epic quest necessary to negotiate the Barbican’s labyrinthine corridors.
Reservations: 020 7588 3008