If you’ve ever found yourself in London’s Square Mile in the weekend, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking you’d mistakenly stepped onto the set of some zombie apocalypse movie; the place epitomises the term ‘living dead’. It’s a parallel universe compared to the hustle and bustle during the week and it’s not just due to the lack of foot traffic; the shops, it seems, are also all on lock down. There are rumours that there has even been closed Pret sighting in daylight. Dear lord. You know things are getting serious.
Well, one such establishment which has always bucked this trend is the Barbican Centre; one of the only signs of life during a weekend in the City in an otherwise sterile neighbourhood. Regardless of whether you’re here for the alluring exhibitions, to catch a flick or relax with a coffee whilst soaking in the atmosphere, you can be sure to find something that tickles your fancy. The reason for my visit though was for the soft opening of their newest addition; the Gin Joint by Searcys restaurant located on the 2nd floor.
As suggested by the name, Gin Joint is part of the wider Searcys group which is also responsible for establishments in The Gherkin, One New Change and St Pancreas Station. Having enjoyed my last dining experience with them at the St Pancreas location, I didn’t need to be asked twice when T mentioned we should check these guys out though I suspect she was more interested in the gin than the food; they don’t call her the Booze Hag for her palate…well, for food anyway.
Making our way to the venue was an airy affair as we walked through the empty streets of the City towards the Centre. The fact that we had arrived on a slow night at the Barbican Centre only added to the overall feeling of emptiness. I was apprehensive thinking that this seemed like an unusual place to have a finer dining restaurant but I was encouraged to see that the dining room, though not packed, was filled with a healthy number of patrons no doubt also taking advantage of the deal on offer. The restaurant was very relaxed and the decor was very modern (though that’s not difficult seeing as the Centre is stuck firmly in the 80’s) and eating whilst taking in a view of the St Giles Cripplegate church does nothing but enhances the overall experience. The staff were friendly and overall on the night were great considering it was a soft opening afterall.
The drinks menu, unsurprisingly, was dominated by gin and was huge. You know that guy ‘Bubba’ from the movie ‘Forrest Gump’ who rattled off different ways of cooking shrimp? Well, imagine someone doing the same for different gin cocktails and you have the cocktail menu. The food menu itself was also extensive and there is bound to be something for vegetarians and carnivores alike. For starters, we ordered the seafood platter to share (I had originally ordered this NOT to share…#noshame) and also some bread for the table. For mains, T got the beetroot falafel whilst I went for the rack of Herdwick lamb cooked using a Bertha Grill. We also ordered a plate of the Portland crab cakes (hey if I was sharing my starter, I was going to make up for it somehow!). To finish, we flipped a coin and landed on the spiced pineapple.
In hindsight, it was probably a good idea to share the seafood platter because if I hadn’t, there would be no need for a main! For £25, you get half a lobster (cooked in garlic butter), king prawns (with a Thousand Island dressing; so kinda like a prawn cocktail), smoked salmon, rye bread and scallop aioli which I thought was decent value. This was the highlight of my the meal which, considering it was the starter says a lot. Well, to be more specific, the lobster was the highlight of my meal; it was just cooked so well! The meat was firm and cooked to just on the verge of going from raw to done which was just divine. The garlic butter was so complimentary it not only pulled out all of the crustacean’s natural flavours but enhanced it. Winner. That’s not to say the king prawns and salmon wasn’t good, it’s just all relative. Overall, a great starter.
The Portland crab cakes were served with a smoked jalapeno salsa which was just amazing. I would happily have that salsa with anything or even just by itself (which did happen…). The crab cakes themselves were nice and I enjoyed them but there’s not much more I can say about them! I would eat them again if they were given to me but I think there are better things on the menu.
My Herdwick lamb was served with either a choice of triple cooked chips or new potatoes and a choice of sauces; I went with the triple cooked chips and a devilled jus. I had ordered my meat to be raw and my lord did it come out raw! It was cooked perfectly to order and was almost too pretty to eat; a beautiful pink inside by a delightfully grilled exterior and crackling-like skin. This was a tantalising rack of lamb if I’d ever seen one. The triple cooked chips, though delicious in their own right, would not be confused with Heston’s anytime soon.
I was curious to see T’s beetroot falafel as I am a big falafel fan but am a bit of a purist when it comes to it. The dish looked appealing to the eye and the vivid purple certainly reminds you that it contains beetroot. I thought that it was delicious and interesting but maybe could’ve used something extra to give it a bit more flavour i.e. possibly a side of tahini or hummus. The falafel was served on a generous bed of salad compiled of sugar snap peas, courgette, rocket and lamb lettuce which a lemon dressing which was a nice accompaniment.
Controversy shrouded the dessert decision as we could only manage to share one due to the limitations imposed by our stomachs. Given our discussions over the merits of the plum and almond crumble and the baked spiced pineapple came to nought, we decided to let chance determine our fate and heads said that the baked spiced pineapple would do the trick; and boy did it! As the dessert came towards the table, you were overcome with the strong aroma of cinnamon spiced pineapple which was just delightful and tasted just as good but it was surpassed by the accompanying coconut ice cream was just was fantastic; deliciously creamy with coconut bits, served on a bed of crumbles and a passionfruit sauce. It was an edible tropical paradise.
All up, a delicious meal and consistent with the standards Searcys’ have achieved with its other establishments. In saying that though, the price point was also consistent with the precedent set within the wider group and if it had not been for the discount received due to it being the soft opening, our meal would’ve been in excess of £100 before service. That’s not to say it wasn’t worth it though and Gin Joint may well prove to be the main draw card to venturing back into the City on your day off.