The Shard is London’s latest luxe attraction, boasting Britain’s first Shangra La Hotel, 3 dazzling restaurants, office space and some private residences with asking prices up to £50 million. Located right next to London Bridge station, The Shard is just south of the river and a stone’s throw from London’s financial district. Reaching 1018ft in the sky, The Shard gives you undoubtedly the best view in London. We the editors recently enjoyed a birthday wine and dine there and thought it would be worth sharing our experience with you.
When selecting a restaurant, ideally we like to look for 3 things: ambiance, service and quality. Though The Shard is criticised for its poor ergonomic design, once you’re inside that is the last thing on your mind. And if you’re thinking about anything but the mesmerizing twinkling lights of London while gazing out of the window, then you might need to have your head examined. The first thrilling experience is taking the high speed elevator up to the 32nd floor, which quite literally makes your ears pop. (We also recommend jumping as the lift accelerates on the way down!). The entrance is shared with two restaurants; Aqua is on the lower floor, so the entrance overlooks the bar and restaurant, with of course a sweeping view of London. There are plenty of staff on hand to welcome and introduce you to the experience. We recommend arriving a little early and getting a drink at the bar, looking over the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, 32 floors up with a Martini in hand. It’s potentially the closest you’ll ever get to feeling like James Bond.
The Ambiance of Aqua
Aqua describes its menu as innovative contemporary English cuisine. The atmosphere in the restaurant is very well balanced; the bar is located between the two dining areas, granting a constant flow and buzz to the venue. The view is absolutely breathtaking, and our particular favourite is the side facing the Tower of London. The tables are also generously spaced–there is nothing worse than visiting a restaurant and being seated as if you’re in the tube at rush hour. Above every table there is a hanging light, ensuring each one has the ideal mood lighting. Overall, it’s a well-designed, modern restaurant with a full portion of British class. If you’re interested in a very unique london restaurant check out our recent posts.
The Service of Aqua
The hosting staff are entertaining, talkative and helpful. They seem neither pretentious nor pompous and instead make you feel most welcome. The bar staff (all seemingly clones of Kevin from the backstreet boys) were rather swamped when we tried to order our first drinks, but aside from that the service was quite speedy. When researching the restaurant, it was in fact the speed of the service which was most criticised. We therefore went in with the presumption we would have to wait, but we found service time to be ideal. We had plenty of time to decide on our order, place it, enjoy the view and then have a leisurely paced dinner with pleasantly flowing conversation encouraged by our delightful experience.
Glasses were never empty but not continually filled, a perfect balance to prevent constant interruption. When spilling a glass of red wine, the waiter was understanding, cleared it up without causing any unwanted attention to add to the potentially embarrassing moment. The service scores highly and the only improvement would be to improve timing at the bar.
The Quality of Aqua
Where to begin, the wine or the food? Right, wine: we selected a 2012 Malbec (from Argentina), a modest £36 bottle, which was potentially one of the most undervalued wines in the world. The mixologists were quite mesmerising, and although we didn’t order cocktails, the ones that were made in front of us were mouthwatering. The quality of the drinks really set the tone for the rest of the evening.
British cuisine is often quite frankly laughed at around the world, labelled as dull and boring. As much as I love British food, I’ll confess that the world sometimes has a point, especially when comparing it to European counterparts. But Aqua’s elegant British cuisine made me proud. For starters we had cured sea bass with a cucumber jelly and mini meringues. It was quite delectable and certainly not boring! For mains we opted for roasted wood pigeon with pear drops, blackcurrant sauce and tender stem vegetables in a cognac and pepper jus as well as the Duke of Berkshire pork cutlet with apricot, spiced fruit chutney, buck-wheat pancake and orange jus. Just writing this, my mouth is watering at the memory. Main course options from the land or from the sea are on the a la carte menu ranging from £21-67.
If you’re someone who likes to live life through magical experiences, then Aqua should be near the top of your list. It boasts everything you could want in a restaurant: great location, great staff, good food and even better wine. On a side note, the front of house dropped what they were doing to take a photo of us overlooking London. Having eaten at many top restaurants across the capital, this is not the usual attention granted.
Aqua at The Shard most certainly gets The Luxe Travel stamp of approval as a top luxury restaurant venue, and we highly recommend it for a special evening in London.