Scotland comes to the Wharf

Timothy Barber
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Boisdale Canary Wharf

Cabot Place, Canary Wharf, E14 4QT

Cost per person without wine: £45

CANARY Wharf is not the easiest place to bring culture to – even at its most alive, it has a certain, well, spartan feeling. Those open precincts, crisp architectural angles and endless escalators scream deal-making and big bucks; when it comes to creativity and craft and even mess, they lose their confidence.

So Ranald MacDonald, the splendidly-named bon viveur behind the Boisdale empire (at three venues around London, it could probably claim empire status), is taking something of a risk in thrusting jazz upon the Wharf masses. And not just intimate, boho, smokey-backroom jazz, but big stage, big venue, big sound system jazz. International-artists-of repute-jazz. And some rock’n’roll too. He’s even roped in Jools Holland as music patron – not sure what that entails, but it presumably brings some boogie-woogie clout.

Craftily, he’s delivering culture to Canary Wharf under a cloak of whisky, champagne, steak, Tartan merriment and Cuban cigars. Occupying what was formerly a conference centre overlooking Cabot Square, Boisdale Canary Wharf is a vast temple to good living, banker style. On the first level, there’s a curving bar that stretches from here over to there and way beyond; behind it, a seafood altar stacked with ice and crustaceans. Outside, an endless smoking terrace where you can puff away on stogies from the Boisdale walk-in humidor as you gulp down champagne and pretend the markets are still on a stratospheric trajectory.

The restaurant upstairs is gigantic – I understand it seats around 400. Along one wall runs a bar that seems to stock most of the whisky that’s ever been produced, and at one end of the room is the large music stage. I went last Friday, and was expecting maybe a bit of mellow, Ella-style jazz balladry to accompany my Dover sole, but instead got five old codgers rocking out with all the finesse of a pub band. They turned out to be British Invasion stalwarts Manfred Mann. Your dad will tell you about the genius of Paul Jones’s harmonica playing. I, however, wanted to throw my Dover sole at him but was about the length of a football pitch away from the stage, so it didn’t happen.

So much for curmudgeonly me, because the throng did what adoring throngs should do: cheer, stamp, clap, shout along to Doo Wah Diddy and a completely awful version of All Along the Watchtower. Adoring throngs baying for encores are not to be taken lightly in Canary Wharf – something was happening here…

The menu has few surprises – masses of steak, caviar and tradition. I had lobster thermidor as a starter, and it was gratifyingly lovely, flush with tarragon and mustardy sauce; a ballotine of pigeon and guinea fowl was thickly stuffed with spiced plums, apple and pistachio – it was hearty and sweet. My Dover sole was much too good to be hurled at ageing rock veterans, beautifully cooked and swimming in a smouldering meunier sauce. My friend’s rump steak Rossini was somewhat fatty, but smothered greedily in truffle and foie gras and Madeira sauce.

It’s hardly revolutionary stuff, perhaps, but it doesn’t try to be. Hundreds of people getting stuck into fine whisky and steak and roaring along to live music provided by living legends (doddery or not) – in Canary Wharf, that’s a revolution in itself.