Summer in London is a fleeting affair but we make the best of it. We seek sun traps, an impressive view, and even a vantage point from which to watch our boys being knocked out of Wimbledon or, less frequently, the World Cup. We also need feeding and we want to do that in style. One Canada Square and its environs ticks boxes with grassy areas, perhaps a large TV screen, and a rather fine restaurant.
Canary Wharf is located on the former site of West India Docks on the Isle of Dogs. In Medieval times it was called Stepney Marsh and in the 13th Century was drained to create pastures for cattle and fields for fresh produce. The name Isle of Dogs is thought to have been adopted because there were royal kennels in the area. In the 1690s a dock was built at Rotherhithe. This location worked so well that further docks were constructed in the same area, including West India Dock and St Katherine Dock.
From 1802 the docks were considered some of the busiest in the world. By the 1930s the Port of London carried 35 million tons of cargo, worth approximately £700m. 100,000 dockers and associated workers were employed by the Port of London Authority, but the Second World War caused great devastation. It is estimated that the Germans dropped around 2,500 bombs over the docks and destroyed many of them, as well as the homes of the aforementioned dockers.
During the 1960s the port began to decline, leading to all the docks being closed by 1981. Many of us of a certain age will remember the dockers’ strikes as the introduction of containers and technology made their skills obsolete. Canary Wharf itself takes its name from berth No. 32 of the Import Dock. This was built in 1936 for Fruit Lines Ltd, a subsidiary of the celebrated Fred Olsen Lines, for the thriving Mediterranean and Canary Islands fruit trade. It was their suggestion that the quay and warehouse were given the new name of Canary Wharf.
London Docklands Development Corporation was created in 1981 and granted the Isle of Dogs Enterprise Zone status in 1982. Construction of the Canary Wharf complex began in 1988, the first buildings being completed in 1991 including One Canada Square (usually but incorrectly called Canary Wharf due to its location). It was the UK’s tallest building from 1990 to 2010. Its 50 storeys still dominate the area but it was overtaken by The Shard which was completed in 2012 with more than 70 floors.
One Canada Square is primarily used for offices and is not open to the public. But the visitor will likely be more interested in the shops and restaurants at the base. The lobby is striking and rich, with lavish use made of both Italian and Guatemalan marble, and One Canada Square Restaurant continues that theme. Diners enter the restaurant through the bar area. High stools and cut glass combine to offer an ambiance of retro calm. This isn’t a spot to down 6 pints and a pack of pork scratchings. Linger over a shaken martini and transport yourself to Manhattan for half an hour.
Those businessmen who grace the towering office space above are blessed. One Canada Square Restaurant oozes accessible charm. I would perhaps describe it as Art Deco with contemporary accents. That classy ethos continues at the table which offers traditional presentation of dishes as well as traditional polished service. Perhaps ‘traditional’ diminishes the description as such service is becoming rare. Unobtrusive yet attentive is a balance seldom aimed for and less often achieved.
It’s not the longest menu in East London but is no worse for that. It tempts with classics interwoven with contemporary innovation. Steak Tartare served with a hen’s egg yolk was pronounced excellent by my discerning guest, the renowned Italian food writer and celebrity chef Valentina Harris. She is a lady who recognises quality. I chose Cornish Fish Soup with rouille and croutons. The soup was a delight although the rouille was not what I expected. Rouille is usually a sauce made of olive oil with breadcrumbs, garlic, saffron and chili peppers. The version here is a light lemon mayo.
My guest ordered Scallop and Shrimp Burger with kimchee and chips for her main course. A great success with a mild interpretation of the famous Korean pickled vegetables. I opted for One Canada Square Pie which is a hearty offering, the filling of which changes daily. Call me old-fashioned if you like but a good pie is a culinary masterpiece and we do pies very well on these islands. My beefy preparation was well seasoned with a good quantity of tender and flavourful meat. The side dishes of creamed spinach and mashed potatoes matched perfectly. A simple main meal but it hit the epicurean spot.
Salted Caramel Popcorn Ice Cream along with a pot of hot chocolate sauce was my dessert although, truth to tell, I was already at bursting point. I allowed my guest to sacrifice herself for my art at the altar of the Banoffee-Bocker Glory. It’s a decadent dessert to bring out the inner child in even the most sophisticated diner. A tall glass filled with the expected banoffee ingredients finished off the meal and my guest in fine fashion.
One Canada Square Restaurant has style. Its setting is 21st Century London but it gives a nod to Milan or Madrid and a gentler era.
One Canada Square
London E14 5AB
Reservations: 020 7559 5199
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018