Cocktails in high places: there’s something about the combination that simply screams the word ‘treat’. And while some treats fall short, this one nearly always delivers. To be served up a high-concept glass of ice, booze and berries while gazing down at the twinkling lights of a toy-town city — well, that’s the type of thing that can turnaround all but the blackest of moods.
It therefore makes good sense for London’s Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard to champion its cocktail offering. And boy, does it ever. The new menu at its 52nd-floor GONG Bar is work of conceptual heft, and the fruits of a much high-class faffing. Titled A Miscellany of Inventions, it’s a liquid tribute to history’s most transformative inventions, offering up 15 painstakingly engineered concoctions, each served in a suitably novel receptacle.
And when I say painstakingly engineered, I really do mean it. Take for example, the Cooperman, a fruity aperitif inspired, so they say, by the invention of the barrel. Comprising a mere four ingredients, it initially seems like one of the menu’s simpler options. However, one of those ingredients is Ginjo sake-infused mastiha — or, more specifically, what you get when you separate Ginjo sake from its taru barrel, infuse it with resinous granules from a mastic shrub, and leave it to marinate for 24 hours. This is then combined with Nikka Single Barrel Whisky and homemade melon juice. Now do you see?
Of course, the complexity of the menu adds to the sense of occasion. But it also makes it unusually difficult for punters like me to predict what each drink will taste like. And, with decidedly 52nd-floor prices at play (boozy cocktails cost £19-£22), the consequences of every misstep are suitably high.
It’s perhaps for this reason, I start off with a Gong Cola — the drink I assume is the safest thing on the menu. It’s a first-class decision. In fact, I defy anyone to not to marvel the way red wine, porter, vermouth, pisco quebranta and the Italian aperitif Rinomato Americano, when mixed with a little caramel and a few bubbles, miraculously end up tasting like a velvety cola. What’s more, it’s served up in its own little Coca-Cola-style bottle.
From there, over the course of the evening, my group and I sample most of what’s on offer from an exciting, if unpredictable, menu. Over the Rainbow, for example, is a sure-fire hit, both for its sweet and creamy taste, and because it’s served up in a miniature hot air balloon. The Cure, on the other hand, which comes in a medicine bottle and tastes like a genuine childhood tonic, divides opinion. Meanwhile, the tequila-based Director’s Cut arrives with a portion of popcorn, while the fruity Handyman is a sheer delight, with or without its accompanying edible screw.
But the drink that scores most points on the you’ll-never-guess-what-I-did-last-night-ometer is undoubtedly Fields of Gold — a herby tribute to the tractor, which brings together the flavours of mezcal and cucumber, and is garnished with crushed Peruvian ants, which are smeared onto the side of the glass. And, since you ask, they taste pleasantly salty.
The GONG Bar is open to non-guests, and the combination of its wondrous setting and its novel cocktails make for an extremely fun evening. That said Miscellany of Invention isn’t really a menu for dabblers. If you’re the type of person who prefers the occasional pitcher of Pimm’s, you might leave Western Europe’s tallest building feeling out of pocket and bereft of patience. But if you want your palate stretched in interesting new directions, then this is undoubtedly the place. I, for one, could happily stay all night. And then, of course, there’s that view.
Having visited the GONG Bar once before, it’s pleasing to note the view is just how I remember it. London Bridge still looks like an aircraft carrier; the Thames once again seems curlier from on high than it ever feels at ground level; HMS Belfast is still surprisingly huge; the neighbouring Tower of London is still disarmingly wee. To see it all again laid out before me is a familiar pleasure. And to do so with a mouthful of Peruvian ants? That, my friend, is treat defined. gong-shangri-la.com