Restaurateur Fergus Henderson considers a temple to chaos, fine dining and the wet fish trade in the City of London and, er, the City of London
Sweetings fish restaurant on Queen Victoria Street is definitely my favourite building. It’s a lovely structure in its own right but I also love the restaurant because it used to be a wet fish shop so it has this fantastic sense of its own history. At the front, it has still got the old window and a wet fish slab and on the inside there are buckets of wine, dripping.
It has become something very special. A lot of architects could learn from Sweetings. Inside it is chaos, but it is working chaos. I think architecture should aspire to that – we all like chaos but if you design it in it tends to become trite and dull and boring. Somehow Sweetings manages it. I go there a lot for a robust lunch and a drink of black velvet.
Almost everything else in the City of London that has been built in the past 20 years, I loathe. For our great financial district, it is really ugly. You look at those buildings and ask yourself – when the client was shown those drawings what were they thinking when they said “okay, here’s millions of pounds – go and build it”. Why didn’t anyone say “but it’s disgusting”? It was an opportunity to do something great but they just came out with one after another of these awful, faceless buildings. It’s really sad. When you walk through the City and look at these structures you feel that nothing has happened between the two-dimensional drawing and the three-dimensional structure. They just look like versions of the drawings standing upright. There is no magic.
Sweetings is a grade II-listed restaurant and former fishmongers in the City of London. It has been operating since 1889, when it opened as a 60-seat eatery at its Queen Victoria Street site. It has only had six owners in its 120-year history.
The City of London is the home of the UK’s financial services industry. It was originally a residential area, but the houses made way for office blocks in the 19th and 20th centuries as people migrated outwards to the suburbs. Notable developments in recent times include Foster’s Gherkin and Skidmore, Owings and Merrill’s Broadgate Tower.
Fergus Henderson is owner of St John Restaurant in Farringdon, London, and an author. He originally trained as an architect.