27 SEP 2018: My goal to experience British architecture and drink reached real heights when my architect friend Deborah and I toured The Shard. The Shard, a 95-storey skyscraper designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano, is the UK’s tallest building. Part of the Shard Quarter development in Southwark, its construction caused controversy and broke the conventions of its time. So did Sipsmith, the first gin distillery to get a licence in downtown London in 200 years. Naturally both were on my must visit list.

The Shard is a vertical city incorporating retail, offices, The Shangri-La Hotel, apartments, restaurants and a public viewing gallery. Piano designed it in a slender pyramidal form so it appears like a spire sculpture emerging from the River Thames. A million people visited The Shard’s viewing platform in its first year and up to six thousand people a day visit The Shard’s restaurants and bars. On Valentine’s Day in 2015, The View from The Shard poured 2,414 glasses of champagne and there was on average a marriage proposal every 30 minutes.

Deborah and I started our visit at Aqua Shard, a contemporary British restaurant on level 31, where we ordered appetizers and cocktails. The drinks and food played second fiddle to the incredible views of London from the floor to ceiling windows. We felt we had to go higher so descended to buy admission to The View. (Direct access from the restaurants is not possible.)

The View, which starts at the Sky Boutique on level 68, rises to the open air-viewing platform on level 72. There’s an option for including a glass of Champagne in your ticket to The View. It was a no brainer. We toasted the 360-degree views of London while we sipped our Moët & Chandon bubbles from the city’s highest Champagne Bar. www.the-shard.com    

Our next stop was Sipsmith, the gin distillery set on a residential street in the leafy, affluent Chiswick district of west London. Sipsmith founders, Fairfax Hall and Sam Galsworthy, wanted to bring London dry gin production back to downtown London. That started a two-year battle to get a licence to distill. When they finally obtained it in 2008, they set up London’s first traditional copper distillery since 1820.

Not all their neighbours are thrilled with the development so visitors are requested to keep it quiet until they are in the distillery. Public tours and tastings are offered just about every night and often they are booked out two to three months in advance. It’s a fun tour that begins with an introduction to gin production and their three copper stills named Prudence, Patience and Verity. It ends with a tutored tasting of some of their excellent gins.

Their original gin is made to be the quintessential expression of the London Dry style of gin. It’s created in small batches using those copper pot stills. (All gins are made on location and the decision was taken to never use a still larger than 1,500 litres.) Ten botanicals are macerated in the spirit for 8 hours and then steam heated. The bouquet is bright juniper with clean bright citrus and other botanicals coming forth. Balanced with a creamy texture, it’s smooth on the palate.

Sipsmith also makes a lemon drizzle gin, a VJOP gin (very juniper over proof), a sloe gin and a London Cup, based on the Pimm’s Cup formula. For their UK membership sipping society, they make two new experimental gins every two months. As part of our tutored tasting, Deborah and I were allowed to sample some of these, including a black maple gin made in honour of Canada.

The sipping society is only open to UK members, but the Sipsmith gin is available in liquor stores in Canada (approximately $50). Sipsmith.com

After all our Windsor and London eating and drinking, Deborah and I headed to Grayshott, a medical spa in Surrey that I had written about in the past (Healthy Holidays) The spa is under new ownership, acquired in the summer of 2017 by the Lanserhof Group together with London and Regional Properties, but the gut health diet regime remains the same. Thank goodness. A week there counterbalanced our days of indulgences.

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Margaret Swaine

Margaret is a nationally published wine, spirits, food and travel writer, who has authored thousands of articles on these subjects for magazines and newspapers.

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