Gardens in the sky.
Thanks to the hunting habits and extravagances of the English royals, London is today blessed with vast parks which double up as green lungs for this bustling city. Visitors to London are familiar with Hyde Park and Green Park as well as the leafy and manicured garden squares surrounded by elegant Georgian houses, but who knows about a garden in the sky? On a recent visit to my favourite city I stumbled on one of its best kept secrets – a rooftop restaurant set in a luxuriant garden.
Way back in 1933 the president of Barkers established 1.5 acres of themed gardens on the roof of a department store in fashionable Kensington. The English Woodland, Spanish and Tudor gardens were home to a restaurant and a night club called Regine’s. In 1981 a young man with long hair and scruffy jeans failed the dress code to enter the club but shortly thereafter made a successful offer and purchased the club. Enter Richard Branson.
The garden remained largely unchanged until 1986 when English Heritage awarded them Grade II Star status and the decision was taken to embark on a major facelift with the gardens only reopening in 1992. Then in 2001 an additional floor was added to the Clubhouse to establish Babylon Restaurant. Each of the three gardens magically transports you to distant places, starting with the Spanish Garden which is based on the Alhambra in Granada. Here, the carefully recreated buildings, pools, pavilions and gardens offer a shady haven for lunch or dinner. The neo-Gothic spire of St Mary Abbots peeping over the balustrade is a solemn reminder that you are in London.
The Tudor Garden is more of a walled walkway joining three sandstone paved courtyards draped with wisteria and ivy and also functions as a venue for private parties. The Woodland Garden is a rambling strip of remarkably large trees edged by lawns and box hedges, and is filled with birdsong. The pond is home to duck and four shocking pink flamingos to add a little extra colour. The main restaurant overlooks the woodland, which is carefully lit at night and the twinkling lights of the city add to the lofty charm.
Entrance is free to The Roof Gardens, which are open daily - but it is best to check in advance as they often host private functions. Why not stay for lunch or pop in for a cocktail – with a view.