Scandi style – London’s Aquavit restaurant combines sophisticated design with sublime food
By Scott Manson
We are all Scandi now. It started with an obsession with IKEA, accelerated as we discovered Nordic noir was perfect Sunday night viewing and was confirmed – in the world of food and drink at least – as Denmark’s gastronomic mecca Noma became the place that every hot young chef wanted on their CV.
Little wonder then that Aquavit has proved such a hit with London’s discerning diners. Its sister restaurant in New York holds two Michelin stars and this Brit outpost feels similarly strong. It’s located in that new, sleeker stretch of St. James’s, near Piccadilly Circus, where discrete hedge funds rub shoulders with head offices of the likes of Formula 1. An ideal place, in other words, for a fashionable, stylish restaurant to thrive.
It is a handsome beast. Beautiful wood, high ceilings, a marble bar and smartly turned out wait staff. It’s bright, so perhaps not the place for a clandestine dinner, but the aesthetic suits the menu perfectly – which is full of clean, clear flavours and packed with healthy produce.
Naturally, we kicked off with a couple of glasses of aquavit and tonic. The restaurant serves various infusions of this spiced gin-like drink – from bitter orange to cranberry – and it proved the perfect aperitif for what was to follow.
We started with a smorgasbord of small plates, including some zingy Loch Duart gravadlax served with sharp mustard and a dill sauce. The shrimp Skagen was also a hit, with the marinated shellfish complemented by some fresh-baked toasted sourdough bread. Indeed, all of the bread we tried was terrific – including a God-tier dark, nutty creation that would have made a brilliant base for an open sandwich.
Our main courses were similarly strong. A pearly, almost sweet, chunk of Norwegian halibut, surrounded by baby clams and samphire in a saffron butter sauce. There was also a supremely satisfying plate of Swedish meatballs with lingonberries and pickled cucumber – the rich meat cut through with the acidity of the berries.
Service was swift and attentive, but unhurried. We didn’t get that often sense of staff frustration that they were keen to clear the table for the next guests. This is a place that positively encourages lingering. So much so, in fact, that one post-dinner cognac turned into two and when we emerged, glowing, into the cold night air of a wintery London, all felt right with the world. The hallmark, in other words, of a truly great restaurant.