One minute we’re all off on holiday and the next moment every destination’s on the quarantine list. It certainly hasn’t been the easiest year for avid travellers, but cancelled summer holidays give way to another of our favourite things – the autumn staycation.
We don’t do things by halves here at The Handbook, so if we’re staycating we’re making sure we’re doing it in style. And this one is high up on our bucket list. 1,000 feet high up, to be precise.
Shangri-La at The Shard London has been the capital’s most Instagrammable hotel since it opened in 2014. Occupying floors 35 to 52 of the UK’s tallest building, with panoramic views almost as alluring as a full English on a Saturday hangover.
Unlike metropolises like Manhattan or Hong Kong, London is a relatively skyscraper-free city, meaning an express elevator ride is all that’s needed to gaze down on London’s most famous landmarks with a superior feeling of smugness.
Once the lift has docked you at reception, interiors are tasteful but muted (again, with the vista taking centre stage). Dark, marble lined corridors give way to light filled rooms, carpeted in a sky-like fabric, adding to the illusion of being suspended in the clouds. Nods to Asia can be picked out throughout, with cherry-blossom Chinoiserie embossed on the wallpaper behind the king-size bed and kimono-esque robes hung in the glossy wooden wardrobes.
All rooms have sofas and many boast freestanding bathtubs overlooking the sprawled city below. They also have pairs of binoculars, so you can indulge in a little voyeurism while you’re there. Ask nicely (ie pay) and perhaps you’ll be treated to a Neal’s Yard bath experience, where the spa team pop up and fill the bath with perfumed bubbles and dried lavender. It smells incredible and is more than worth the fact you’ll be picking stray sprigs of lavender out of your hair for the next few days. Each bathroom has heated floors and L’Occitane toiletries. You won’t want to bathe any other way ever again…
Whizzing up to the 52nd floor you’ll find Gong, Europe’s highest hotel bar. As you may have guessed, height is a running theme throughout the Shangri-La. Acrophobics should probably avoid (it would be like someone with a hatred for chillies sitting down for an all you can eat Vindaloo) but for anyone who likes a good view it really doesn’t get better than this. At Gong the menu focuses on simplicity and sustainability, but with a healthy dose of boozy, stirred down drinks. Each cocktail is designed to marry Eastern culture with modern Western technique and delivers on big flavour – we were hooked by the ‘Wine & Pear’ (Hennessy cognac paired with Sauvignon Blanc syrup and pear drop eau de vie). The ideal pre-dinner apéritif.
The floor-to-ceiling windows continue from the restaurant into the loos... Annabel’s, you’ve got serious competition.
We get that you’re probably not eating out a whole lot at the moment, which means that when you do, you’ve got to make it worthwhile. For the drama and the glamour, you should really make it Ting. There’ve been a few restaurants that we’ve visited recently where the experience has perhaps been dominated by overt social distancing signs and hazmat suits. But while COVID regulations throughout the hotel were effective, they were also discreet, from the branded masks worn by staff to the thermometer gun tested against guests’ wrists, rather than heads.
We sampled a range of dishes from across both the British and Asian menus and would recommend you follow suit – it’s a smart way to get the full Ting experience. There were a couple of clear winners – teriyaki kohlrabi was sweet and sticky, and the British rabbit bolognese rich, unctuous and gamey. A crumpet of Cornish crab Benedict was mouth-wateringly soft and creamy, with the brown meat deep in flavour and a runny egg-yolk providing excellent Instagram fodder. The floor-to-ceiling windows flow from the restaurant into the loos. As nobody can see you up here (I briefly recalled the binoculars) it’s worth a blow-out photo opp. Annabel’s, you’ve got serious competition.
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And so to bed…
Breakfast is a buffet in Ting, though we’d recommend using the in-room tablets and order in. The Western and Asian trends continue, with everything from fresh pastries, smoked salmon and eggs to Asian congee and char sui. Selections are wheeled in on a linen-topped table and eaten while watching the city break through the morning’s fog – a truly magical and slightly other-worldly experience. Get up early enough, and it’s well worth catching the sun rise from the Sky Pool, nested next to Gong. It might be a small space, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in wow-factor. Armchairs and sunbeds are dotted about the space, giving swimmers a spot to soak up the views following a couple of morning laps. There’s something seriously cool about telling people you’ve just been for a swim in Europe’s highest infinity pool…
Nothing’s cheap here, but it’s worth every penny. If you can ignore the second mortgage you may need to take out, a stay will go down as one of life’s most memorable moments.