Despite being open for over 5 years now, I’d never made it up The Shard. You don’t often get a chance to be a tourist in your own city, what with life and work getting in the way. However, it’s been on my must-visit list since it opened; mostly because you cannot travel anywhere in London without its looming presence casting a shadow over the city. The largest building in Western Europe and comfortably the largest building in London, it sat there just south of the Thames, piercing the skyline as a constant reminder that I hadn’t managed to go up and enjoy what were to be the best views I’d ever seen in London.
We had dinner and drinks reservations at Hutong and Gong respectively. Once we cleared security the lift whisked us up 33 floors in a super-sonic 15 seconds and we were greeted by a quite staggering view of London. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen London from up high. I once climbed the 311 steps of The Monument but the views weren’t this impressive.
London is a beautiful city. Sometimes I think the fact that there’s so much going on in London, that there’s such a wealth of things to do that its beauty is often overlooked, but up here its beauty is undeniable.
The service at Hutong was swift; it took 20 minutes from arriving to having the food on the table. The food is Northern Chinese fare with lots of Dim Sum and seafood options and we opted for a Hutong special, the Chinkiang pork ribs braised in a sweet vinegar sauce, the sautéed crispy shredded beef and the vegetable noodles. The ribs were cooked well with the meat falling from the bone, the crispy shredded beef was sufficiently crispy and the noodles were also good.
The food was nice and it was a step-up from your high street Chinese take-away but I’m not sure the food justifies the prices. Everybody knows that you’re paying a premium for the view. I know that, you know that and the wait staff know that. I don’t even think the owners of the restaurant could tell you with a straight face that a plate of 6 spare ribs are good value at £29.50 but the problem was, we didn’t have a great view of the city, not where we were seated. We could see the city but not as we could have if we’d had a window table as the glare and our fellow diners were obstructing the view.
The views from the 52nd floor are even more impressive. At first we were seated at the bar and we had the same problem as in Hutong, only a glimpse of the views as the tables were occupied and the windows were obscured but we finally got a table and I was thrilled to be overlooking Tower Bridge and East London, which is where I grew up.
I saw for the first time the spectacular, unobstructed views of the entire city. I sat there for a good 5 minutes completely speechless. London is a big city but the scope and scale of London is only really something you can appreciate from this height. My only criticism would be that the windows were in dire need of cleaning as they obscured some of the shots I took of this most incredible of skylines.
The sky was a riot of pinks, yellows, dusky blues and finally black as the sun faded away on the horizon. I’m not often prone to hyperbole but the views here are unbeatable. I sat there for a while picking out all the landmarks and iconic structures that I grew up with from a completely different perspective as the sky played out an unforgettable light show and the buildings began to twinkle as their lights were gradually being turned on.
After several delicious cocktails we decided to call it an evening and made our way back down in the elevator where we descended so quickly that my ears popped! We took an iconic London black Taxi back home to turn in for the night. After an evening in the presence of London icons, both new and old, an Uber just didn’t seem appropriate.
I wouldn’t return to Hutong, I don’t think the food is good enough to warrant the prices charged but the food was nonetheless very nice. It was certainly a great experience and if you’re happy to take a chance on not having a window seat, they are assigned at random and you cannot reserve one, then the food, at least, will not disappoint.
The Gong cocktail bar on the other hand was a spectacular experience. The drinks menu was extensive. There was a selection of around 30 cocktails and there was wine, spirits, beers and naturally, champagne available. The drinks weren’t cheap with the cheapest cocktail running a £18 but here the prices seemed more justifiable.
If you pay attention to the time that the sun sets and book a table 30-45 minutes beforehand, it will give you the chance to join the waiting list for a window seat so that you can enjoy the most spectacular views of London available as the sky fades to black. I fear the pictures I’ve taken don’t do it justice but I’ll always have the memories.