At the end of last year I was faced with the terrifying prospect of having to decide where to propose to my then girlfriend (now, thankfully, fiancée). I was at a loss. I’ve got a bias for hotel bars, but most don’t afford you the privacy to bend down on one knee and ask another human being to spend the rest of their life in your company.
Then, like St Augustine under the tree, I had the vision of a sumptuous evening a year ago, fifty-two floors above the earth, at Gong at the Shangri La in the Shard. (It’s not quite Tom Cruise hiring out the Eiffel Tower to propose to Katie Holmes, but it’s a close second. Plus, I feel I have one up on Mr Cruise in not expecting my fiancée to believe that we’re all extraterrestrial thetans. Perhaps my fiancée thinks otherwise.)
The reason Gong is the best place in London to propose is simple: amazing views, superb cocktails and a private room with an indoor swimming pool. That’s right, there’s a swimming pool on the 52nd floor of the Shard.
I slipped into the private room with the swimming pool on the pretence of showing off the view, then in a befuddled haze and on bended knee I asked the love of my life to marry me. Fabio Dal Bosco and Brendan Kelly behind the bar even rustled up a cocktail in her honour: The Zenia. It’s a tasty concoction: add one sugar cube soaked in orange bitters to a champagne glass; add 25ml Ratafia, top up with champagne and garnish with an edible flower and orange twist.
The Zenia isn’t on the menu, but Gong’s cocktail list has a breadth and depth to sink one hundred Dry Januarys. As an aperitif, try the Samurai Ryo (Kabuki aged sake, dry vermouth, orange Curacao liqueur, ginseng extract, lotus fruit); the slightly sweeter of tooth should opt for the sweet Mantras cocktail (Haig Club scotch whisky, coconut cream, cardamom and turmeric, limoncello, homemade saffron syrup); the gin crazed could go for the flavoursome Penta Force (Tanqueray 10, almond syrup, Swedish punch, Cocchi Americano, blood orange, pear); and the clean(ish) living types might want to order the Silk Road (Asian Barley spirit, Prucia plum wine, lemon juice, fresh cucumber, maple syrup, egg white). From top to bottom, Gong’s cocktail list is as carefully crafted as their dougong, which is the Chinese architecture incorporated into the bar and the inspiration for the bar’s name.
I’ve noticed some apprehension from friends about visiting Gong – even from those not proposing. Getting a view that high up without having to pay an entrance fee seems too good to be true. But as long as you’re not wearing sportswear or flip-flops you should be able to walk in. There’s a £30 minimum spend policy per person and tables are allocated for 1 hour 30 minutes, but I think both are reasonable (not least because for better or worse you’ll easily hit £30 with two cocktails each, but I think it beats the viewing platform 99 days out of 100).
Gong isn’t for everyone. If you like your bars dark, dingy and edgy it’s not for you. But if you prefer them unashamedly luxurious, stylish and intimate, take a trip to the fifty-second floor. And with one of the best views of the city, it’s the best place in London to get hitched.