You know the Shard. It’s western Europe’s tallest building, the enormous glass tower by London Bridge that has changed the face of this corner of Southwark forever. And why not? It’s a beautiful, shimmering construction from the outside, while inside offers the single best aspects of this most extraordinary of cities. The Shangri-La famously made front page news when it was revealed that guests could see into other rooms, but no such problems a few floors down at Aqua Shard.
You also know Aqua, from their multiple Hong Kong iterations. Their 1 Peking Road address is still by far the most impressive view of the Fragrant Harbour, a must-visit for first timers and returners alike. So in London they’ve followed their tried and trusted route of nabbing pretty much the most memorably photogenic spot in town, truly a tale of two cities. The beauty is that their plates will consistently distract you, even from the most jaw-dropping of views.
The restaurant is booked up weeks if not months in advance, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that it still would be even if it were located in an underground car park. The head chef is Dale Osborne, formerly of serious culinary hotspots including Dinner by Heston and Chiltern Firehouse, while the affable Kiwi, Pip Sandrey, is leading the kitchen in his absence on holiday. With classic Antipodean understatement, she and the rest of Osborne’s team are at the top of their game, serving beautifully-plated seasonal cuisine that lets the quality and integrity of the produce do much of the talking.
But first to that view. Out of the elevators, greeted by the hostesses and then the sound of jaws hitting the floor. The doctor and I were lucky to have a pretty decent day, but still. The Thames Estuary to one side, the tower at Crystal Palace, the arch at Wembley all on the horizon, while down below St Paul’s, Tower Bridge and more were real life Legoland.
Talking of which, pretty much everything was awesome over lunch, starting with their bread. So often an afterthought, here it laid down a marker that you weren’t just here for the views.
A trio of starters, each in their own way quite simple, but all flawlessly-executed and beautifully-plated. First Loch Etive smoked trout with roe, rock samphire, crispy skin and crème fraîche. Top drawer produce, perfectly in sync.
From Scotland to Italy by way of the English countryside with burrata, broad beans, peas and shoots and a light touch of olive oil. For once the greens trumped the cheese, with those peas somehow outshining the lovely dome of mozzarella and cream.
In fact lunch was a celebration of all things summer and British, which was especially fitting given that on the walk over to the Shard, I caught Queenie doing her thing outside St Paul’s one one of her numerous birthdays:
Norfolk asparagus, Parmesan mayonnaise and soft boiled egg was another seasonal treat that ensured the bread was further utilised on that magnificently-coloured yolk.
In common with many menus around town, the key producers and farmers used are listed so you have a good idea of provenance and know where to stock up. A case in point with the sensational new season West Country lamb loin. Yes, those peas and shoots made a comeback, but they were still more than welcome. Minted yoghurt, spring onion and toasted puffed rice joined the party. Alongside this absolute belter at Social Eating House, this was a lamb dish without peer in the capital.
Not to be outdone was the Pork, a magnificent mahogany in colour even before the jus was poured over. From Blythburgh in Suffolk, just next door to God’s county, it was served two ways, the belly and roasted fillet. Baby turnips, crackling, barley and apple completed the plate, but the noble swine was always going to be the star here, both in the sticky pull of the belly and the leaner roast of the fillet.
Wines flowed throughout as it had been too long in exile with my fellow luncher. The standouts of some excellent recommendations from the somm were the Tokaji 2003 – when is it not the Tokaji? – and the brilliant Sicilian Muscat, Ben Ryé.
They were the perfect accompaniment to desserts which were totally unnecessary but hugely enjoyable regardless. An exemplary cherry Bakewell Tart with Cornish ice cream:
And no more British way to round things off than with strawberries and cream in various clever guises…
…before an artisanal G&T. Not your usual digestif admittedly, but a rare treat to celebrate Her Majesty’s special day. Her mum in particular would have been proud.
Set lunches are £32 for two courses or £36 for three. You know you’ll have three.
Aqua Shard, 7am – 11pm daily.