‘Visitor bag search’, the sign read. Next to it was a walk-through metal detector and a burly security guard. He had a glint in his eye, the kind that says, ‘I’ve got a box of latex gloves here, and if I find so much as a nail file in your purse, I won’t be afraid to use them.’ So we approached the receptionist instead. ‘Is this the way to City Social?’ ‘No,’ she sighed, ‘this is the main entrance, you’ll need the side door, opposite Wagamama.’
Happily, there’s only a single gatekeeper at the alternative entrypoint, so once you negotiate a long, oppressive tunnel and an express lift so fast it’ll make your ears pop – boom – you’re in. Floor 24 of Tower 42, in what is now the third-tallest building in the City. Atop a hive of financial firms, this is one heck of a dining room with a view. You’re so close to the Gherkin you can practically see its office workers photocopying their bottoms.
It’s a gorgeous space: nocturnal, sexy and full of art-deco flashes. Against the windows are the best seats – deep, curved booths, rather like waterless hot tubs. Even the vistas from the glass-walled loos provoke a sharp intake of breath (and afford fellas the giddy sensation of weeing above the heads of overpaid bankers).
Relative to all this excitement, Jason Atherton’s menu verges on the tame. He’s built a reputation for creating playful, groundbreaking dishes, but this is a venue managed by contract caterers Restaurant Associates in the heart of the Square Mile. The City’s unspoken commandments include ‘thou shalt wear your blandest outfit’ and ‘thou shalt order the steak and chips if possible’, so it’s perhaps no surprise that they’ve gone for a more conservative approach.
We kicked off with a beautifully cooked fillet of salmon (lightly poached, then smoked, served over a salad of fennel and celeriac). Only slightly more daring was a dainty slab of tender pork belly and morsels of pork loin, all dotted artfully around the plate with girolles, cubes of black pud and translucent blobs of cider ‘gel’. There are also some safe-as-gilts pasta dishes and grills to satisfy those here in pursuit of business, not pleasure; but for the sybarites, there’s a deconstructed rum baba with summer berries.
The service is as well-mannered as the cooking, while sauces and syrups poured at the table add some va-va-voom. But the real showstopper here is the view. Just be sure to pick the right entrance.