Last Saturday, I ran. For fun. Actually, I ran for extra fun, as it was the Color Run, ‘the happiest 5K on the planet’, though I reckon 5K in money would be funner. Anyway, I made it. Raised some money for charity, did a bit of exercise and got covered in colourful powder, so what’s not to like? Even better, I was running with The European, and it was wonderfully refreshing to see someone who’s daily outfit is basically ‘fifty shades of black’ to be smothered in fluorescent yellows, pinks, greens and blues. It also meant that our tradition of unreasonable eating after light to moderate physical exertion continued, and so as soon as we crossed the line, we bid farewell to our fellow runners and caught the first train out of Crystal Palace, towards Canary Wharf.
We were off to Giant Robot, which, much like its name, is a fairly undefinable cavern of a space atop the brand-new Crossrail Place, which one day will also be home to the Canary Wharf Crossrail station. One day. Until then, the striking Foster + Partners-designed floating island/yacht-shaped edifice enthusiastically entertains its second meaning, as a place to meet, eat and wander. There are numerous restaurants, bars and cafés, as well as a roof garden, housed under a semi-open roof of interlocking triangles, described as the ‘largest timber project in the United Kingdom’. The whole building is a magnet for those work-hard-play-hard Canary Wharf types; capable of sating all their desires as a place to spend money, drink, chill and – eventually – commute.
We arrived there not very Canary Wharfish, covered in aforementioned powder and sweat; to the point that I was actually concerned that we were going to be denied entry. As we made our way up to the roof garden level, and walked through the palms towards Giant Robot, my protestations to The European fell on deaf ears. She was famished, in fact, we both were… and in need of beer.
This is what Giant Robot does so well. Much like Crossrail Place itself, Giant Robot has you covered. Operated by Street Feast, the same people who brought you – shudders – Bundance, its website describes their Canary Wharf outpost as a “street food mothership for food, booze, and panoramic views”. You walk in, and the rough and ready cavernous space stretches out before you. There is all kinds of seating – benches, low tables, high tables and an expansive, U-shaped terrace looking north, east and most impressively of all – south – overlooking Canary Wharf. Empty space in the middle of the floor is punctuated by a few empty oil drums serving as cocktail tables and, after 10pm on a week-night, drunken bankers attempting to dance to a mixture of soul and disco music while the women they try to impress look on, taking photos. As you walk in, to your left there’s a tap bar serving well over thirty craft beers; to your right, an extensive cocktail bar serving everything else. There are four food vendors, Black Bear Burger, Raastawala (Kolkata street food), Thunderbird (all types of chicken from wings to buns) and Yum Bun (Taiwanese steamed buns). How does it work? Well our favoured strategy is to bag a table, one person to get in beers, then find a menu, and one person to get up and sort out the food at one of the stalls. Grab the vibrating pager thingy, and wait.
No table grabbing was needed on this Saturday afternoon –Giant Robot is simply too big for weekend Canary Wharf traffic – but on weeknights, especially Thirsty Thursday, the place is packed to the rafters and you’re grateful for the abundance of space. We took our seat, were joined soon after by another Color Run refugee, and got in a few pints of Gamma Ray (very tasty but somewhat unimaginative considering the wealth of other choices, but hey).
We usually hit Yum Bun for food and today was no exception. We took a large selection of Hoi Sin pork belly buns, fried chicken buns and their fries – a damn sensation – seasoned with seaweed dust. The buns are fabulous – as good as Bao, but far more easy to access – with a special mention to the spicy fried chicken pillow of goodness that goes rather too well with Gamma Ray and a dunk in the tart mayonnaise that comes with those gorgeous fries.
This time, feeling bad for never trying the other three vendors, I picked up a ‘starter’ of a Black Bear classic burger. I asked The European which one she would like to share with me, and she did her little turned up nose thing before retorting “well you’re the one eating it so I don’t mind, I’ll have a bite”.
She vanquished that burger. It was seriously, seriously good. Crunchy, candied bacon. A juicy patty, cooked to a perfect medium, with American cheese dripping out of it. A sesame bun toasted and smothered with onion jam and garlic mayonnaise. This was indeed a burger for the ages, and yet another reason to return to this very special haunt.
Giant Robot’s only caveat? Grotty toilets (the gents are actually ‘outside’ the main space, and basically a darkened room with a steel trough for number ones and two cubicles with broken locks for number twos). Still, as hardly anyone uses them, they provides a secluded space for me to clean colured powder out of my hair, teeth and – ahem – other places, before returning to the Holy Trinity of soul – soul food, soul beer and soul music.
Giant Robot is on the top (roof garden level) of Crossrail Place, at the eastern end (opposite side to Big Easy). Nearest station is West India Quay or Poplar on the DLR, or Canary Wharf Jubilee Line.
- Comfort factor: 7/10
- Returnability factor: 9/10
- Taste factor: 9/10
- Screaming kid factor: 6/10
- Wow factor: 7/10