I’m On The Top Of The World Lookin’ Down On… Canary Wharf | Bōkan At The Novotel, Canary Wharf
Since mid-December I’ve been waiting. Every Monday to Friday I was teased by the huge ‘opening soon’ signs on the façade of the new Novotel in Canary Wharf, well Marsh Wall to be precise – I wouldn’t really call it Canary Wharf proper. It promised a ground floor coffee shop and the Bōkan restaurant, bar and terrace up on the 37th, 38th and 39th floors.
Since my office move from Bankside (just behind the Tate Modern) to Marsh Wall I’d suffered pre-work coffee crises and been stuck in lunchtime limbo. Sure all the chain restaurants are over in Canary Wharf, as is Notes Coffee. But I come into London from Kent and get off the DLR at South Quay which limited me to a morning coffee from Pret and lunch from Tesco Express. Yes, I know I was extremely lucky at Bankside, everything I needed within a few steps of my desk and my beloved Table Café was literally over the road.
That’s why the opening of Bōkan excited me so much, I’d seen some interior pics and it looked like just what I needed. Loads of character, thought and attention to detail – stark contrast to many of the corporate and sterile establishments in Canary Wharf. And then on February 14, the doors were opened and the red carpet rolled out. I popped in at lunchtime to ask if they were open. ‘Not officially’ was the answer ‘but you are welcome to take a little look around.’ And look around I did, I was smitten – well it was Valentine’s Day. At last, somewhere I can go at lunchtime, enjoy a decent coffee (or a cheeky beer) and relax for an hour.
I asked Google to define the word ‘Bōkan’ and it returned the answer 傍観 – that’s Japanese for ‘look on’ or ‘remain a spectator’. I’m not sure if this a true definition or even what Novotel had in mind when naming their rooftop bar and restaurant but it’s very apt. For the 360° views over London are stunning, it gives you a completely different perspective of Canary Wharf, the O2, Tower Bridge and even Greenwich park.
The decor is what I call ‘refined’ industrial. It’s not full on Shoreditch ‘crumbly’ industrial, it has to be a little more up-market to attract the bankers and the premium prices they are willing to pay. But the heavy steel girders and distressed thick wooden beams are used for a reason. They’re there as a nod towards Canary Wharf’s historic docks – a bustling area of trade for over 1,000 years.
Since its opening I must have popped up to the 39th floor at least twice a week for a coffee and some lunch break ‘me time’, although Saff had never been before and I’d never been during Bōkan’s evening service. During the day the whole hotel has a real relaxed and welcoming atmosphere but during the evening, when the bar and terrace begin to fill up, the doormen and desk staff get a tad more fussy about who they admit. Fair enough, they don’t want an overcrowded bar, that’s no fun for anyone.
That said I do feel they should reconsider the ambiguity of their dress code. During the day anything goes, or so it seems. I’ve even seen a girl head to toe in Lycra gym wear, but then at night it’s no trainers – very confusing. My obvious advice if you want to avoid any embarrassing doorman haggling, dress up and reserve a table (in the bar or restaurant), as Bōkan don’t appear to save any tables for walk ins.
Slight winge over and forgotten, especially as when you step out of the lift on the 38th floor and catch a glimpse of those incredible views. Saff had set up her mobile office in the bar and had been working for a couple of hours before I arrived. So while she packed up I thought it rude not to order a couple of Bōkan’s Docklands themed cocktails.
Saff asked me to choose for her, oh the pressure. The Tumblehome (£11.50) appeared to have everything she likes in a drink. VII Hills gin, Ardbeg 10 years whisky, Bulleit rye-infused chamomile, homemade Ceylon Dimbula syrup and lemon bitters. I, on the other hand, went for a Barquentine (£12) Balvenie 12 years whisky, Ardbeg 10 years whisky, homemade ginger syrup, manuka honey and fresh lemon juice – the kind of cocktail you should order if you have a cold?
I’d already looked at Bōkan’s menu online so had a rough idea of what I was going to order. Intrigued by what style of cooking chef Aurélie Altemaire (former head chef at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon) was offering, I read the about the menu section. “We have crafted a menu inspired by rich European cultural cuisines that have flowed along the Thames since ancient times using a mixture of local and adopted British ingredients.” In other words, anything goes.
Decor in the restaurant is similar to the bar upstairs strong, bold and masculine – they sure are aiming to draw in those bankers, even our table by the window has sweeping views along The Thames towards the city. Our waiter was charming and knowledgeable and quickly made us feel comfortable and relaxed, offering us some bread, smoked butter and an extensive wine list.
I swiftly handed this list to Saff for her to choose, she can be quite fussy about her wines. Plus it let me dive into the bread, there’s something very satisfying about watching butter melt on freshly baked bread. Saff decided on the Château De Fesles Cabernet (£7 glass/£29.50 bottle), a very drinkable light-bodied red with wild berry and peppery notes.
Now that Saff was happily sipping away it was time to think about our meal. As mentioned before I had perused the menu online and had settled for the Pugliese burrata with house-made focaccia. But as I’d eaten almost all of the bread board, I just couldn’t face the focaccia. Instead I ordered the Squid stuffed with ratatouille, sprinkled with spicy oatmeal dust (£10), and a few blobs of saffron sauce. So glad I changed my mind, I’d forgotten just how good grilled squid can be.
Saff wanted something a little lighter and the Crushed pea and mint fritters (£8.50) with a subtle lemon aioli caught her eye. A pretty dish of little crispy coated balls covering, what can only be described as, a delicate and fresh pea and mint mousse.
She continued with the healthier options and went for the Soy-glazed grilled Scottish salmon (£22) for her main course. Served with a wasabi green bean salad and pepper sauce the whole dish sparkled with flavour but the actual portion of soy-glazed salmon (as delicious as it is) was tiny, just three cubes!
I had better luck with my Rhug Estate grass-fed lamb cutlets (£24) especially when a side order of Bōkan’s ultra smooth and creamy Mash (£3) is added. The perfectly cooked pink-in-the-middle lamb came with charred aubergine and chimichurri (an uncooked sauce used for grilled meat made of finely-chopped parsley, minced garlic, oil, oregano and white vinegar) and a smear of minted pea foam. A stunning looking dish crammed full of texture and a subtle Argentinian influence.
Saff was going to go for a lighter dessert too but to make up for her salmon dish she ordered the biggest and stodgiest pudding on the list – Hot chocolate soufflé with salted peanut ice-cream (£8). Our waiter informed us that where would be a 15 minute wait to cook the soufflé as they are prepared to order. Obviously this was fine by us, in fact we wouldn’t want it any other way.
And it was well worth the wait, the soufflé was so light and soft that the thin square wafer of white chocolate began sinking though its crust into the gooey centre below. The chocolate struck the perfect balance between bitterness and sweetness and was so rich and filling that at last Saff was satisfied – and believe you me that’s not easy.
My Yuzu and lime tart with a fromage blanc ice cream and sesame tuile (£7) was a refreshing end to my meal. At first glance the portion size was a little disappointing but the flavours were so vibrant that anything bigger would possibly be too much.
There’s something rather special about dining at altitude (well 37 floors up) and the unique views at Bōkan are breathtaking, especially when watching the sunset over our beautiful capital city. You can see why rooftop restaurants and bars are becoming increasingly more popular.
We said our goodbyes and wandered up to the terrace on the 39th floor, although the night was quite chilly the outside space look so warm and cosy. Candles and lanterns flickered in the breeze whilst couples cozied up together under blankets taking in the London skyline.
Saff and I took an obligatory selfie with the Canary Wharf skyscrapers as our backdrop, not quite New York but if you squint you can pretend that you’re in the Big Apple. As we walked out through the hotel’s reception, I turned and whispered ‘see you tomorrow for coffee’ – and that’s exactly what happened.
Book a table online
Opening hours: Monday – Sunday: 12:00 – 15:00 and 18:00 – 23:00
Nearest station: (Underground) Canary Wharf – Jubilee Line, 0.3 miles
(DLR Stations) Heron Quays, 0.3 miles South Quay, 0.3 miles
We ate as guests of Bōkan, this does not affect our review in any way.
We always write with complete honesty.