31 St. Thomas Street
020 3011 1256
by Truman Compote
As a long-time follower of the joyously acerbic writing of Ian Martin, his comments on the Shard meant that I arrived for breakfast at the building bearing some prejudice against it: “The architectural press made a great fuss about how sterile and disconnected it is at ground level. My God, have you seen it inside? Seriously. It felt like being in some giant static advert for Everest double glazing.”
It’s become a cliché to take the Shard as a symbol for a lot of what has gone wrong in London in the past decade or so: the loss of social and affordable housing; corrupt or misguided local governance; the replacement of the public sphere by the private.
Indeed, I haven’t even finished locking my bike to the lamppost outside the many revolving doors before I am told by two men in hi-vis jackets that they aren’t at all keen on having me clutter up their pavement (despite my willingness to pay my way inside the building they guard). I politely remonstrate with them, at least asking them (as well as their more senior, suit-clad colleague) to acknowledge the small disgrace of shiny, showy London buildings attempting to claim nearby pavements as private property.
Indoors and onwards, past the brigade of black-clad, clipboard-bearing, bag-X-raying staff, then up, up in the dedicated automatic lift to the 31st floor.
Even the name of the restaurant – Aqua Shard could be a Mayfair spa for the wives of oligarchs – betrays much about the feel of the place. This is a room hermetically sealed (by vertiginous necessity), designed in an anonymously corporate and masculine style. I can imagine it finding particular favour with Formula 1 drivers, rootless tax exiles and the senior executives of FTSE 100 companies – anyone, really, likely to be on nodding terms with the style from their travels in Monaco, Dubai, Hong Kong and the like.
There’s instrumental music lasciviously wafting out of invisible speakers, Balearic lounge stuff, and it’s perhaps just a bit too Playboy Mansion for the breakfast hour.
A waiter arrives with two glass jugs, one containing orange juice, the other pink grapefruit – I choose the latter. I like that it tastes recently squeezed is only slightly, rather than overly, chilled. Good coffee follows.
Between three of us we order the full English, containing a completist two eggs, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, ham hock cannellini beans, hash brown, tomato, black pudding AND sourdough toast; the smoked salmon scrambled egg; and the lobster eggs Benedict. Everything is absolutely present and correct: the bacon has been cooked expertly; all eggs are perfectly poached or fried; and the corn pancake, filled with creme fraiche, which accompanies the smoked salmon dish, has a nourishing, filling heft. Perhaps the English muffin could have been shown the toaster for thirty seconds longer, but that would be nitpicking.
Now, of course, the pricing doesn’t bear even the remotest resemblance to a thoroughgoing English caff, with the full English, for instance, coming in at £17.50. But you don’t ensconce yourself hundreds of feet above the streets and the river two days before Christmas to scan the menu with a cost-saving eye: you are here to have a singular and distinctive treat.
We are sated. The dishes are removed. We ask for the drinks menu, before each choosing a breakfast cocktail. And there we sit, for an hour more, absorbing the play of the waxing and waning patches of sunlight, each half a mile wide, on St Paul’s.