Restaurant Review | Aquavit in St James’

Aquavit restaurant dish, St James'

Light, fresh and delicious; Lady Barbara Judge samples the Nordic delights at London’s Aquavit restaurant in St James’…

In 1987, when I lived in New York, a new Nordic restaurant opened called Aquavit. It immediately received very good reviews and went on to even greater acclaim over the years. So it was with real interest and enthusiasm that I went to try its London offshoot almost as soon as it opened, and it was definitely worth the effort.

The décor is really beautiful – no expense has been spared and nor would one expect it to be. It is located in the newly opened St James’s Market – the Crown Estates’ model renovation project – which houses other very upmarket restaurants and shops. The pale wood, with bronze trimmings and lighting, shows off the craftsmanship of the woodwork, as well as the wonderful art on the walls. In addition, there is a beautiful big open bar in the centre of the restaurant, which was already filling up as we left from our early dinner.

Chefs Emma Bengtsson and Henrik Ritzen, Aquavit restaurant, St James'

The restaurant’s menu is overseen by the same Executive Chef as in New York, Emma Bengtsson (one of the few woman to earn two Michelin stars in the US), while the Head Chef in the kitchen is Henrik Ritzen (formerly of the Arts Club). Our dinner consisted of many dishes, as we wanted to try as much of the menu as we could. We happily selected little plates from the smörgåsbord, including mackerel tartare with sorrel and lumpfish roe, as well as lovely gravlax with traditional mustard and dill sauce, and a little plate of herrings, including Brantevik mustard and curry.

We also loved the Nordic caviar, which is really vendace roe served with red onion, sour cream and chives. These scrumptious samplings of Nordic cuisine were a brilliant beginning and, having sampled so many, we might not have needed the subsequent starters at all. Still, who could miss venison tartare with blueberries, lingonberries and juniper, or langoustines and smoked eel and crown dill broth? These two starters were as good as Scandinavian cuisine gets – light, fresh and interesting.

By the time we got to the main course we were already sated, but veal cheek with dill with soft baked onions, and wonderful halibut with Sandefjord sauce, trout roe and fennel awaited us. So we happily continued on our eating journey.

Aquavit restaurant, St James'

All of these dishes were delicious, but the clear winner was, as anticipated, the famous dessert of the chef, which she has transported to London. It is called Arctic Bird’s Nest. This fantastic creation consists of rounds of blueberry sorbet, topped in a snow of frozen shaved yogurt and lemon. The crunchy, nutty tuile base serves as a nest for an ‘egg’, which is made of goats’ cheese parfait. It is then dipped in a shell of white chocolate and nestled upon fluffy house-made kataifi. When you crack open the ‘egg’, it oozes a filling of cool and soft sea buckthorn, which bears an amazing resemblance in consistency to real egg yolks. Chocolate crumbles and sweet liquorice feathers complete the fabulous fantasy. This is a dessert that is brilliantly beautiful. It looks and feels, but does not taste, like a real bird’s nest. It is both unique and memorable, as well as delicious. Indeed, I would return for another whole meal and – perhaps in this case – eat the dessert first!

There are, however, as one can see, many other interesting and lovely reasons to pay many subsequent visits to Aquavit, which happily is an all-day dining establishment, where the breakfast includes Raggmunk which, for the uninitiated, means Swedish potato pancakes with bacon and lingonberries. As readers may know, I like breakfasts for both business and weekend pleasure, and will be back to Aquavit to try these Swedish pancakes as soon as I stop travelling.

 

Lady Barbara Judge

 

Lady Barbara Judge is currently the Chair of the Institute of Directors and has held many posts across the corporate and charitable sector, including Chairman of the Pension Protection Fund, commissioner of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, and chairman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority. Lady Barbara has always had an abiding love for food, and her frequent international business travels have enabled her to indulge this passion in many top restaurants across the globe. Lady Barbara Judge pays all of her own expenses.

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