The Shangri-La the Shard hotel is not only in London’s tallest tower but takes inclusivity and service to new levels. Damien Gabet reports
Central London is a nightmare. For drivers, that is. Parking, congestion charges and angry cyclists. The prospect of arriving at Shangri-La the Shard on four wheels is daunting. But then you roll into its diminutive driveway and the woes of the road roll away.
Your transition is helped, in no small part, by the Cockney-charm valets there to greet you. Clad in camel macs and furry hats, they take your keys, lift your bag and speedily spirit you up to the 34th floor.
And then things change. London’s best view inspires just a pinch of the mood-changing awe you’ve heard doctors talk about on Radio 4. You’re already feeling better and begin to think that this might still be one of the world’s great cities after all.
This was the opening scene of my leisurely 24 hours at Shangri-La the Shard, London recently.It’s not the first time I’ve stayed: I reviewed Ting, the hotel’s restaurant when it opened, back in 2014. Lovely tasting menu at the chef’s table, but I remember thinking the place had a cut-glass corporate feel that wouldn’t much please my readers. So I didn’t go back and seldom suggested it.
But when I heard that Kurt Macher was now at the helm as general manager, I was keen to see what he’d done. He’s an interesting guy: starting out as a conscript in the Austrian army, he went on to become my favourite sort of hotelier.
One of those rare souls who’s done very nearly every job in the house (housekeeping, chef, guest relations…) in almost every continent. Most notably at the Peninsula in Chicago and Temple House in China.But there’s more to the man than military discipline and super-sharp suits. The depth of his experience has created a style of hospitality rooted in the idea that prioritising the well-being of one’s staff is good for business.
We all instinctively know the difference between the sycophantic smiles of underloved receptionists and those who strike the right note because they themselves have been made to feel special. I felt that when I arrived.Macher hosts two to three staff celebrations every year and isn’t afraid to get up and perform for his team. Last year he and his execs choreographed a Royal-themed dance (I’ve demanded photographic evidence under the freedom of information act – pending).
Macher’s progressive principles extend to inclusivity and diversity on both sides of the welcome desk. The LGBTQ+ community is a primary concern, with 40 of his staff marching at Pride last year. Shangri-La was the only luxury hotel in London to do so and the only one to fly the flag year-round.
The team also receives training on how to address guests: small but meaningful touches like removing pronouns on welcome letters. More practically, they’re careful not to make assumptions about bed configurations or gendered slippers.
When I met Kurt he had exciting news: “We even welcomed our first ‘throuple’ this year, showing that the average traveller is not always a traditional heterosexual couple and that hotels need to adapt and be ready to make all guests feel welcome and included.” Here here.
I was staying in a corner suite (details below) with panoptic views through those big glass walls. The best place to see it all is in the bath, of course, which is where I spent the subsequent hour. I then laid waste to the Shard-shaped chocolate tower – typically served as part of Ting’s afternoon tea for two – left for me next to the champers. Its innards of passion fruit mousse and some sort of spiced cake were take-note tasty.With my Sunday best on and only a few chocolate stains to speak of, I popped down to the Sky Lounge and Ren Room for a Globetrender event I was speaking at. The latter is pretty standard posh-hotel fare – noisy carpet, decent AV kit – but the Skylounge is an undeniable “wow” space. Particularly at night when the layout and lighting make drinks receptions feel almost cinematic. It’s here that you can appreciate the style and culture shift of the hotel, too. What was once an unashamedly business-bro venue has now, under Macher’s aegis, embraced art, colour and character. That’s most notable in the immersive installations delivered by their set-design partners McQueens Flowers. Christmas just gone had a “future” theme, with astronauts and disco balls among some attention-grabbing flora.
But I think it’s dinner they do best. Not least, again, because of the service. I was looked after by Danny, who now ranks on my list of favourite waiters in London (what, you don’t have a top five, too?). He has that savoir-faire that great waiters have to make you feel as if you’re in a nicer version of your own home.I had the miso cod – his suggestion – which was line-caught from Borough Market downstairs. Macher is keen for Ting’s kitchen to source provender as locally as possible. Suppliers Neil’s Yard Dairy, Bermondsey Street Bees and Ted’s Veg are neighbours and they all have green manifestos.
Something that stood out was the late checkout. Just how effortless it was. I told someone in the lift – no idea who – that I didn’t want to leave and ten minutes later I received a room call saying 2pm had been arranged. It gave me bags of time to make use of the pool. Suspended between the sky and the city, it can confidently claim to be the highest infinity pool in Western Europe. But whatever. Really why this is my favourite corner of the hotel is that one can spy St Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye and Twickenham Stadium all while doing a breaststroke. If you squint you can just about see those angry cyclists, too.
Deluxe City View rooms start from £672 per night on a B&B basis.