Aquavit in St James’s: Nordic cuisine between comfort food and fine dining
From Sweden to New York and back to Europe via London, Aquavit is a global champion of Nordic cuisine. The heart of this chic brasserie is its luminous dining room with large windows overlooking the sleek streets of St James’s Market. The restaurant features a mix of elegant yet understated traits, as well as some swanky elements such as the bright golden bar at the back.
Aquavit’s menu and all-day dining approach cater for the needs of different clientele and lifestyles. There’s the Swedish breakfast; a delicious bar menu to go with the cocktails; private dining rooms; a brunch offering; pre/post theatre slots and the regular meals (which, literally speaking, are all but “regular”).
On the one hand, this variety of choices can make the ordering arduous. On the other, it gives you a good excuse to come back more than once. We start with snacks: Herrings prepared three ways – with mustard; vendace roe and chives; and Brantevik style – and bread and butter.
Everything looks, tastes and feels Nordic. The michelin-starred brasserie promotes a sharing concept and we receive our starters rapidly: Veal Tartare – dressed with dill (you’ll find dill pretty much everywhere), cauliflower and parmesan – and Smoked Eel, served with baby gem, tomato and lovage. Before we know it, our table (thankfully one of the larger ones) has turned into a feast.
Chef Henrik Ritzen did not take Aquavit in a New Nordic direction (the Noma-led revolution which paved the way for New British), he rather explored classic recipes – with a modern touch. We see both sides of this in the dishes on the table: the more contemporary lightness of the eel – enriched by a highly flavourful clear broth – and the richer, heavily dressed tartare.
Being in a place whose name originates from a distilled spirit, it’s almost mandatory to try their selection of aquavit (one of the largest in Europe): we try the spicier, oak-aged Norwegian Linie and the fresher, elderflowery house Fläder (the fish decanter rocks).
The turbot – with peas, pickled tomatoes and horseradish – and the duck breast are two solid mains. They are cooked by the book, which preserves the texture and enhances the flavour, and they look very appealing. The chef clearly wants to comfort his guests, keeping the experimentation to a limited extent.
Finally, the puddings. The Arctic Bird’s Nest is a must-have. It’s a rework of a signature dish from the New York restaurant. Pastry and chocolate take a nest-like shape, topped by an egg-shaped white chocolate ice cream (and yolk-like sea buckthorn berry). We also order the Warm Chocolate Cake with liquorice ice cream. If you have a sweet tooth, these will make you happy.
Aquavit nails the difficult balance between comfort food and fine dining, classic and contemporary. It’s perfect for regulars who can afford it on a weekly basis as well as for those who wish to celabrate a special occasion but are not attracted – if not intimidated – by formal places. It’s a restaurant that offers consistently good food that would also elevate the quality of your Instagram feed.★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Photos: Filippo L’Astorina
To book a table at Aquavit, St James’s Market 1 Carlton St London SW1Y 4QQ, call 020 7024 9848 or visit their website here.