Aqua Shard – The Views, the Views!

The Shard could well be a great new restaurant eating destination for those of us living in the Barbican, or for anyone else in London for that matter.  With three restaurants currently open between the 31st and 33rd floors in Aqua Shard, Oblix and Hutong, there is a good choice of eating experiences, with all three restaurants providing exceptional views over London.  They may not be the highest up restaurants in London, but the location is brilliant and our first experience of eating there, Aqua Shard, certainly makes tremendous use of building the phenomenal views into its overall ambience and the initial experience is simply breathtaking.

Photo credit: Paul Winch-Furness

Part of the restaurant section at Aqua Shard 

Aqua Shard is on the 31st floor.  The elevator serving all three of the Shard’s current restaurants runs from the building’s lower ground floor level on St. Thomas Street and whisks you rapidly, and smoothly, to the 32nd floor and one enters Aqua Shard down a glass staircase to the bar area – talk about wow factor with the City of London stretched out before you.  (There is disabled access via second set of elevators if required).

We were quickly shown to our table, in a west facing window area.  The sun was still up and diners were protected from the glare by translucent window blinds which automatically rose as the sun went down to take in the full impact of the spectacular sunset – and then as the lights came on all over London the scene was totally transformed yet again.

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The spectacular view from our table once the sun went down.

We were offered a cocktail, which arrived quickly and could have ordered our food right then as the cocktails arrived, but we were still prevaricating over the menu choices and drinking in the spectacular views.  Many of the initial reviews of all three Shard restaurants had commented on exceedingly slow service and disinterested waiting staff, but I can’t say that this was the case at Aqua.  Service was acceptably prompt and attentive and one wouldn’t want to be too rushed anyway as one looked for familiar landmarks from an unfamiliar height in the light of the setting sun.

The menu is an interesting one – not over-long and, given the spectacular views and decor, the prices are not ridiculous for good quality London food.  It’s probably best to look at the website – www.aquashard.co.uk for full details of what is available on the menu, and at what cost.

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Aqua makes good use of mirrors to keep the whole space exceptionally light and airy in the daylight hours.

The food might be described as upmarket British with a twist – the restaurant itself describes the cooking as featuring  “carefully-selected fine British produce and combining the staple ingredients of British cooking with innovative techniques.”

We began with two superb starters.  My dining companion had what might have sounded slightly unappetising – Green pea custard, seared foie gras, jersey royal salad and horn of plenty sauce (a trumpet mushroom based sauce).  It was exceptionally good.  I chose Confit Loch Duart salmon with Dorset crab, avocado, pepper puree, courgette and Oscietra caviar.  An extremely pleasant and tasy way to begin the meal.

For the main courses we chose Rhug Estate salt marsh lamb saddle with aubergine, red pepper, goats cheese, fondant potato, young garlic and lamb jus and Roasted wood pigeon, blackcurrant, tenderstem broccoli, caramelized golden pear, cognac and pepper jus.  The main dishes were good without being exceptional and portions were quite small.  Those eating there should take in that although there appear to be plenty of vegetable accompaniments coming with the courses, they do not amount to very much in volume and you might be advised to share one or two sides.

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Roast pigeon main course

Desserts:  There is a limited dessert menu and these do come in for a lot of praise from critics.  We had Aqua’s take on a Pavlova/Eton mess served in a tall glass – excellent, and what Aqua describes a ‘Britain’s finest artisanal cheese selection’.  Yes the cheeses were good, featuring Stinking Bishop, Ragstone, Cashel Blue and Westcombe Cheddar, but tiny portions given the £12.50 price tag, served with melba toast and a really good chestnut honey.

We washed these all down with wine by the glass – a good selection available.  We chose a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, a Spanish Rioja and an Argentinian Malbec – all very good.

I suppose reading the above one might come up with the impression that the food volumes were a little small given the price, but perhaps all the better for that.  Too many restaurants serve mega portions leaving you bloated at the end of the meal if, like me, you were brought up in a period of austerity where one was expected to eat everything on the plate.  The portions may have been small, but they were tasty and I can’t say that we still felt hungry at the end of the meal.

Pricewise it would probably be tough to get away with much less than £65-75 a head for a 3 course meal with wine, but that is not out of the ordinary these days and probably nowhere else has quite the wow factor of Aqua Shard which does make great use of some of London’s most spectacular views in the overall decor – supplemented by mirrors to make the whole restaurant and bar area extremely bright and enticing.

Back to price – for those who feel that perhaps £75 a head is too much to pay – even for such a spectacular location, there is a lunchtime special menu available at £28 for three courses or £24 for two.  It would be a great lunchtime venue.

And from September 10th – assuming all goes to plan – Aqua Shard will also be open for breakfast and is planning a pretty spectacular breakfast menu.  We’ve been given a sight of a preliminary menu –  and are impressed.  Prices are highish – full English at £14.50 to which you’ll probably need to add freshly squeezed juice at £4.50 and coffee £3-3.50, tea £4 or a wide selection of special teas at around £4.95, but no more so than at any of London’s four or five star hotels – and that makes their proposed Express breakfast at £8.95 for freshly squeezed juice, pastries and tea or coffee a steal!  More than worth it for the views alone on a bright sunny morning!  And what a place to impress for a business breakfast!  Other interesting dishes include lobster Benedict (£18), Aqua Shard kedgeree (£11), smoked salmon and scrambled eggs (£12.50) and a whole host of other options.  Prices weren’t necessarily final, but that gives you an idea of the planned menu.

One has to definitely recommend Aqua Shard as encompassing a remarkable eating experience – although perhaps dominated by the spectacular views from the Shard – even if situated only halfway up London’s tallest building.  It is a great special occasion destination.

Aqua Shard is run by David Yeo’s renowned Hong Kong Aqua restaurant group with restaurants in Hong Kong, Beijing and in London where it already has the very highly regarded Aqua Nueva, Aqua Kyoto and Aqua Spirit in addition tow its two new Shard restaurants.

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The Shard, now London’s tallest building.

Aqua Shard is located at Level 31, The Shard, 31 St Thomas Street, London, SE1 9RY.  Telephone: 020 7478  0540 for reservations.  It is open 7 days for lunch and dinner – with the bar open through the day from  noon to 1 am – and the restaurant is, we understand, now open for breakfast.  What a view to start the day!