Since The Shard appeared over the past couple of years, there’s no doubt that its already familiar shape has redefined London’s skyline. I’d even go so far as to say that I couldn’t imagine the capital’s horizon without it. The tallest building in Western Europe, The Shard’s crystalline 1,016ft high facade houses offices, exclusive apartments, the soon-to-be opened Shangri-La hotel and the capital’s highest viewing gallery. The latter can be accessed for almost £30 per person. Yes, that’s £60 for two.
Another option is to visit one of the building’s three restaurants. Over the summer, I was lucky enough to visit Aqua Shard on the very same week that it opened. Located on the 31st level, Aqua Shard is one of three restaurants in the building, and is an outpost of the Aqua group, which has restaurants in Beijing, Hong Kong and London. (This is actually its second location in the capital – the first being on Regent Street.)
Aqua Shard serves contemporary British cuisine while boasting breath-taking views of the London skyline and the River Thames, stretching from the Houses of Parliament to St Paul’s, Tower Bridge and the City to the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf. With three-storey high panoramic windows, there’s no doubt about it, the views are the best thing about Aqua Shard. But the food isn’t bad either.
The menu has been created by owner of Aqua restaurant group, David Yeo, in collaboration with head chef Anthony Garlando, and offers exciting contemporary British cuisine. Dishes feature carefully selected fine produce and combine the staple ingredients of British cooking with Garlando’s innovative techniques. My husband and I started with the foie gras and fat hen terrine with truffle cream, violette artichoke and pickled chanterelle (for him) and the confit of Loch Duart salmon with Dorset crab, avocado, pepper puree, courgette and Oscietra caviar (for me). Pretty as a picture, this was some good-looking food that was as tasty as it appeared. The foie gras was smooth and delicious, but so rich he couldn’t finish it, and the salmon was light, clean and fresh from the sea, with the crab adding some chunky substance. We were happy with our choices. We followed with full-flavoured dishes of lobster with lemon balm, Barwheys cheddar, spinach and ginger ravioli, mango and redcurrant salad and a 250g Yorkshire rib eye with shallot jam, carrot and horseradish remoulade, watercress salad and Béarnaise sauce. The great ‘Sides’ menu included grilled sweetcorn with spicy lime butter and Bermondsey Hard mousse, cucumber and herb salad and a spectacularly smooth mashed potato which we hailed as the best of all time. Puddings were again beautifully presented, but Aqua Shard’s answer to Eton Mess, David’s Mess, was declared the favourite. A meringue ball sat on top of a ripple of guava sorbet, fresh raspberries and a vanilla Chantilly. A triumph.
If you have trouble booking a table though, the bar is open all day (no reservation needed) and serves signature cocktails inspired by two British staples: gin and tea. The bathrooms are also worth mentioning – these have to be loos with the best views in the city.
Given that Aqua Shard is open for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, there are plenty of opportunities to visit. It’s also best to leave plenty of time to make your visit: it’s essential to see the light changing over the capital at sunset.
Aqua Shard’s combination of contemporary British cuisine, striking design and breathtaking views certainly captures the essence of modern London. And with private function options for up to 360 people, no doubt Aqua Shard will become THE destination for private events.