Fiona Beckett gives her verdict on Aquavit...
Originally published in Decanter magazine in partnership with Hine Cognac
St James’s Market, 1 Carlton St, London SW1Y 4QQ.
Tel: +44 (0)20 7024 984
- Rating: 8/10
- Restaurant style: Nordic cuisine
- Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner
- Wine to try: La Lagune 2001
It’s not often I decide to review a restaurant on the basis of its breakfast, but once I’d sampled Aquavit’s smoked eel benedict I couldn’t wait to see what they’d do with the rest of their ‘morning to midnight’ dining experience.
So I had a herring fest with a couple of companions with whom I’d shared a trip to Trondheim in Norway, then followed up with lunch with a chef friend who had raved about the crab.
Aquavit is a casual(ish) offshoot of the New York original, though the metres of marble and blond wood could hardly be called laid back. Situated in the very flash new St James’s Market, just a few paces from Piccadilly Circus, it’s definitely more Mayfair than Soho.
Not all the dishes are winners. Herrings apart (I’d pop in for these alone with their warm, waxy new potatoes and cute little cheese tart), classics such as gravlax and meatballs both lacked their customary spicing, and an over-creative Janssons’ temptation (potatoes and anchovy) was more like mash than matchsticks.
For culinary thrills go for the blood pudding draped with lard and a scarlet, almost Jackson Pollockesque spattering of lingonberries – a brilliant combination of textures and flavours, and a great match for a glass of Crittenden Estate’s 2015 Pinot Noir from Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Australia. Duck, so often served like warm raw meat, is perfectly cooked; its richness offset with rowan jelly, pickled blueberries and salsify. Perfect for Pinot too.
Seafood is even better. The crab, which arrived with a dark buttery rye brioche, lived up to its billing while the brilliantly fresh cod and monkfish (eaten on different occasions) seemed devised to show off a good white Burgundy – of which there are more than a few. (There’s a useful selection of half bottles too, including a 2013 Chablis from Denis Race for just £24 which would do nicely.)
You might well be tempted, though, to roam further afield. A predictably strong selection of Rieslings from Austria to Australia is joined by a less obvious one of Sherry. The Bordeaux list is strong if spendy, but La Lagune 2001 (at £128) would suit the food.
When to go? Unless you work in the City you may find the evenings a bit loud and louche unless you’ve booked the smart little private dining room. Lunch is probably the best option – even on a dull day the sunlight pours in through the floor-to-ceiling windows. But regardless, please try to get there for breakfast too, because they told me it’s incredibly quiet and they might stop doing it. And that would be a real shame.