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Grace Dent reviews Roofnic

When a person is tired of London, they’re probably not tired of life, but more likely simply to have been here from January to May when it is customary to arrive everywhere clutching a damp umbrella and wearing soggy underwear. But then every June, or thereabouts, something magical happens: random bright, balmy days emerge, everyone’s jaws unclench a little, a communal loosening of limbs occurs. Suddenly being half nude in Hyde Park or tipsy on tequila by 11am on a Tuesday is acceptable. Walking home from a club in Walthamstow to Wandsworth seems not just a good idea but a noble, almost spiritual one. London in summer trounces New York, Miami, Paris and Buenos Aires in the fun stakes and I’m prepared to arm-wrestle any tourist board official who quibbles with me.

With this in mind, I want to do readers the nigh-priceless service of telling you somewhere it’s imperative you don’t visit. The downside of London heatwaves is that they’re prone to appear in 36-hour bursts, so I’d hate you to waste a second on a futile trek, as I did on a recent glorious Saturday afternoon, to Roofnic, the new ‘rooftop picnic area with craft beers and cocktails’ at Marble Arch on the top of the Park Lane Marriott.

Roofnic’s concept, when written down, seems like a fabulous idea. ‘A secret entrance tucked away at the far end of Oxford Street near Marble Arch,’ it says. ‘Guests will be led up a staircase to discover a hidden rooftop oasis.’ No reservations, obviously. But Roofnic opens at 10am on a first-come, first-served basis. A long luscious cocktail list promises seven types of ‘jam jar’, including Ivy Gimlets and Roofnic Swizzles, plus hard shakes and a juicing station. Roofnic’s menu is expansive and sounds delicious.

What have they got? Um, hello, what haven’t they got? Sliders, sausage rolls, pork belly steamed buns, tacos, toasted sandwiches, eight different types of ornate salad strewn with scorched sunflower seeds and blackened pomegranate, arugula and goat’s curd. And did I mention the butternut squash quiche, the pies and the impressive ‘sweet’ selection featuring PBJ cookies, pecan brownies and lemon shortbread?

Wow! All these tempting moreish comfort foods, plus ambitious cocktails served on a Central London rooftop oasis? This sounds like the stuff of dreams! And it is! Because none of this actually existed on my visit.

At the scrag end of Oxford Street there is a small, dirty, pigeon poo-splattered doorway that looks like it might lead into a forgotten recruitment agency, or somewhere a photographer might ask you to take your top off at the start of your career. Inside this doorway was a man slumped on a chair. I couldn’t decide if he was homeless or a doorman.

‘Yes, Roofnic,’ he said and pointed to a stairwell, similar to one in a 1980s NCP car park that you might be chased through by a young offender. It was six flights up to the garden. During the ascent, presumably one is supposed to notice the graffiti left by Roofnic party-goers telling of the crazy night they spent here. In fact, one will notice how dirty everything is. Filthy. Great clouds of dust and muck and old fags litter the stairwell.

Roofnic itself is a collection of cheap benches that will give you splinters and some artificial turf. At 1pm on a sunny June Saturday, three hours after opening, the staff were literally furious to see me as they were clearly hoping to get some semblance of a bar running by 4ish. ‘Can I have a menu?’ I asked. ‘No menus,’ said a man who seemed to be management. ‘Why no menus?’ I said. I shall remember his reply forever. ‘No menus… as it’s cool,’ he said witheringly, and then: ‘Ask at the bar.’ Here I was informed, via grunts and arduous pauses, that they weren’t doing cocktails, just lager.

Roofnic is the distilled essence of Sunday afternoon at Glastonbury after everyone has been ‘on one’ since Wednesday night. The food option was one offering only: ‘a Manwich’ — ie, a big sandwich. As it was their sole nod towards hospitality, it seemed churlish to point out its intrinsic sexism. I’m a great believer in the best reviews being the shortest ones, so the succinct version is: ‘I would rather fall off this roof to my death than go here again.’

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1 Manwich £11.50

1 can of lager £4

TOTAL £15.50

535 Oxford Street, W1;


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