Ah, the Shard, that icy middle finger to the London skyline. No guile hides behind those panes of glass, no hidden architectural easter eggs lie waiting to be discovered. It’s a building that was born of the nouveau riche to cater for the nouveau riche, and I love it unreservedly. To hell with your broken view of St Paul’s.
Its Oblix restaurant (32nd floor) – a place that everyone in the known universe agrees is a cathedral to bad food – was the most visited restaurant IN THE ENTIRE CITY last year. It doesn’t matter what arrives on your plate; the people have spoken. In second place was the Shard’s Aqua (32nd floor), Hutong (33rd floor) – another Shard venue – was in sixth and the Heron Tower’s Duck & Waffle (40th floor) was high up the list too, even though it’s only really good for getting sloshed in at 4am on a Tuesday morning.
Now we have Jason Atherton’s new City Social in Tower 42 (24th floor) and Shangri-La’s Ting in the Shard (35th floor). If only they could find a way to blast diners up to the International Space Station it would be booked up until the end of the century.
Anyway, on Monday I ate in Ting and I have a confession to make: I kind of love it. It’s brilliantly, outrageously inoffensive. Every detail has been pondered and deliberated over so that nobody could possibly dislike it. It plays musak but it’s good musak. It has Oriental-ish paintings on the walls, but they’re really nice. There’s swirly abstract sculpture on the way into the bogs and urinals that overlook the Thames. Even the food wouldn’t be so bold as to be from any particular place – it’s just “Asian-inspired”. Nothing to take exception to here. It’s like the best airport lounge in the world, which sounds like an insult but it’s not. Really, it’s not. It feels safe and warm, with lots of soft edges and neutral colours. It’s like a 35-story womb. And I tell you what, the food isn’t half good.
The menu is an exercise in restraint: six starters (six incredibly expensive starters) and six mains. This is what I want in a restaurant – for someone to do the thinking for me, just as I expect them to do the cooking. I don’t want to have to mentally process 30 dishes that one kitchen couldn’t possibly hope to prepare very well anyway, knowing in the pit of my stomach that I’m going to panic and end up with something ghastly. With three of us at my table we got through half of the menu, and virtually none of it disappointed.
The tuna with shredded veg was top class and a light, moussey foie gras on a hefty puck of duck was just as good. Two scallops for the final starter was a little mean, but the presentation was adorable and I’m still salivating over the mandarin sauce.
John dory with sweet potato, burnt butter and wild mushrooms was all kinds of sweet and gummy and delicious, and chicken with apricot and tea (added at the end to the sauce) was both unusual and unusually good. I never like everything that’s put in front of me; in fact, that’s kind of my job. Thankfully, I could have taken or left the lamb, which wasn’t as pink as it should have been and overpowered a rather meek serving of mushrooms.
Now, anyone who reads this column regularly – don’t all put your hands up at once – will know that I’ve been droning on about taking three months off the sauce, and forgoing starchy carbs or sugar, or smelling the sweet fragrance of a spring flower or feeling the warm embrace of a loved one, or partaking of anything that passes for pleasure in this bleak, grey, pointless world. But after all that, I saw the dessert menu and thought “sod it”, and ordered them all. They arrived, four of them, each like a tiny, meticulously tended, pastel Zen garden. The rosewater parfait was a smorgasbord of culinary bravado – two powder pink globes of fatty, sugary, cream infused with so much rosewater it had the flowery twang of Turkish delight. Dotted around it were crumbs of crunchy desiccated white chocolate and translucent champagne jelly and dollops of guava jelly and some flowers thrown in because why not. It was the best kind of showing off – I ate it all. Then I devoured a plate of raspberry cream with apricot puree and cubes of lime foam that looked like sculpted bubble bath but tasted of the first time you ever had sex. Then I laid waste to a panna cotta topped with strawberry compote and tubes of pink meringue and, running out of steam, just sort of smeared something with chocolate cream and pistachio around the plate a bit. And my god, did it feel good.
So Ting has the views and, somewhat surprisingly, it has the food, too. I’ll find out next week if Atherton’s City Social is better, which in my heart of hearts I suspect it will be. See, Atherton is cool, and that’s something Ting will never be. Nowhere in the Shard is cool. That’s almost the point. But that doesn’t matter – right now it’s just about my favourite place in the entire world.
First published in City A.M.