Aqua Hutong, The Shard
Look at the view, says the nagging mother as you drive through yet another tiny village in France and stare blankly at green fields, wondering at what age ‘the view’ will start to matter. When there’s something to brag about perhaps. No iPhone yielding Londoner can resist the urge to visit the proliferating sky high restaurants without an obligatory pic and boastful tweet: ‘What a view, we’ve made it #londonliving’. It seems we’ve grown fond of only views that affirm our status as cosmopolitan city dwellers and can be used as fodder in our endless personal PR campaigns.
So, a warm welcome to Aqua Hutong in the Shard. With an even broader London vista than Heron, this is the place to get snap happy and enjoy some excellent Chinese food. Ride up the elevator, enter an expansive bar area filled with tourists and businessmen, note it for later and go straight to the restaurant which, after that build up, is surprisingly small. The place is slick and glassy, with red lanterns and dark wood giving the required Asian touches. Diners can be split between businessmen and daters, perhaps the odd couple training their son in the finer thing of city life. Either way, your body will be angled to face the floor to ceiling windows and the glorious city sunset. Whatever you think of corporate chic, this place is certainly an experience.
The chilled spiced razor clams are a light start to the meal, ideally bolstered by some chunkier dumplings. But you came here for one thing, the Red Lantern, a mystical wonder worth scaling heights for. Presented in a basket, it’s a soft shell crab mega-feast, littered with Sichuan dried chillies. Sensational. And there’s so goddamn much of it – you fish around in there until every single one has been demolished, or certainly try your best. Drink-wise, start with a cocktail and move on to many glasses of white. Skip dessert.
Weekends are for Heron, weekdays for the Shard. If you haven’t been before you’ll waste time trying to find it from London Bridge (too many exits). It’s better to get lost together than be late, so meet at the main exit of the station and then walk on over. It’s obviously a bit of a corporate place so keep the bar area for after the meal, when you’re likely to find it funny rather than cringe. When you get to the table make damn sure you give your date the seat with the best view, this is the whole point of the pick. Then take charge and order the Lantern like you’re in on a secret – don’t even look at the menu, slick. Drink wine by the glass and keep going until you’ve firmly undermined the idea behind not getting a bottle. After 3 or 4 glasses, wrap up quickly and head down to the bar. Then switch to cocktails, suggest a cigarette downstairs (even non-smokers will say yes after this much booze) and make your move by the potted plants outside. Press against the wall, kiss, light up, chat, decide to pay up and leave immediately. Attempt a drink in a pub nearby, realise everything’s closed, part ways with a kiss and merrily chat with randoms on the tube journey back. Perhaps even get another number.
The restaurant should aim to be as buzzy as the bar, and perhaps a little darker (lousy sun beams).
2. It’s about the wow factor and the crabs. But this comes under the category of experiential dating – you’ve shown them something, next teach them something. Then bang.