I know that quality ingredients cost more, and the rich and famous as a rule don’t tend to get that way by overeating. I think also that it’s because a small portion looks more elegant on the plate; just one or two vegetables artfully arranged, with a few dots of sauce, look far more attractive than a plate of roast potatoes, mashed swede and gravy. And I know of course that the price of a dish in the restaurant reflects all the overheads, including the time and expertise of the chef but also things like paying the waiters, the electricity bill and so on. But sometimes I do have to wonder if these tiny meals are really worth it!
The answer in this case was yes – sort of. For my birthday my boyfriend took me to Kensington Roof Gardens, for one reason and one reason only – the flamingos! I’d heard a few years ago that the restaurant has some resident flamingos in its roof gardens, but I wasn’t sure they were there any more after a dreadful story a little while back about someone who got drunk and threw one off the roof (of course killing it). But the flamingos are indeed still there – perhaps sometimes keeping a cautious eye on the diners, but in this case they were all sound asleep.
The gardens are arranged in sections; one area is based on the Alhambra in Granada, Spain (though I’ve been to the Alhambra and didn’t realise that when I was in the roof gardens!) with the plants and layout giving a Mediterranean feel. There are three courtyards making up the Tudor garden, with archways and plants that would have been around in Tudor England. It is very tranquil and pretty.
The English woodland area has narcissus, crocus, snowdrops and bluebells and when fully in bloom this would be lovely. There are also several trees, some of which are 75 years old, and this is the part where the flamingos – and ducks – live. The flamingos were in a small pond, all asleep in standing positions, but my boyfriend – who has been to a work event here – said they sometimes just potter around the gardens which I think is very cool. You can even sign up to the Gardening Club and get a discount in the restaurant: see here http://www.virginlimitededition.com/en/the-roof-gardens/the-gardens
The gardens are really an oasis of calm in the middle of the bustling Kensington High Street – the entrance to the gardens and the restaurant is in Derry Street. I kicked myself when I realised I had at one point worked in the building that is literally directly opposite – which belongs to Associated Newspapers - and never knew this was here!
The restaurant itself is called Babylon – I assume a reference to the Hanging Gardens as the restaurant’s terrace overlooks the gardens, though it was too cold to sit outside. There are slightly different menus for weekdays and weekends (weekends meaning Fridays and Saturdays – I wonder if that means I can convince work I should have Fridays off?!). The menu also seems to change quite frequently; I went at the beginning of May and three weeks later when I came to write this review (I had been on holiday in between) I went online to remind myself of the ingredients in the starter I had, and it wasn’t on there any more! It involved some kind of goat’s cheese mousse which sounded unusual; it came with vegetable crisps. It was nice but quite fussy food – I would rather have had something with a bit more substance to it.
For my main course I was very tempted by the roasted cauliflower steak with a cauliflower puree, couscous and fritter, but I thought that might be a bit too much cauliflower even for me! So instead I had something that I think isn’t on the menu any more either; it was a small bird like a quail I think. It came with some cheesy mashed potato which was a small circle of piped potato with a slice of soft cheese on it which tasted great. I wish I could tell you the other accompaniments but I didn’t write them down, assuming they would still be on the menu, not realising the menu would have changed only a few weeks later! It tasted good but my only complaint was that there wasn’t enough of it!
My boyfriend had the fillet of Buccleuch beef (Buccleuch being an estate in Scotland according to the internet) which he enjoyed but said he preferred the steak at Hawksmoor. He definitely prefers the chips at Hawksmoor too – this came with “oxtail and horseradish potato dauphines” which he eyed very suspiciously (not being a fan of oxtail or horseradish). They were also tiny – two bite-sized balls, and if this was all the potato he was going to have with it, he would be pretty hungry afterwards. Luckily his suspicion of oxtail had prompted him to order a side order of potatoes so he gave the dauphines to me.
We decided not to have dessert – quite unusual for us – as I needed to make an urgent phone call and he was actually quite disappointed by the restaurant by this point. At £9 a piece, there wasn’t a dessert he particularly wanted and didn’t want to waste the money. He had been really looking forward to the beignets, which were on the menu on the website (I think that same day but certainly the day before) but not on the menu we were given in the restaurant, so we decided to just ask for the bill. I’d had a cocktail at the beginning then drank water, while he only drank water, and he didn’t have a starter as there was nothing he liked, so with one drink, one starter and two main courses, plus tip, I was quite surprised that the bill came to nearly £100 (I don’t know how much exactly as he paid).
The service was very good and there was a musical trio playing which was lovely and the gardens and flamingos are definitely worth a visit. The gardens are sometimes closed for private events and I would hope they would warn you at the time of booking but I know that you won’t be told if you have already booked a table in the restaurant and then they get a booking for the gardens. So it’s worth calling to check if the gardens are the main reason you are coming here.
However, I only found out afterwards that the gardens are open to the public anyway – you don’t need to be dining in the restaurant to come here. So that would actually be my recommendation – the restaurant was nice enough, but expensive and I’ve been to others I preferred far more at that sort of price level, so I would in future come to visit the flamingos and eat somewhere else.