What would Nebuchadnezzar think? Sod that, what do I think?
History buffs will no doubt remember the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon, allegedly built by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. Although the legendary Gardens, if they ever existed, are long gone, a homage has been recreated by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group in the heart of London’s Kensington High Street with an attached restaurant and bar overlooking them. Since I was dining at Babylon on business I didn’t have time to take a stroll through the gardens themselves. From what I saw they look quite impressive, especially with the flamingoes wandering among the greenery with the west London skyline serving as a backdrop.
Even though I visited Babylon on a Tuesday night, the restaurant quickly filled to capacity on the evening of my visit giving the place a buzzing atmosphere helped along by the live band providing an audio backdrop of jazz and easy listening. Luckily, I had the benefit of the quiet, secluded private dining room in the back of the restaurant with some picturesque views of west London and the aforementioned gardens.
Despite the Middle Eastern allusions of the name, the menu at Babylon is solidly Modern European. I started off with the wild garlic and ricotta risotto. Sadly, this starter was a bit of a disappointment. Despite the presence of the ricotta, this was the uncreamiest ricotta I’ve had in a long time and the garlic flavour was very subdued – garlic fiend LeChuck would not approve. The grains of rice were a little too soft and small for my taste.
It looks smaller than it really is due to the large plate.
My main course was much more impressive. I wasn’t expecting much from the pork belly, but it turned out to be one of the best examples of the dish I’ve had in London. The crackling was a little too crunchy, rather than crispy, but the meat was delightfully moist, tender and fibrous – a good deal of fat must have melted and permeated the flesh. The pear puree added a fruity counterpoint, but the beans and sausage accompaniment felt tacked on. The sliver of oyster mushroom was also an odd choice as it didn’t really compliment the pork either, but it was very good in its own right with a firm texture and lip-smackingly moreish flavour.
Dessert was perhaps the most ambitious course of them all, consisting of boozy lime and lemon jelly chunks with bits of raspberry and sorbet in a rhubarb soup topped with a crystallised piece of sugar. Its unusual appearance garnered much comment from my fellow diners, but its taste didn’t quite match up to its looks. The jelly chunks are really boozy, which doesn’t suit me as a non-drinker. The rhubarb soup, or a watery sauce if you’re feeling uncharitable, tasted much more of raspberry than rhubarb. This is a shame since a tart rhubarb counterpoint to the slightly sweet, refreshing sorbet would have been quite accomplished. Overall, the dish seemed to have been composed of lots of interesting and ambitious ideas that didn’t really come together to form a coherent dessert in of itself.
Ambitious but flawed.
At least the coffee was reasonably strong, with a surprisingly nutty, chocolatey aftertaste to it. The service needs some refinement though – if I ask the waitress what the available cheeses are I shouldn’t be met with an uncomprehending stare.
Judging from my experience at Babylon, the more traditional dishes are better executed than the more ambitious, innovative ones. Overall, the food isn’t bad but it struggles to compete against other far more well-rounded and consistently better executed Modern European restaurants in London. The real reason to trek out to Babylon is to check out the Hanging Gardens. Once you’ve done that though, there will be little reason to head back again unless Babylon ups its gastronomic game.
Name: Babylon at the Roof Gardens
Address: 99 Kensington High Street, London, W8 5SA
Phone: 020 7368 3993
Opening Hours: seven days a week midday-14.30; 19.00-22.30. Closed Sunday evenings.
Total cost for one person excluding alcohol: approx. £45
Updated 6/05/2012 – more photos added