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Thursday, 5 June 2014

Gong, London Bridge

"Simples, Alexsandr?"




In the new Shangri-La Hotel's ground floor foyer, our reservations are checked on two bits of i-Kit, while staff dressed in comical costume provide the entertainment. Presumably picked up in a fire sale in Minsk, their Cossack military mufti might work better on Alexsandr Orlov's meerkat mafia henchmen. Tech glitches mean the check-in staff can't communicate with their colleagues atop The Shard; so we wait...and wait...and wait, giving us time to appraise glitzy, oddly cheap-looking, lobby furniture presumably picked up at another sale. Julian McDonald for DFS, who knew? Eventually we're cleared for take-off, herded into a lift, and like some latter day Laika, blasted into the stratosphere on a two-leg mission to Lost Horizons... aka Gong, 50-odd floors above. As the lift doors close, our fellow space travellers go a bit Yuri Gagarin, (prematurely) giddy with excitement. As a survivor of Windows On The World on level 107 of Manhattan's ill-fated Twin Towers - magnificent erections that would have made The Shard look like a short-arse in a Klu Klux Klan pointy hat by comparison - I'm a bit of a blasé bastard when it comes to sky-bars. When we finally reach London's latest, we're met by blank looks from staff in a tizzy, to whom news of our coming has still not filtered through. The bar's blue sky drink-in views over Lilliputian London below are undeniably impressive, yet only serve to make Gong seem even more insignificant, ickle and cramped than it actually is. More unfortunate furniture decisions include ghastly grey carpet, Hyacinth Bucket-esque chinoserie, squat uncomfortable stools, and a stupendously ill-placed, view-blocking, sofa over which item's high back, bridge-and-tunnel punters drape themselves in order to take souvenir pictures, their big Billericay bahookeys pointing straight into my mate's face, itself a picture... of disdain. I could go on, but staff in a faff have finally rocked up with our cocktails - a decent Pendennis Club (£15) and a Jensen’s Bermondsey gin and rose Champagne job. Next, I tackle the big smoke (pictured). A fair enough cousin of the martinez, its glass is perfumed, à table, in a billow of rosemary-infused smoke, to admiring gasps from agog out-of-towners unfamiliar with London’s tiresome/tired molecular mixology trend’s theatricals. 'I ain't never seen nuffink like it!" squeals one classy lassie on a table (uncomfortably) adjacent to ours. To eat, we're offered  a 'tapas' platter. It consists, inexplicably, of dull bite-sized open sandwiches. More Rayners Lane than Spain. My mate is getting tetchy - a combination of being constantly caught in a pincer movement by bustling staff brushing by us to either side and of loud 80s wine bar muzak. I'm unnerved by one besuited female staff member, an icy Baltic blonde who, rooted to the spot, spends her entire evening glowering at us like a Soviet-era Intourist minder. "Security?" I wonder aloud. "Why? To stop us from leaving?" shoots back my mate.  I desperately want our evening to end on a high, and it does - 20-odd floors below at Aqua Shard. To be fair, the Shangri-La's doors have barely opened when we visit, but it's all gone a bit Pete Tong at Gong and there's much to tweak. London's loftiest bar it may be but, on this showing, definitely far from its most exalted. 
Shangri-La Hotel 31 St. Thomas Street SE1 9QU 7234 8000 http://www.shangri-la.com