Aqua Nueva in Soho: “The Galician empanadas are just what one would wish for”
The thought of Spain brings a warm smile: the Iberian country evokes memories of salty air, fried fish and people spending long summer evenings outside, as they have a round (probably a few) of tapas. Aqua Nueva aim to translate this same spirit to their menu – with a twist. Now focusing on North Spanish gastronomy, their offering is characterised by reinvented Galician small plates, in a sophisticated space, complemented by dim lights and leather sofas.
At the very heart of central London, the restaurant is hidden on the top floor of 240 Regent Street, right in front of Oxford Circus tube station. After walking through their Japanese sister operation, Aqua Kyoto, one is faced with an immense blue bull that welcomes patrons into the modern dining area.
The menu is divided into four sections: classic plates, croquetas, tapas and desserts. Those dishes that have been inspired by Galician cuisine are highlighted with a scallop shell, the symbol of Camino de Santiago, a network of pilgrimages leading to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. We considered it wise to try only the Galician dishes, to get a true taste of the venue’s most distinctive plates.
Aqua Nueva also provide an extensive list of wines and a nice cocktails selection worthy of a trendy Soho bar. As an aperitif, we opted for two classic cocktails: an Old Fashioned and a Missionary Downfall, the latter carrying an interesting flavour that resembled a cross between a mojito and a mint daiquiri. Our choice of wine was Tarima Monastrell, a rich and full-bodied red from Alicante with a very particular floral taste and a savoury finish.
All served in tapas style, we tried the Oxtail and Avocado Empanadas, presented in two rectangular bite-size portions. These sandwich-like canapés were as good as one would wish a Galician empanada to be, rich in flavour and light in texture with a side of spicy avocado mayo. They were joined by a dose of Padrón Peppers, a true classic in any Spanish meal – deliciously covered with coarse salt and roasted to perfection. (Fun fact: Padrón peppers are named after the town Padrón in Galicia.) Although we were lucky this time not to find any spicy ones, tradition says that the diner who is served the spicy pepper will have to pay for the entire table’s meal – phew!
Croquetas came next – and lots of them! They were presented as seven elegantly placed crispy spheres filled with Manchego cheese and truffle: an essential choice for any tapas dining experience. They make a great Spanish-style snack too, when combined with the Padrón peppers for a casual mid-afternoon meal.
We wanted to venture beyond the tapas part of the menu and, after a short chat with our waitress, it was clear that we should at least try the Hand-Dived Scallops (with saffron onion and Iberian ham), the Galician Beef Tartare (with roasted bone marrow and sourdough) and the Galician-style Octopus (with green mojo).
This was an overall spectacle of presentation and great quality fish and seafood. We were particularly impressed by the way the scallops were delivered in a wooden seafood case, filled with rocks, which brought beautiful memories of the Atlantic ocean and its unique texture. The Beef Tartare was also one of our favourite dishes of the night: the bone marrow gave the meat an extra layer of flavour that doesn’t come often with a tartare – a mix of smoke and added fat that takes it to the next level.
The dessert menu is filled with makeovers of Spanish classics, such as churros with chocolate sauce or the iconic Tarta de Santiago. We use the term reinvention here as a compliment, of course. The Chocolate Churros, Candy Orange kept the lightness of the original recipe, but by adding orange shaves to the dough the experience was considerably enhanced when combining them with a thick chocolate dip. The same goes for the Tarta de Santiago: those who have tried it will likely agree on the fact that it’s a rather dull and dry cake, made with almond flour, but Aqua Nueva’s twist incorporates a praline filling and a delicious orange jam that elevates the “tarta” without moving away from its essence.
Tapas culture and opulence meet in the heart of London at Aqua Nueva where Spanish-inspired, British-influenced food make for an enjoyable dining experience.
Maria Dolores Barrios
Photos: Diogo Cruz (except interiors)
To book a table at Aqua Nueva, 5th Floor 240 Regent Street (entrance 30 Argyll Street) London W1B 3BR, call 020 7478 0540 or visit their website here.