Aquavit London:’It’s the food you wish someone would make you for Christmas breakfast’
If Don Draper was closing a deal in London, Aquavit is where he’d take his mistress out for lunch…
Tucked behind Regent Street, this sexy, timber clad outpost of the original Scandi restaurant from New York is as stylish as a handbuilt yacht, with natural materials outshining any need for glitz or bling. Cosy Josef Frank café curtains hug the windows on fat brass rails, adding privacy, while huge emerald green tapestries offer a pop of colour.
A cavernous triple height ceiling festooned with circular chandeliers gives the restaurant the feeling of a mid century cathedral. And in many ways, dining here is a religious experience.
But if Aquavit is a shrine to the very best of Scandinavian food and design – (and it is) – this is a church where the congregation gets a very warm welcome.
Grand but cheerful, fine-dining but unfussy. It’s a tricky combination to pull off, but Aquavit manages it. Nobody but my pristine dining partner batted an eyelid when I arrived windswept and crumpled, in my best working-from-home drawstring pants.
Everyone comes here for the mash and meatballs main course, so who was I to disagree? These delicious walnut-sized nuggets of beef, pork and fat come bathing in a moat of jus and thoroughly deserve their status as the most-ordered item on the menu. The little joy balls can even be upgraded to include half a buttered lobster for those with even stretchier pants than mine.
But, I’m telling you it’s the side dishes that are the stars of the show at Aquavit. Praise be to the waitress who, keeping a watchful eye, sent over an extra side of truffled mashed potato because she was “worried I would miss out.”
How good could it be, I thought? This seasoned truffle pig has tried just about every truffle dish, condiment and oil in town.
It arrived in its own little pan, the mash squashed down with a knife; flat, speckled, unremarkable really.
But the taste, my God the taste. If you are a true truffle lover, this is a bucket list eat. A death row supper choice. “Truffle Mania!” exclaimed my friend as her eyes rolled into the back of her head. I doubt there are many other Michelin sites around the world where the chef is this astonishingly reckless with the truffle but I am here for it.
Elsewhere, on the fun-to-say Smörgåsbord menu, a lip-smacking Scandi tapas pulls you in with well-priced choices from Gravlax and pickled herrings to duck liver terrine and a gooey Norwegian lobster roll. It’s all the food you wish someone would make you for Christmas breakfast before you end up dunking a decapitated Lindt santa into a mug of tea.
This is not a place for those doing the ridiculously misinformed keto diet. When you order the bread basket, you’ll be getting a hefty trio of nutty, oven-fresh ryes and sourdoughs, served with a wooden pallet knife and a quenelle of whipped cod’s roe butter that is so salty and naughty you’ll want to have an affair with it. Or at the very least spank it.
We unwisely filled up on bread before diving into the herring and potato dish, all of which could easily have served two. Three pleasing pots of springy fresh roll mops each sitting in their own splosh of vodka, pink peppercorn or mustard sauce felt very virtuous and heart healthy. The already generous serving came with two, perfectly-formed mini cheese and egg tarts which, I think, are called Västerbotten. But maybe I’ve just spent too much time in IKEA.
We really didn’t need to also order the pan fried diver scallops with charred leeks but they were perfect and we were tipsy.
Instead of doing wine, we had a couple of cocktails and it would have felt inexcusable not to with the extremely beautiful marble bar sitting at the heart of the dining room.
With Spring around the corner, we opted for Sapling (CORR, it’s a brand name) vodka, pea flower tea, apple and elderflower cocktails called IDUN, named after the Scandinavian Goddess of youth who was famed for her apples of everlasting life. The cloudy blue potion was delightfully kitsch and had us giggling like teenagers backpacking through the Fjords.
All of the house cocktails are named after Norse gods and goddesses, making them a fantastic conversation starter. But you’d have to be in a pretty dark mood to order the Ragnarök, a rye cocktail that roughly translates as the Doom of the Gods. Perfect for those awkward break-up dinners, I’d imagine.
Speaking of which, I was the selfish diner in the relationship and took the seat with the movie theatre view, looking into the kitchen hatch where I could see all the action.
The chefs looked happy. One of them, with a wash of pink hair, kept popping in and out to sneak lovingly made little plates of puddings and snackettes to his friends who were having a date at the bar.
Our own waiter was amusingly over attentive and almost disturbingly passionate about the dessert menu. He was determined that I should have the Arctic Bird’s nest, an extremely pretty goat’s cheese parfait on a chocolate twig nest that is Instagram’s favourite. But I went for the scandi-licious Kladkakka, a rich chocolate cake studded with crunchy biscuits and topped with a swirly white chocolate ganache piped on top like a creamy snake.
Meanwhile my friend had the blueberry poached pineapple with berries, mint and a very punchy sorbe; the only dish I could not get on board with. The sorbet was magnificent but the pineapple lost its flavour and just tasted of berry. I just couldn’t see the point of this wizardry and it all felt a bit Heston at Waitrose.
The pastry chefs at Aquavit may be summoning the Norse gods for me now but it’s the only criticism I have of an otherwise perfect menu.
Address : 1 St James’s Market, Carlton St, St. James’s SW1Y 4QQ
Website : aquavitrestaurants.com