db Eats: Aquavit

Serving up a smörgåsbord of goodies, modern Scandi restaurant Aquavit is a laid-back but modish demonstration of the fabulous oddities of Nordic food, writes Octavia Bromell.

The concept: Following the two Michelin star success of restaurants in New York, and subsequently in Tokyo, modern Nordic connoisseurs Aquavit have brought their own brand of high-end Scandinavian food to St James’s Market, a shiny new food mecca just off London’s Regent Street.

The décor: Where the New York branch has a distinct divide between casual and fine dining areas, Aquavit London is angled towards a cooler, more relaxed atmosphere while retaining the excellent service of its sister set ups. An open kitchen breaks up the space, and imposing chandeliers light marble floors with a warm buzz. A hint of both the bustle of the kitchen and cooking smoke flavours the otherwise calm interior.

The food: Labelled as ‘contemporary Nordic dining’, everything from the apéritifs to the cocktail list is drenched with Scandinavian influence. They specialise in what the average British palate will find slightly bizarre – trout roe is draped across halibut, cured salmon served as mustard-coated Gravlax, and the raw yolk of a quail’s egg sits on top of a pot of celeriac.

Pickled herring and potatoes

The boldly prepared plates are what sets Aquavit apart from its hygge-chasing competitors, and have become synonymous with its modern dining mantra.

Signature dish: The venison tartare is a must, as blood-red lingonberries team up with raw venison chunks to create a fantastic dish that lives up to the hype. Another standout dish was a swan white hunk of turbot with brown butter, which was a lesson in understated elegance and purity of flavour.

The drinks: Named for the Scandinavian spirit, even next to such an impressive spread the drinks list is not to be overlooked. Each starter has its own accompanying aquavit snap – a cumin and dill based spirit that is carefully paired with the food.

Not for the faint hearted, it has a citrus kick and is intended to be drunk as a shot during meals. Business lunch indeed.

The cocktails too are understated but moreish, with the Snowflake Sour stealing the show. Made of gin and sherry, with saffron syrup, egg white, lemon juice and cranberry bitters, like every other cocktail on the list it is a classic drink with a Nordic twist. The Scandi Mule and Bergen Bitter are also exceptional. 

Who to know: Sommelier Miguel Angel Gomez Cabrera was on hand to recommend drinks throughout, and in particular chose an unctuous, marmalade-laced Château Coutet 2013 Sauternes to pair with the rosehip soup dessert.

Don’t leave without: Rounding off with said rosehip soup. Served with almond ice cream and cake, and drizzled with rum, this unexpected gem is fresh and zesty.

Last word: With Scandinavian culture in London only expanding, Aquavit marks an in-depth foray into chic, high-end Nordic food. Holding back isn’t really an option, so make like a Norseman and order the smörgåsbord.

Aquavit, St James’s Market, 1 Carlton Street, SW1Y 4QQ

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