Nordic restaurant Aquavit opened in the West End’s new St James’s Market in November. It’s a sister venue to the acclaimed Aquavit in New York, which has two Michelin stars, although the London incarnation takes a more relaxed approach than its fine-dining sibling.
WHERE IS IT?
The sleek new mixed-use St James’s Market development is located between Lower Regent Street and Haymarket. As well as office space and retail, new food and drink venues here include Salt Yard Group’s Veneta, Japanese restaurant Anzu and Danish bakery Ole and Steen.
Aquavit is as much a showcase for Scandi design as it is Nordic dining. The interior, overseen by Martin Brudnizki Design Studio (behind the likes of Sexy Fish, the Ivy and Dean Street Townhouse), is glossy and gorgeous, light flooding the double-height 122-cover space through floor-to-ceiling windows.
I dined on a Saturday afternoon, and the space looked even lovelier as dusk started to descend outside, the abundant lamps casting a glow across the warm timber-panelled walls, centrepiece marble bar and antique brass and leather seating. Try to get one of the curving brown leather booths, which are roomier than some of the closely spaced tables for two.
You can see every detail has been carefully considered – the curves of the Georg Jensen cutlery placed just so on the polished wooden tables; the blue water glasses echoing the leather of the chairs, the sea-coloured textile wall hangings and the swirling Swedish marble floor; the immaculate staff uniforms; and the laidback electro soundtrack, which I was told becomes dancier as the pace picks up at night – at this time, there was a relaxed, unhurried atmosphere.
On the mezzanine level are two private dining rooms (without daylight) seating 64 and 14 people respectively. In warmer weather there is also space for 18 diners outside.
The menu, created by executive chef Henrik Ritzen and Aquavit New York executive chef Emma Bengtsson, offers “a contemporary take on authentic Nordic cuisine”. Starters include the likes of venison tartare, blueberries, lingonberries and juniper (£12) and langoustines, smoked eel and crown dill broth (£17) – note that a reduced menu is served for weekend brunch – but I recommend you begin with a selection of the smorgasbord small plates.
We had some crunchy, tart pickles (£3), creamy and crisp shrimp skagen (prawns on toast, £9), subtly spiced blood pudding with lingonberries, bacon and lardo (£6), refreshing and earthy celeriac, mustard and lovage (£4) and delicate slivers of gravlax with mustard and dill sauce (£9). Served with a basket of rye, sourdough and seeded flatbread, it was all delicious, and looked great, too – all vibrant colours and pretty garnishing.
For our mains, we both tried traditional Scandi dishes. I went for the Swedish meatballs, lingonberries and pickled cucumber (£16), which was suitably comforting, the tang of the berries and cucumber cutting through the sweetly seasoned pork and beef, silky mash and velvety veal stock-based sauce.
My companion’s beef Rydberg (£29) – nicely pink chunks of steak with potato cubes and caramelised onions, which you mix together with an egg yolk – was hearty and similarly satisfying.
To finish, the warm chocolate cake with tarragon ice cream and clementine sorbet (£8) was beautiful – oozing hot sauce and just the right size.
Accomplished and friendly. The waiters were knowledgable about each dish’s components, while the sommelier picked a good glass of Bordeaux to complement the beef dish.
Fantastic Nordic flavours in a glamorous, welcoming setting. I will be intrigued to go back and soak up the atmosphere at night, but it’s just as nice to pop in during the day and linger over the excellent smorgasbord selection.
Breakfast Mon-Fri 7.30am-10.30am; lunch daily 12pm-2.30pm; dinner 5.30pm-10.30pm (Sun 10pm); brunch Sat-Sun 11am-3.30pm.
Smorgasbord £3-£19; starters £9-£17; mains £16-£34; sides £4-£6; desserts £7-£12. Wine from £6.50 by the glass; from £27 by the bottle.
Aquavit, St James’s Market, 1 Carlton Street; tel +44 (0)20 7024 9848; aquavitrestaurants.com/london