Helix/Iris – Searcy’s Gherkin flagship with great views

Our principal Barbican Centre restaurant (now Osteria) used to be, arguably, the original signature venue in Searcy’s portfolio of restaurants.  Their new Helix on level 39 of the Gherkin, coupled with the Iris bar on level 40) elevates both the cuisine and the view.  It’s a shame that we couldn’t get a view of the Barbican’s Towers from the restaurant but you do get a magnificent skyline spectacle around the remaining 270 degrees. And we had to make do with a spectacular view down to Tower Bridge!  Helix is yet another great dining venue with spectacular views in the City’s plethora of high rise buildings and arguably the best yet.

Access to the restaurant or the bar above it  has to be a bit of a cold-blooded endeavour though.  Security is tight and you have to book beforehand and take along proof of ID for the reception desk in the lobby.  Then you have to send any bag you may be carrying through an X-ray machine and only then are you invited to take the lift up to the 34th floor.  Note that not all the lifts go to all the floors!

Whereas most buildings have extensive lift equipment on the roof of the building, this was not possible for the Gherkin, since the Iris bar is on the top 40th floor. The architects dealt with this by having the main lift only reach the 34th floor, where you can check your coat, and then having a push-from-below lift to the 39th floor main restaurant area. There is a marble stairwell and a disabled persons’  lift which leads the visitor up to the Iris bar in the dome.

The restaurant was just about full so the tight security doesn’t seem to be too much of a problem here, but the Iris bar above was rather less busy as we assume casual visitors are perhaps not catered for!  That is a shame because the views and the space are impressive.

Your name is checked again on the 39th and you are escorted to your table.  Many tables are positioned close to the window with two chairs so this venue does particularly suit couples dining.  Larger tables would mean that not all of you will be enjoying the view all the time, which seems a shame, but if you are meeting as a group you are probably more interested in catching up with each other than constantly admiring the great views, although partially obscured by the other signature high-rise buildings to the west and south.

The hosting and waiting staff were really great; not too posh or condescending as they can be in other top-notch restaurants – and Helix is indeed a top notch restaurant.  We settled in with some freshly made bread to nibble on and a couple of glasses of bubbles – a Veuve Yellow Label Brut and a Tattinger Rosé.

The menu is fairly concise – simple British-modern designed around the seasons.

We started with a rustic duck terrine and a crab platter.  They were both exquisitely and artistically presented.  The duck had a strong flavour but not overpowering and the terrine was authentically chunky.

Pressed Gressingham duck with hazelnuts, radish, fermented citrus £14

The crab was fresh, delicate and substantial for a starter.  The soy sauce made for a delicious, new and interesting flavour combination for me.

Dorset crab with apple, grapes, soy and sesame £18

STARTERS include:

Pressed Gressingham duck with hazelnuts, radish, fermented citrus £14

Crisp Saddleback pig with ‘nduja, burnt apple, Cornish Yarg £12

Dorset crab with apple, grapes, soy and sesame £18

Cornish mackerel with rock oyster, cucumber, dandelion £15

Burrata with quince, walnuts, burnt honey dressing (V) £14

The menu varies so if you are a control freak then it is a good idea to check the website before you go.

For the main course, we selected venison and the wild sea bass.  I haven’t had venison in a while so this was a reminder how good the meat can be when prepared well and not overcooked.  Rich and earthy but not gamey, the meat was left with just the right amount of juiciness and the sticky and sweet accompaniments were a tasty twist.

Rhug estate Welsh fallow venison with chicory, fig, honeyed-pecans £34

My partner chose the flaky and meaty wild bass which was flavourful with a salty crisped skin.  The sea vegetables were a nice and tasty touch, while the octopus came in tender slices and was also great tasting.      The dish was served in an inky black sauce which was not overpowering.  Altogether an excellent choice.

Line-caught wild bass with octopus, sea vegetables £34

MAINS include:

Rhug estate Welsh fallow venison with chicory, fig, honeyed-pecans £34

Rhug estate Welsh lamb with bell pepper, aubergine, courgette, feta £30

South coast hake with parsnips, orange, oats, hazelnuts, cocoa £28

Line-caught wild bass with octopus, sea vegetables £34

Roast spiced cauliflower with ricotta dumplings, apple, raisins, pine nuts (V) £20

SIDE ORDERS include:

Triple cooked chips / seasonal greens / Heritage beetroot salad £4.50 each

Sides of chunky triple cooked chips and seasonal greens

For ‘afters’ we chose the lemon tart and selection of British cheeses.  Out of all my reviews, this dessert is the most artistic.  The chef takes his palate of ingredients, where the tart is just the beginning, and the plate is transformed into sweet multi-textured lusciousness.

Lemon tart with meringue, raspberries, creme fraiche ice cream (V) £10

PUDDINGS include:

Lemon tart with meringue, raspberries, creme fraiche ice cream (V) £10

Macondo Colombian chocolate with griottines cherries, honeycomb (V) £10

Chestnut parfait with pistachio, praline, milk chocolate (V) £10

Coconut mousse with rum, mango, passion fruit £10

Choose cheese and the waiter comes along with a massive cheese trolley of choices;  I could have spent hours listening to his knowledge about them all.

Selection of British cheeses £15

The cheese comes with some savoury chutney but if I had to pick fault, I would have loved something sweet to have with the cheese too but it’s good that a top restaurant like Helix goes for British cheese varieties.  There are so many top notch British regional cheeses produced nowadays.

Helix do a very good decaffeinated coffee (which my partner always chooses).  We took our coffee at Iris on the 40th floor which was named from the Gherkin’s iris-shaped peak and has even better views than Helix below.  Up here, because it is ‘the bar’, you don’t feel awkward satisfying the urge to have a good look around the whole of the room at each viewing angle!

You are probably looking at close to £100 per head for a full meal with wine, so eating grandly here regularly is for our better-off Residents, or perhaps for a special occasion.  It is still possible to taste the magnificence of Helix on a budget, though, because you aren’t forced to have all the courses or wine.

At the Iris bar you can drink in the views with just a cocktail.  Iris is open from 11 daily.

Helix is open from noon to 2.30 pm and 6 to 9pm daily, and offers a Sunday brunch in conjunction with Perrier Jouet champagne but, at the moment, only up until November 25th.

Address: 30 St Mary Axe, London EC3A 8EP, Phone: 0330 107 0816, Website:  searcysatthegherkin.co.uk