Last night I had the immense pleasure of dining at the brand new Aqua Shard, set to open to the public next week. It was – without exaggeration – one of the best things I’ve experienced in London since I moved here a decade ago.
See, I have this weird fascination with The Shard. For the past couple of years, I’ve been looking at it from my street every single day. During the construction, I initially thought it was a monstrosity. Then it slowly started growing on me, and then one day I realised I simply couldn’t imagine the London skyline without it. I like seeing the way it reflects the clouds and the sun, the way it completely disappears when the weather is shitty, the way it can be seen from pretty much anywhere in London and can guide you home – The Shard has become this big subconscious part of daily London life and it’s hard to remember a time without it. It’s fair to say I am truly in love with that building, yet until yesterday I’d never even been inside.
When I heard a couple of months ago that Aqua would be opening inside the Shard, I knew it was meant to be. Aqua Kyoto on Regent Street just happens to be my all-time favourite restaurant in the world. I love the food, I love the location, I love the rooftop bar and I love the special memories I have of nights spent there. My favourite restaurant opening inside my favourite building? It couldn’t be more perfect.
Anyway. That was a very long way of explaining to you that it wasn’t just another restaurant opening in another building. For me, it was THE restaurant opening in THE building, if you get my drift. Aqua Shard and sister restaurant Hutong have their own entrance at the bottom of the building, with an express lift to take you to the 32nd floor. As soon as you walk through the doors and take the huge staircase down to the 31st floor where Aqua Shard is based, you’re just completely overwhelmed with the 180 degree view over London. It is breathtakingly, jawdroppingly, impressively beautiful. The Shard’s large glass windows allow an unobstructed view, and Aqua Shard’s triple-height ceiling in the main bar when you walk in just adds to the experience.
We started off with a cocktail (or two) in the bar, which directly faces The City and all its high-rise buildings, has the Thames right below, and pretty much every other London landmark within sight. Aqua Shard unashamedly want you to enjoy the view as much as you can (and why wouldn’t they!) – they cleverly use angled mirrors throughout the restaurant so you can see any part of the city at any given time. You could be looking at Canary Wharf and yet see the West End simultaneously, the view almost becomes an optical illusion. It’s a great space made even greater by the slick yet muted design, and for once I was left speechless for about 5 minutes, which never happens. Ever. The whole night was spent in this state of awe.
For dinner, our table was in the corner right up against the windows on the West side (the best table in the house if you ask me), so we had the prime seats to see the sun set over London and watch the city turn on its many lights whilst having dinner. Yes, with all the excitement of the view it is almost easy to forget you’re there to eat. Unlike its Asian Regent Street counterpart, Aqua Shard offers a contemporary British menu by chef Anthony Garlando. The food is seasonal and sourced as locally as possible, with a list of all their suppliers on the menu – something I always appreciate.
I am not a professional food critic, just an appreciator, so if you’re looking for longwinded musings and criticisms about the food, this isn’t the place… To start with, I had handcut Rose beef with a ‘Shard Egg’, which was an excellent, modern take on Steak Tartare (although from the description I’d assumed it would be more like carpaccio, not that I mind either way). One of my friends opted for the Foie Gras starter and equally raved about it. For the main I went all out and had the Lobster, which had a little mango salad and spinach-filled ravioli. It was delicious and the presentation beautiful, although perhaps it needed a bit more of the salad or ravioli to fill me up. My friends opted for the wood pigeon and lamb dishes and said they were fantastic, but also a little on the small side for a main, but we didn’t mind – it meant we had enough space for a dessert. The desserts – and this being the ultimate compliment coming from a girl who doesn’t really like desserts – were divine. A contemporary take on some British classics like strawberries and cream topped off an already perfect evening.
I have to end this post at some point (reluctantly, as I could go on for a while), so let me finish with some final thoughts: with the location Aqua Shard has, the view was always going to be the main selling point. It could be a horrible restaurant and people would still go, but it’s not – it’s a fantastic place, with great food, great drinks, great atmosphere. It’s beautifully designed, but the design doesn’t take away from the view, it just adds to it. It’s a fancy place, but not so much you would feel unwelcome if you just wanted to go for a drink in the bar (that’s what I’ll be doing. A lot.) It’s high up, but not so high it makes you feel uncomfortable. It’s the kind of magical place that always added this high rise glamour to cities like New York or Tokyo, and London has always lacked. Until now.
Once it opens to the public on July 1st, Aqua Shard will be serving breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea as well as dinner, so whether it’s a romantic dinner, a girly afternoon, stylish drinks at the bar, a business breakfast or you just want to impress the pants off of someone, it is bound to become the ultimate place to be in London. Fact.
p.s. When you do go to Aqua Shard, definitely pay a visit to the toilets and bring your cameraphone – best loos in London. That’s all I’m saying.
p.p.s. People have asked me whether I got paid to write this review – I didn’t. I just really love it. The fact that I go back almost every week proves that, surely.