I KNEW I SHOULDN’T have boarded the train. With a sky-high fever, whole-body shivers and a headache so throbbing that I could barely stand, deciding to go ahead with the five-hour journey from Edinburgh to London was probably not my brightest idea.
However, in my defence, when I left home that morning I could not have imagined that I would end up in Accident and Emergency in Newcastle or, even worse, that I’d have to explain myself to the incredulous doctor who is now towering over my hospital bed.
“Your fever was this bad this morning and you thought you were well enough to travel to London just to visit a hotel?” the doctor asks, shocked.
I silently nod, realising how ridiculous this sounds.
“Well, it must be some hotel,” the doctor says over her shoulder, exasperated, as she begins to check my test results. I realise that it probably isn’t the best time to explain this to her, but where I was heading really was “some hotel”: I was on my way to the newly opened Shangri-La in The Shard, the tallest skyscraper in Western Europe.
Four hours later, I’m unceremoniously discharged and under strict instructions to “eat, drink and rest” when I get to London, three things that the Shangri-La – once I eventually arrive – provides in abundance.
The Shang has a separate entrance to the offices that occupy the rest of The Shard and – for a hotel that only properly begins on the 35th floor – it has a surprisingly large presence at street level. As well as being home to the hotel’s artisan deli, Láng, the ground-floor lobby is also where guests check in and first encounter the discreet and charming staff.
All check-in takes is a few clicks on an iPad, so within minutes of my arrival I’m being whisked up to the Sky Lobby on the 35th floor; from there, I’m ushered to another lift and up to my room on the 42nd floor. The first thing I notice is, of course, the incredible view out of my room’s wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling windows: to my left I look out over St Paul’s Cathedral and all the way along the Thames to London Eye; straight ahead, there’s the Tower of London and the iconic 30 St Mary Axe – “The Gherkin”; finally, to the right I can see all the way to Canary Wharf and to the Olympic park in the East End. After the view, the next thing to catch my attention is the palatial bed in the middle of the room, into which I gratefully collapse and promptly fall asleep.
When I wake up later that evening the sun has set over London and the city is lit up beneath me. The view at night is, if anything, even more fabulous than during the day: the city lights stretch as far as the eye can see and – from my bed – I get the same aerial panorama that some passengers are enjoying from a helicopter hovering just 100 metres away. Even with the chopper outside and all of London heaving beneath me, I can only hear a gentle background hum that in no way disturbs the peace of the hotel.
Now I’m awake, it’s time to investigate the room itself. I’m in what’s called an Iconic City View Room, the top standard room available and which – at more than 600 square feet – is bigger than many hotel suites. As well as the glorious bed, there’s a two-person sofa, coffee table, 46-inch television and a large desk. Furniture aside, the room is sparsely decorated to ensure that nothing distracts guests from what’s outside. However, it’s in no way short of creature comforts: there’s a TV cleverly built into the bathroom mirror and, though I don’t need it in July, underfloor heating in the marble bathroom.
It’s not until the next morning that I feel able to tear myself from the quiet comfort of my room. When I do, though, I’m glad: the hotel’s full English breakfast is the perfect pick-me-up and the service is impeccable. Many of the staff members are multilingual; I hear one French waiter talk some Chinese guests through the breakfast choices, which do include dim sum, in fluent Mandarin.
One couple has come to breakfast prepared for a sightseeing-packed day ahead and, as London is literally at their feet, there’s no shortage of things to keep them busy. Borough Market with its piles of fresh produce is a minute’s walk from the ground-floor lobby and Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe are only a stone’s throw away. However, after a day traipsing around the city’s buzzing streets it’s a relief to retreat to the Shangri-La in the late afternoon. The hotel’s only minor shortcoming is that there’s no spa but, if you’re feeling especially world-weary, in-room treatments are available and an infinity pool that’s the perfect spot for relaxation after a busy day in the city.
I split my last evening in the Shangri-La between the hotel’s bar, Gŏng, and its restaurant, Tīng. Located at the top of the hotel on the 52nd floor, Gŏng is clearly inspired by the company’s Asian roots and has been cleverly designed so that one wall appears to be made up of hundreds of drawers from a Chinese medicine cabinet. Fortunately, the drinks are just as sophisticated: the Spring Julep is a great choice for a warm summer evening and the signature Bermondsey Bubbles cocktail is a satisfyingly strong concoction mixing Jensen’s Gin and champagne.
Jensen’s Gin is one of the many local ingredients that the chefs and mixologists use at the Shangri-La; incredibly for a Central London hotel, about two-thirds of the produce used is sourced from down below in the market. On top of this, the kitchen uses only seasonal ingredients, so the dinner menu downstairs at Tīng is – out of necessity – short. This initially disappoints the foodie friend who has joined me for dinner but she’s quickly silenced when her starter, a perfectly presented beetroot and goat’s cheese salad, arrives at the table. Our main course choices of rib-eye steak and Rhug Estate lamb loin prove just as big a hit.
As midnight approaches and we order an after-dinner gin and tonic, London is still on the move outside: red buses shuttle across Tower Bridge, planes land at London City Airport and trains snake out of the station beneath The Shard. London is chaotic, loud and unforgiving, but from the quiet luxury of the Shangri-La it’s easy to see why it’s regularly named as one of the greatest cities in the world. When I leave the next day, I’m not surprised that the postholiday blues set in early.