The exterior of the Shangri-La hotel looks unremarkable, until you crane your neck upwards, about 306 metres upwards, to see the pinnacle of the Shard, an amazing glass structure by the Italian architect Renzo Piano and the tallest building in the European Union (the Mercury City Tower in Moscow is the tallest building in Europe) for the moment.
I’m here, not to stay, but to try their afternoon tea and took Ellen, a new mum, a cake-lover and a Director at BBC London News. The kind of person you need on your side when your live programme is going off the rails.
We could have taken the stairs but a lift is far quicker and when we leave it, we have to adjust our eyes.
Immediately we’re greeted by views of London we’re unfamiliar with, even if you pound the streets every single day, streets and landmarks look different from height and there’s plenty of pointing that goes on between me and Ellen. This is prime land – to the left St Paul’s, dead centre you’re met with the Walkie Talkie and to the right, acres of rail track and, Tower Bridge.
TĪNG is the Chinese word for ‘living room’, and this restaurant is 35 floors above ground level. It’s here you can eat breakfast, take lunch or afternoon tea and have a rather nice dinner (their set menu is really very good value).
I should begin with the tea but I won’t. I’ll begin with the toilets. Why? Because visiting the ladies was an experience in itself. With no blinds or curtains it’s slightly strange to be so exposed and the loo is a feat of engineering.
Back to the tea. There are two on offer a Classic and an Asian. We had both with champagne (of course). You can take tea in the lounge but we opted for a comfy sofa in the restaurant. We had clear sight of a raised Tower Bridge and watched as visitors came and went to the Tower of London.
Both arrived at once, so we started with the Asian tea as there were a few hot pieces.
The steamed prawn dumpling was dainty and filled with a juicy fat fresh prawn and the char siew pork dumpling was another winner. The freshness of the rice paper roll was a great palate cleanser but my favourite had to be the crab meat on a soft roll with a hint of cream cheese and a little kick of red chilli.
Ellen was a fan of the gyoza style dumplings full of pork and vegetables. Two dipping sauces arrived but we didn’t need them, they were tasty without. When we had polished off those and asked for a few extras we started on the pastries.
The top plate included a Chinese-Style Egg Custard Tart, the flakiest pastry filled with a sweet egg custard and finished off with a matcha sponge decoration. The coconut dacquoise, with calamansi curd, ginger and coriander-infused pineapple was a wonderful combination of meringue and macaroon textures with a fresh pineapple top.
The Matcha tea sponge filled with a green tea cream wasn’t a favourite for me but as it’s served as a tea to help altitude sickness I can see why it’s on the menu.
As you can see, the Chocolate Temptation, infused with red fruit tea, Ghanaian chocolate ganache and a raspberry compote top, was a work of art and one of the best chocolate cakes I have ever tasted.
Whether you have the classic tea or the Asian, scones are a given and I loved the camomile-studded version as well as the plain. Perfect, dainty rounds with a glazed top peeked out of a napkin. Curled balls of clotted cream came with both a mango and strawberry jam.
The classic tea was as delicious and I had two outstanding favourites from the savoury selection, a soft cheese and Granny-Smith apple sandwich and the delicious fresh Scottish lobster tossed in a lemon creme fraiche and chive mix, which was served in a brioche roll.
Ellen told me that she judges a good afternoon tea on the quality of the egg sandwich and she was more than delighted with the egg-to-mayonnaise-mustard-cress-ratio in the stack. The London smoked salmon (I’m assuming Foreman’s) was mixed with a lemon creme fraiche on the softest wholemeal bread and the roasted chicken and grain mustard on mixed seed bread was another delicately flavoured sandwich.
The passion fruit cream is prepared in a tall shot glass with tropical fruits a super mango coulis, topped off with fruit marshmallow cubes. The cappuccino cake, a beautiful bombe and when cut revealed a super light coffee sponge with a creme brulee cream, covered entirely in vanilla flavoured mascarpone.
There were plenty of teas on offer from Signature Teas, Black Teas, Green Teas, Oolong Teas, White Teas along with Infusions Fruit teas. I’m not too adventurous with tea and took a pot of the Signature Breakfast Blend, a loose-leaf tea which was rather nice (for a non-tea drinker).
We finished with some handmade chocolates, scattered on chocolate nibs which I think we managed to finish, or take home.
I should mention here that the service here is impeccable and the staff really do all they can to make sure you have the best time.
We also got the chance to sneak up to floor 52 to take a look at Gong, this bar is small, and needs to be booked but the view again is priceless.
On the ground floor of this huge glass spike you’ll find LÁNG (meaning pathway), a patisserie and artisan deli selling coffee and great cakes, all made here on the premises.
I’ve been lucky enough to try many afternoon teas in London and this is definitely an experience, plain and simple, it’ll be one you’ll not forget and one that won’t bankrupt you either.
Afternoon teas are served each day from 2pm until 6.30pm and at the weekends from 11.30am until 6.30pm. The Classic afternoon tea costs £49 and with a glass of champagne £57. If Asian tea is your thing it’s £54, and when served with champagne £62. To book either tea visit the TĪNG reservations site.
For those who think it’s a little steep, here’s some afternoon tea maths. If you visit The View From The Shard you’ll pay £29.95 and whilst you’ll go as high as 244m you will get to see all the London landmarks from TĪNG. For the price of a meal in a high street restaurant, you get the full Shangri-La experience.
Shangri-La at the Shard, 31 St Thomas Street, London, SE1 9QU.