Our annual pilgrimmage to London consists of several elements; firstly, the hotel. We don't have a favourite and try to look for a bargain every year, in fact this year was a particularly tedious trawl through the hundreds of offers clammering for our business. We've tried the mega posh (Verta - £350 per night) and the down and dirty (Holiday Inn - £100 per night) depending on how we felt our luck was faring that year, but you better believe that either way I've got to have me a bargain.
Phase two is the show. Mrs P and I love musicals but the Child takes it to a whole different level. When she realises that a musical is in the offing, she reaches some kind of fever pitch that is a true wonder of the modern world. Such is the truely astonishing level of enthusiasm for the stage, in all it's forms, that these days we tend to keep the news secret until the last minute in order to save our own sanity and eardrums. This year, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory got our (very) hard earned cash and while this isn't a musical review blog, I'll just leave you with one word: meh.
Third, is the Christmas Tree decoration which was really the origin of this whole tradition. When the Child was small(er), we found ourselves in Harrods (as you do) and a sudden urge came upon us to buy the only thing we could afford; a bauble as our luxury for that year. The following year, we were keen to re-create the Christmassy feeling we had enjoyed the year before and as such the event as you see it here was born.
Finally, we have the food and as you would expect this is usually where we start. Depending on if we go with a matinee (then dinner), or as we did this year, lunch then evening performance. And lunch, if you hadn't already guessed was on the 31st floor of the tallest building in the EU.
Mrs P and I visited the Aqua restaurant that had opened up in MK in preperation (I think I've lost those photo's). While that was a lovely dinner, Aqua Shard proved a more challenging experience.
Mine was the beef and a lovely tartare it was too. the sauce was marked as 'spicy mayonaise' and it delivered a punch that neither Mrs P or the Child could handle. The Scotch Egg was also lovely - gooey and with a crack of salt.
The octopus, and sea bass on the other hand didn't do any of us any favours. You will know that I've eaten my fair share of octopus and so this version, with it's sweet chili sauce and a few bits green just seemed a bit limp and flacid. And not in a good way.
The sea bass was presented to the Child and she had a fair go but she was inevitably defeated by the bland, souless plate of transparent fish slices. The Child is not interested in how nice a plate looks, she knows, and tells you pretty quickly, if it tastes nice and needless to say, this was not the best way to introduce her to sushi. The horseradish meringue was a bit weird though, I thought I wouldn't like it but after the first one I got into it; the sweet, heat, crunchy, chewy blobs really floated my boat. In fact we suspected that all the starters were probably cold/raw or both, a difficult sell we all concluded.
For mains we went for lamb and pigeon while the Child played it safe with chicken and mash.
Mine was the pigeon and while there could be no doubt that the portions could have done with a bit more, well more, the pigeon was cooked rare as per my request (although why anyone would want it any other way is beyond me), and was very pleasant. Nothing spectacular but both Mrs P and the Child signaled their approval and there was enough sauce to go around and the splodges, drips and other unnecesserily small nuggets of poncyness were pockets of flavour within every forkful. The lamb was, again, nice enough. Mrs P was happy with her choice of soft, yealding meat with crunchy fat, seasoned well with some proper veg. Point to note - the Child took her own picture.
We decided not to hit up puddings after words with the manager gave us a few customer service issues. Dirty floors, tables, cutlery and menus just left a very amateur taste in our mouths. I hope this is not their normal state of affairs, indeed, the manager was at pains to describe how he was at least five members of staff down on his usual level of service. At a charge of 150 quid for lunch for two and a half people and a couple of drinks, it is looking at some serious competition and after our 'discussion' the manager knocked off the starters and obligitory service charge which brought the whole thing in under a tonne. However, even then I would suggest Aqua Shard is attempting to cash in on a certain type of clientele; you know, the type that has more money than tastebuds and buys their Christmas decorations at Harrods...