There is a saying amongst restaurant reviewers “never trust a place with a great view.” There is another “never accept an invitation from an owner”. I went against both yesterday when I visited Aqua Shard as guest of one of the two owners, Richard Ward.
But first the view. Because he had a certain influence we had a table overlooking the Thames as it makes its way from London Bridge to Westminster. It had a New York feel about it as the restaurant is situated on the 32nd floor of the Shard.
My take on accepting an invitation from the owner is that it’s ok as long as you declare this and maintain objectivity. It also gave me the opportunity to ask him about the restaurant. He and his partner David Yeo did not have the traditional restaurant background of chef/waiter, restaurateur/financier or restaurant/celebrity. Richard headed up United Biscuits and Dell in the Far East, whilst David Yeo was a partner in eminent law firm Herbert Smith. Starting with one, they have now have 25 Aquas, mainly in the Far East.
He said not having a traditional background they try things which a traditional restaurateur might not. My view is that restaurants can fail on the operational or financial level and having owners experienced in management, albeit in another field, must be an asset and explanation for its success.
The place was full, and it’s a big space to fill, with bar and dining area occupying one full floor. The view must be a driver for its popularity. There are 2 restaurants on 2 levels. We ate in the one that serves modern British – the upper level serves Northern Chinese cuisine.
I chose a confit of cold salmon with a courgette and avocado emulsion as a starter. For mains I chose grilled scallops with mini black puddings and white beetroot sauce. The flavours in both were imaginative. My only criticism was that 6 scallops might qualify as a starter and I still had the appetite to take on David’s Mess, the owner’s adaptation of Eton Mess, a rich concoction of pureed fruit flavours housed in meringue. The service was impressive but they were serving the boss.
Aqua Shard is not cheap, either for drinks or to eat, but it’s certainly worth a visit. They serve breakfast and are open all day. The feeling you have in leaving a restaurant is important. You might feel short-changed by the price, quality or atmosphere. I felt a definite vibe of visiting an ‘in’ place that will become a recognised feature of the London restaurant scene both to locals and visitors.