It is an overcast, muggy summer’s evening; there’s a dampness to the air. Steamy clouds hang low in the darkening sky and home-time traffic slows the city to a dull throb – clogged arteries strain for rhythm under sweaty skin.
Approaching London Bridge, we see him: dark, looming tall, unyielding despite the unrest below. Partially hidden, his shoulders cloaked with the dandruff of lingering clouds, he appears unperturbed. His glistening head spikes above, omniscient and towering.
There is something precious about London’s skyscrapers – they are few and far between; each new addition can fill you with a renewed sense of awe. It is a different story in high-rise cities, such as New York, which are by their very nature awe-inspiring – collectively, the towers with their physical majesty have the ability to electrify, to thrill and overwhelm, but it’s easy for individual newcomers to get lost amid the geometric skyline. This can help explain the frenzied fever surrounding not only the construction of The Shard – this thrusting colossus that now penetrates London’s heavens – but the opening of its six restaurants and bars within, offering diners the rare chance to see the city from an alternative perspective. It is The Shard’s latest gastronomic opening, Ting at the Shangri-La Hotel, that we visit on this damp summer’s evening.
Leaving the clammy streets behind, we enter the hotel’s dedicated entrance and glide ‘high-speed’ up 180 metres to the 35th floor. ‘Ting’ is the Chinese word for ‘living room’, and the concept becomes clear when we enter the restaurant – the space is elegantly furnished with a modern Asian aesthetic, safe and inoffensive like most hotel restaurants, well lit with solid lamps, plump sofas and coffee table books strategically placed on sturdy mahogany chests. But eclipsing the restaurant’s well-considered décor are the floor-to-ceiling windows – drawn to our window table like magnets we are struck with views of London that truly reinforce my love for the irregular, eccentric, seemingly disorganised nature of the city’s geography. The ground is at such a distance that buildings appear to take on a lego-like form, rising geometrically from the ground, upwardly thrusting, but never too high. The evening’s dark clouds remain above us and the views are staggering. As we peruse the menu, my eyes are lured to the window again: the damp weather and moist ground has roused the city’s slugs: trains pulling out of London Bridge station glide so slowly, quietly along the tracks below.
Ting’s offering is described as modern European with an Asian twist; the majority of their ingredients are sourced from the nearby Borough Market. I begin with the hand-dived scallops: they arrive as a pleasingly plump pair, moist, perfectly seared with a great bite – teeth sink gently into the sweet fleshy mounds. A pool of mandarin sauce beneath gives the dish a slight tang, which enlivens as it cuts through the creaminess of the scallops. Mains follow, and I’ve opted for the Rhug Estate organic lamb loin, which is glazed with mirin and sake and served with erengi mushroom and green apple. This really is one of the most satisfying pieces of lamb I have ever eaten; the quality of the meat and the careful preparation shines through and combined with the mushrooms gives a unique flavour that is aromatic, almost gamey, and utterly unmistakable as the meat of an ovine beast.
All dishes here are elegantly presented, and yet portions are pleasingly generous – after mains our stomachs are comfortably replete. My dark chocolate ganache with griotte cherries, pistachio and vanilla ice cream is a neat closure to our meal, the dark chocolate is very fine and the pistachio sponge a great accompaniment. The ice cream, however, lets the dish down – the consistency is too icy, more sorbet than cream.
We have witnessed evening turn to night, and after dinner are invited up to Gong, Shangri-La’s seductive, stratospheric boudoir bar situated on the 52nd floor. From our window seat here, seventeen floors higher, London appears even more magnificent. Tower Bridge is lit-up in all his glory – like a Pearly King he is a beacon in the dark, cloud-strewn sky. We sample a couple of the bar’s signature cocktails – the ‘Big Smoke’ is particularly good.
Leaving the heavens, feeling full and as though we’ve experienced more than just a dinner, we descend to ground level and return to mere mortal existence. From the pavement, with bent backs, we look up at him – unflinching, solid, he glints glassily at the passing cars. Housed in the tallest building in the EU, it seems there could be no place better suited for this new addition to Shangri-La’s portfolio, where dedication to excellence is key. Yes, it goes without saying that the unparalleled views of the city dominate, but it really pleases me that this isn’t all Ting has to offer – this is somewhere to dine, to experience not only London from a new perspective but also great culinary precision and quality.
Ting at the Shangri-La Hotel, Level 35, 31 St Thomas Street, London SE1 9QU. Tel: 0207 234 8108. Website.