Already making its mark on the London dining scene, Aqua Shard is one of the three restaurants to have opened at the capital’s latest landmark last summer. Situated on Level 31 of The Shard, the restaurant offers an theatrical interior inspired by the area’s notorious past. James Dilley and Emma Richardson from Jestico + Whiles – associate director and interior design director respectively – speak to Hospitality Interiors about the concept behind the design and how it was achieved.

Dramatic and distinctive, the interior of Aqua Shard was designed by Jestico + Whiles in close collaboration with David Yeo, Aqua Restaurant Group’s founder and creative director. During the design process, both parties explored the cultural and geographic references to the area, and translated them into features unique to the venue.

James and Emma explain the inspiration behind the design: “Unlikely as it seems, the area of the South Bank of the Thames in which The Shard is sited was, for centuries, the heart of one of the liveliest and most notorious districts of London. The area became a centre of gin distillery in the capital and as a result, perhaps unsurprisingly, the social decay that came with its consumption.”

“The key is that the internal environment and the view to the exterior must enhance each other, not compete”

The restaurant space is divided into two areas – the 89-cover tea wing and the 66-cover gin wing. Each space is distinctive in its design, as James and Emma elaborate: “The design of the tea wing evokes memories of the tea trade of the East India Company, with dark green and brown leather, black marble herringbone and a dark oak floor. The fully-glazed, private dining rooms offer spectacular views across London in an exclusive setting.

“The gin wing, on the other hand, provides a more relaxed environment, and recalls the smoky atmosphere of the gin distillery as well as the experience of gin blending. Black marble and dark oak also run through the surfaces of this wing, where opaque folding screens and metal framework provide the backdrop for a colour palette changing from a delicate green tint to a saturated purple. Peacock motifs applied to the window-facing and upholstered semi-circular banquettes evoke the best of British art nouveau textile designs.”

The two areas are connected by a soaring three-storey lounge, which accommodates the meet-and-greet space, afternoon tea area and cocktail bar, which serves quintessential British cocktails themed around gin and tea. “The bar is clad in a rich mixture of finishes, including antique bronze and black marble, complemented by the dark timber herringbone floor,” James and Emma explain.

“Bespoke chandeliers are suspended above the window tables. The upholstery fabrics are a combination of silvery grey velvets and William Morris Liberty print fabric. A contemporary, mirrored version of the Georgian vanity screen provides the stunning backdrop to the atrium lounge.” All loose furniture, including banquettes, tables and chairs – over 400 pieces in total –  was supplied by Decca.

“The end result is a contemporary space rich in heritage and tradition, with a dramatic and iconic presence”

Although one of its central features, the restaurant’s panoramic view provided one of the project’s main challenges. “The key is that the internal environment and the view to the exterior must enhance each other, not compete,” James and Emma say. “Nothing must obstruct the view out of the building, particularly reflections, and especially reflections of lights.

“Our design focused on enhancing the panoramic view without it overwhelming the dining experience. We were aware of the risk of obstructing the views if the space was over-designed, and if the design was too simple, the emphasis would be solely on the view. The key was finding a balance between the two.”

The new restaurant has already proved popular with visitors, and James and Emma readily add to the complements: “The new restaurant reflects Aqua Group’s ability to blend the original Aqua concept with bespoke elements to create something new and distinctive to different locations and countries. The end result is a contemporary space rich in heritage and tradition, with a dramatic and iconic presence.”