Forget sipping Champagne at floor 31. The Bar at Aqua Shard blends the brand’s famous international sass with Great British tradition thanks to a focus on two key components: tea and gin.
Chances are you’re coming up to floor 31 of The Shard for those all-important views. The Bar at Aqua Shard capitalises on this by dedicating its window space to lounge-style chairs so you can sit back and drink it all in, peering through three-storey-tall windows over Tower Bridge and Canary Wharf to one side and The London Eye and Houses of Parliament over to the other – it's breathtaking. Mirrors replace windows in a random sequence, which adds to the dizzying effect of Western Europe’s tallest building, and this trick is all the more eye-catching at night when light twinkles in from the capital and bounces off all surfaces. Glitzy little pendant lights drop down above each table, adding to the effect, too. The island bar also stands out by night, when it’s lit up by floor spotlights and has light bouncing off its golden centrepiece.
Like many of the capital’s high-rise bars, you can’t help but feel that Aqua Shard is relying on those views by day. The décor is kept so minimal that it can almost feel a little soulless, like you’re descending the stairs into a hotel lobby. This is met by slightly sterile treatment on the reception desk, and even though reservations for the bar aren’t necessary, you may be scrutinised early on. Thankfully, this bar has bags of personality come sunset, when it oozes a dark sophistication that even lures in the rich and famous - Aqua Shard definitely has the celebrity factor. But all guests are given the royal treatment by waiting staff who are beyond compare; impeccably polite, friendly and in no way fazed by endless requests to take photos of happy couples with the stunning backdrop behind them.
Don’t be surprised if your view through the windows is occasionally obscured by trigger-happy tourists – this is The Shard, after all. There seems to be a real international spread of well-heeled customers - owing in part to Aqua’s worldwide renown, as well as the building within which it’s situated – but with one wing of the bar paying homage to tea while the other side shows support to gin, things are brought back to British roots.
Currently, there are no bar snacks to soak up those cocktails at Aqua Shard, but a food menu is in the offing, there are rumours of a buffet-style breakfast, and afternoon tea – the tallest in London – is coming very soon to perfectly suit Aqua’s homage to the English tradition.
Cocktails are also inspired by gin and tea; what more could a Londoner ask for? This hardly means you’ll be knocking back Earl Grey Martinis all evening – it’s a whole lot more creative than that, and drinks on the gin list may be based on the spirit, but occasionally gin botanicals are used to make up the cocktail instead. Take the Bohemian Soul (£12.50) for example; grains of paradise – a citrusy gin botanical - infuses Lillet, although bold oregano top notes and a creamy, chocolate absinthe foam dominate in this creative and fruity, rum-based drink. Tea inspirations, on the other hand, either incorporate the flavour, or make reference in other ways to the Great British tradition of afternoon tea. The Battenberg Martini (£13.50) is the sweet treat you’d imagine – a luminous pink cocktail that tastes just like the traditional cake thanks to vanilla vodka, apricot brandy, chocolate wine and almond syrup, to name a few components.
Using hibiscus tea syrup as its central ingredient, Persephone’s Cup (£14) is a whisky-based drink served in a cutesy teacup with lavender sprigs and orange peel for decoration – it’s adorable to look at but you won’t feel quite so innocent once you take a sip of this boozy number. Heaven on Earth (£16), meanwhile, is a striking drink of Zacapa rum, Amontillado sherry and kashmir tea, with lime, tangerine and a pistachio and maple syrup. Presentation is key, with a cluster of icing sugar-topped pistachios nesting in an ice basket that floats on the surface of the drink – it’s as if bar manager Manuel Soro is taking his tip from Renzo Piano.
The Last Word
The Bar at Aqua Shard plays on the inevitable pride punters will feel when looking down on the capital in all its glory by dabbling in a spot of gin and tea worship, too. This homage to Great British tradition is subtle enough that the bar never abandons that chic international style made famous at other Aqua venues. Visit by night to truly experience it.