When my friend, who was in town for a week, asked me if I wanted to try out the Aqua Shard afternoon tea, of course I was in. The Shard, a now iconic 95-storey London skyscraper shaped like a shard of broken glass (hence the name), boasts no less than five different afternoon teas in four separate establishments.
I haven’t yet tried the one at Oblix Restaurant (32nd floor), nor the one at GONG, Shangri-La Hotel (52nd floor). But I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying the highly recommendable afternoon teas offered at TING, Shangri-La Hotel (35th floor). Check out my review here to find out more about their English and Asian Inspired Afternoon Teas. Today, however, let the limelight shine on the contemporary British Afternoon Tea one can revel in at Aqua Shard.
As with any afternoon tea, my friend and I started off by choosing our beverage. The tea is provided by the Rare Tea Company, which also provides tea to the Selfridges afternoon tea (a special wastED afternoon tea was offered on their rooftop bar not too long ago – read more about it here). The tea company, founded in 2004 by Henrietta Lovell a.k.a Tea-Lady, uses whole leaves and tips skillfully crafted by artisans and tea masters from small individual farms.
We went for the Royal Air Force English Breakfast Blend from Malawi and Darjeeling and the White Silver Tip from Fujian Province in China, and at the end also tried their Tregothnan Earl Grey from Cornwall. The choice available was a little scant, with only seven teas to choose from, but not defying expectations, the teas that we did have were top quality. My personal favourite was definitely the White Silver Tip, an intricate, soft golden liquid with a clean and slightly sweet taste and the lovely aroma of freshly cut grass. Made entirely of tender spring buds picked for only twenty days each spring, it contains high levels of antioxidants, very little caffeine and a delicate flavour indeed.
After some chatting and picture-taking the food arrived all at once in a classic three-tier-plate set-up, with the sandwiches placed separately on a long plate. As I like to start with the savoury and finish off with the sweet, it was a bit of a shame that the scones were not kept warm or served when we were ready for them, as done in some other afternoon tea rooms (see for example The Georgian at Harrods or The Rosebery Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental).
But their homemade jam was so amazing, that I quickly forgave them. Presented in two cute little jars, their raspberry jam and honey toffee concoctions are two sweet, flavour-explosive indulgences that I still dream about today – yes, it was that good! And with the Cornish clotted cream and the soft vanilla and white chocolate chip scones it made a fabulous pairing.
Of the sandwiches the Lambton & Jackson Maldon cured smoked salmon and dill crème fraiche brioche bun, as well as the native lobster & roasted lobster mayonnaise brown bread finger sandwich are worth a mention. The latter was a rather unusual but tasty combination, whereas the salmon bun was a subtle but nice twist on the classic salmon, cream cheese sandwich. They were also the two sandwiches that I ended up ordering a second helping of – most afternoon teas will offer this if you ask for it.
Sweet tooths beware, however. Previous experiences should have made me the wiser, but having come with an empty stomach (sans breakfast) to a 1pm afternoon tea, I yet again ordered a refill of sandwiches, thinking I would still be able to leave enough space in my tummy to easily tackle what was ahead of me – no less than two plates of sweet treats, not to mention the scones. Let’s hope next time this wisdom will have caught up with me. Not to worry for this time though, I still managed to get a good taste of everything.
The sweets certainly looked appetizing, but unfortunately the porcini ganache in a chocolate cup, coffee sponge, and chocolate mushroom, as pretty and clever as it was (a chocolate mushroom growing in chocolate soil surrounded by a chocolate wall), it did not rock my boat. Sour in taste and grainy in texture, it was lacking in complexity and refinement. But there were more sweet treats to try.
The lemon curd, hazelnut sponge, meringue and the white chocolate mousse, blood orange gel, almond macaroon desserts were rather sweet, but just on the right side of it for someone whose sweet tooth is increasingly receding. I can imagine it would go well with a glass of bubbly champagne, which for an additional £10 (on top of the £45) can be had as well.
And we haven’t even yet talked about the view. The layout of the space is impressive enough when walking in from the hallway after taking the elevator up to the 31st floor. Newcomers could easily be distinguished from veterans just by observing whether or not they would stop at the railing to take a snapshot of the open space with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto the river Thames and London skyline, before going down to be seated.
We were given a lovely window table in the corner, enjoying views facing both North and West, with London Bridge station unfolding below us, and trains moving along like little white worms. The windows at the restroom, as we discovered, also boast fantastic views of the West of London, with sights such as St. Paul’s Cathedral and London Eye to marvel at.
The bottom line: If you’d like to enjoy a classic and decent British afternoon tea, love the idea of amazing jams, and would like to experience an impressive London view in a stylish and spacious atmosphere, then Aqua Shard is the place for you. And don’t be shy to drink plenty of tea, those toilets with a view will be waiting for you.
Area: Southwark, Southeast London
Closest tube: London Bridge (Jubilee and Northern line); Borough (Northern line); Monument (District, Circle and Northern line)
Address: Aqua Shard
Level 31, The Shard
31 Saint Thomas Street
London SE1 9RY