Finding Shangri-La at the Shangri-La Hotel, at the Shard, London
Ruth J. Katz
What do the barrel, the screwdriver, the hot air balloon, the bar code, the bicycle, and Penicillin have in common? Not much on the surface, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find that they are all inventions that are the inspirations for visionary cocktails in the sky-high bar, Gong, in the Shangri-La Hotel, at the Shard, London.
The highly ingenious, original cocktail menu, entitled A Miscellany of Inventions, features a baker’s dozen discerning drinks, each harking back to a revolutionary invention, and each, cleverly and aptly named for its inspiring source material. These inventions “have impacted society and shaped our world,” the hotel menu advises, and each “drink is our unique creation, in a wondrously shaped receptacle.” The barrel has given birth to the “Cooperman,” the hot air balloon to “Over the Rainbow,” the bar code to “Scan Me,” and Penicillin, the “Cure.” (Worth noting: Just in time for fall, the hotel has released yet another clever drinks menu—Baijiu cocktails. Honoring Shangri-La’s Asian heritage. Baijiu (bye–j’oh) is the world’s most consumed alcohol with over 250 million gallons consumed per year, a surprise to some, but given its popularity in China (and factoring in the size of the country’s population), this spirit is no longer China’s best kept secret. Now, a tempting menu of cocktails will be available through the end of the year.
These fun and fertile drink menus at the glamorous Gong are easily enough motivation to sashay up to the 52nd floor of the Shard, but there is also an enticing saki-sushi pairing tasting menu. And yet another compelling reason for zooming up to Gong is that it is the highest bar in Western Europe, and the view will leave your jaw hanging. There is also a Champagne bar and the Sky Pool area—infinity never looked so unbounded—as the pool edge appears to cascade over all of London. (It is also worth noting, that the hotel features the largest selection of Roderer Cristal Champagne in all of London.)
After a satisfying hour (or four) imbibing imaginative cocktails, or Champagne, or saki, you will find serene comfort in one of the hotel’s 202 rooms and suites. The hotel itself occupies floors 34 through 52, in the Shard’s avian stratosphere; most rooms offer floor-to-ceiling views of London. The nighttime panorama is breathtaking.
And thoughtfully, each room has a pair of high-grade binoculars (or a telescope), and a little Baedeker map to identify the landmarks that dot the panorama: Ooh, look, there’s Big Ben…Parliament…the London Eye…St. Paul’s Cathedral…Westminster Abbey…the Tate Modern…Shakespeare’s Globe…and up the River Thames, catch a misty glimpse of Maritime Greenwich, and the counties of Kent, Surrey, and Sussex. It is clear that this Renzo Piano-designed structure was carefully thought out, and it’s not for nothing, as they say, that the edifice is clad in nearly a quarter of a million panes of glass—enough to cover three football fields.
Inside your cozy chamber, you will be cossetted as if you were royalty. A fine Bose sound system, a generous 55″ TV. With an eggshell-white (and shaped like an egg, to boot) tub, which seems to be cantilevered out of the building, you will be able to soak in splendor, gazing at, in my case, Tower Bridge, a glimmering bracelet spanning the nighttime, ebony Thames.
In typical Eastern-hospitality fashion, befitting a five-star property, the amenities drawer is chock full of all you might need—and then some—a loofah, a razor and shaving cream, comb, nail kit, cotton buds and cotton balls, shower cap, tooth paste, toothbrush–you get the idea—and then, carefully stowed adjacent to the magnifying, light-up make-up mirror, a lovely linen towel for gentle face-wiping. As in all Shangri-La hotels, which remain true to their Asian heritage, there are not only plush terry robes, but also cotton kimonos and oftentimes, a silk yukata, too! As befits a hotel called Shangri-La, there is a copy, with a lovely, tasseled bookmark, of Lost Horizon the night table drawer.
I chose to dine in the hotel, at Ting, the hotel’s main restaurant, where every table seems to be adjacent to the glass curtain wall and offers a landscape that twinkles as dusk tiptoes in. The restaurant celebrates the fresh ingredients sourced from suppliers in Borough Market, virtually across the street from the hotel. (The hotel, by the way, can put together a Borough Market Basket of the most sublime goodies from the market, for anyone who doesn’t have the time to go.) The cuisine at Ting (derived from the Chinese for “living room”) is modern British, with a subtle Asian twist. I wished I could have tasted more than a few dishes. But, I adored the highly original starter of chalk stream farm sea trout with fennel, ruby-red grapefruit, and avocado. My main course, Scottish Halibut tempered with smoked eel and celeriac, was ambrosial. I doubt you could go wrong with anything on this menu.
If you plan to spend a few days here, then know that the hotel has very carefully mapped out all kinds of self-guided walking tours to the South Bank, suggestions of what to visit in Borough Hall, ideas for fun alone or with the family, routes for jogging, and suggestions for culture, and more. (One activity at the hotel, not to be missed this month, is the Pink Tea, a nod to Breast Cancer Awareness month, an event that Shangri-La has been observing since 1985, with a portion of the proceeds going to Guy’s and St. Thomas’ in London, to help support patients being treated for breast cancer. All the sweet delices on the decorative, tiered cake stand have been crafted by the pastry chef in shades or rose.)
Rest assured, every aspect of your life will be taken care of—it is that Asian hospitable DNA that forms the backbone of Shangri-La and you will savor it as much here as in the Far East. With hotels from France to Fiji, from Canada to China, you will find dependable service and serenity at both the apocryphal Shangri-La, and the corporeal Shangri-La.
The author of five books, Ruth J. Katz was the style/travel editor of Promenade magazine for eight years. She has written extensively for both The New York Times and New York magazine and has served as an editor or contributing editor at numerous magazines, including Redbook, Classic Home, Golf Connoisseur, and The Modern Estate. She has visited over 80 countries (and counting).