On the 33rd floor of the Shard, an ambitious Chinese restaurant that was still giving a slight impression of settling in on our visit; we had an enjoyable lunch, though, and prices are not unreasonable, considering.
It used to be easy. High-rise restaurants in London were few, small and expensive, and everyone knew they were primarily there to rip off tourists, birthday celebrants and romantics. Yet, as London reaches for the stars, such restaurants have suddenly become so numerous as to seem almost unremarkable. Take the lift to the 33rd floor of the Shard, for example, and you find a complex comprising not one but two Aqua-group restaurants (Aqua Shard, British in style, as well as Hutong), and also a brasserie-style operation (Oblix) run by Rainer Becker of Zuma fame – the bars and dining rooms can accommodate hundreds of guests in total. (And that’s before a Shangri-La hotel opens in the same building at the end of the year.)
The landlords must have been cutting good deals, because space is used at these new establishments in a lavish way which those of us used to the West End’s cosy ways can find it difficult to adjust to. Indeed, these vast air-conditioned expanses often just feel rather dead. And how can the actual dining rooms compete with the views, anyway? On our daytime visit, none of the Shard restaurant interiors filled us with any great excitement. Of the three, however, we suspect that the dark and dimly-lit interior of Hutong – the swankiest of the establishments – is the one that would work best by night. By day, leaving the view out of the reckoning, we felt as if we were lunching in one of the more upmarket of Mr Disney’s resort-hotel dining rooms (and not an especially comfortable one either).
The dim sum menu – not especially helpfully divided up, in the way you’d find in Chinatown – seemed a good place to try a range of tastes, but the affable waiter steered us to the pre-chosen steamed selection from the main menu. These came prettily colour coded, not something we can really recall before, but the differences of hue among the selection was more pronounced than the differences of taste – in every other way they hit the spot, though, and they certainly delivered quite a chilli kick.
Duck in two services was impressive – the first service very definitely not the dried-out shreds so typically found, but elegantly pink slices – and even better than we remember from the (merely) 10th floor operation at the excellent Min Jiang, in Kensington. By then we were pretty much full, so pudding was steamed custard buns, presented as mice or, quite possibly porcupines – quite amusing, though the taste was not particularly remarkable.
With a couple of glasses (125ml) of wine apiece ‘” Austrian for the white, and Hungarian for the red – plus a pair of rather ordinary espressos (the altitude perhaps?), the bill of an enjoyable lunch came to just over £100 for the two of us. Given the setting – with St Paul’s, in particular, looking very lovely in the sunshine – it was a cost hard to begrudge.