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Square Meal readers gathered in London’s latest landmark to test the waters at Aqua Shard.
Lunch club is always popular. A three-course meal in a top private dining room, plus the chance to chat shop with your peers – you can see why. Then the Aqua Shard invites went out; followed by an avalanche. It was our biggest response yet.
Why? Well, first, there’s its location in The Shard. Then there’s the lure of the views. And third, the food. This is Aqua Restaurant Group’s fourth London opening but, for the first time, there’s a strong emphasis on British dishes. Quite a departure from the Spanish, Japanese and cocktail offerings of its Regent Street sites. Our guests couldn’t wait.
We arrive at The Shard and immediately fly up to level 33 to find Aqua’s vast glass atrium. The British feel runs from the food to the decor: Liberty and William Morris prints upholster the banquettes and the restaurant’s two spaces are called the Tea Wing and Gin Wing. We nod approvingly – these are two of our favourite things.
In the mirrored private dining room we’re handed a glass of Champagne and take in some breath-taking views. Sweeping vistas aren’t just restricted to the PDRs, though. The restaurant, with its centrally placed kitchen, has been designed so that guests can take in the capital from every angle. Even what you can see from the loos warrants a snap or two.
Once all our lunch clubbers – 16 PAs, EAs and event organisers from the likes of Ernst & Young, Deutsche Bank, Channel 5 and PwC – are assembled, we’re given a tour of the venue and a viewing of the PDRs in Hutong, Aqua’s sister restaurant upstairs. Our group is quick to compliment the decor. The wishing tree in the restaurant and the red paper lanterns by the two private rooms earn extra praise.
By the time we return to Aqua, we’ve definitely worked up an appetite. Thankfully, the starter of confit salmon with avocado, crab, pepper purée, courgette and Oscietra caviar comes out just as we sit down. It’s both beautifully presented and memorable in flavour. We mop up the last drops of sauce with warm bread, baked freshly in the kitchens that morning.
Our main course of salt marsh lamb saddle with aubergine, goat’s cheese and fondant potato is accompanied by chat about other private rooms the group often book. Talk naturally turns to London’s other lofty venues: Sushisamba and Duck & Waffle, among others. Not everyone has been, but those who have give them the thumbs up. Tanner & Co in Bermondsey and old City haunt The Don also emerge as popular private dining choices.
Dessert – named David’s Mess in honour of Aqua owner David Yeo – is anything but messy. A meringue dome covers a guava sorbet, vanilla Chantilly and raspberries. Sweet and sticky, this goes down a treat with the group.
After coffee (and an extra glass of red for those who don’t have to rush back to the office) we also get the chance to chat about our newest issue of Square Meal Venues & Events, which arrived in the office that very morning. As we leave The Shard to head back to work, one thing is decided – we’re definitely going to return to sample Hutong’s offerings next.
If you’d like to join our next lunch club, please register your interest by emailing your name, job title and details of how many PDRs you book as part of your job to [email protected]
This article was first published in Square Meal Venues & Events, spring 2014.