Glamorously designed Scandanavian (mainly Swedish) restaurant set within St James's Market
Newly opened as of 2016, Aquavit is a huge, open and swish Scandanavian restaurant in the adjoining space between Haymarket and its parallel neighbour, Regent Street. The fortés of Aquavit for me were some simple things done well, an affordable set menu and pleasantly designed interior…as well as the fun of having to do shots at brunch as it’s practically Scandanavian law to do. If you are lovers of Swedish meatballs, I think you will struggle to find a better version elsewhere and armed with my Norweigan mother on this lovely occasion, it is confirmed that the breads have been done authentically well as has most of the menu, hailing mainly from Sweden with elements from Norway and Denmark. Bar a couple of apsects on the menu that could have been tightened (see full review for details), the only slight shame this visit revealed was that all the staff seemed to be from anywhere in Europe other than Scandanavia which slightly diluted the Scandavian experience desired. However, it was all a pleasant meal, well delivered and the Manager whom I met was completely charming. Very much recommended to do the set menu to get a good feel for it and then you can make your own decision from there.
First up, there was a real thumbs up for the bread. It’s always the same – if enough care is put in to the basics there is an instant feel good factor. The selection included sour dough, rye with nuts (very squidgy) flat bread (knökkebröd) with carroway seeds (aniseed family) and pumpkin. All these proved to be sound in that the flat bread was not too thick and the rye bread not too dense combined with good flavours.
For a restaurant stemming from its 2 Michelin starred roots I was surprised that the staff were not explaining the dishes for the table and wished to drop off deliveries to the table as per a cafe, but then again this maybe the intention in keeping it casual. The grandeur of the venue combined with its mother restaurant in New York being a two Michelin starred venue makes this a little odd tonot wish to go that little bit further, but is a small observation. All parties had the 3 course set menu and it was very good to see that these were taken from the a la carte and actually I thought that some were the better options regardless(!) hence opting for this menu.
What was fun was being able to have a selection of smörgåsbord offerings on this set menu and a vast array of different flavoured aquavits to choose from along with half a dozen different beers to choose from to wash these down with. Each course had a different 25ml shot of Aquavit to choose from including Aquavit with cumin, lemon, honey, sherry vinegar, elderflower, anise, fennel, dill, raisins, barley, cinnamon, thyme, the list goes on – you name it, there was probably an Aquavit it was in. And thankfully these weren’t as ludicrously heavy as I was expecting from many a drunken Christmas Eve. At 1130 on a Sunday morning, this was frankly good news that these Aquavits were more fresh than hit you with an alcholic sledge hammer in style. So all in all, another nice touch on the drinky side.
The starters were slighty mixed in that the black pudding was very nicely done (soft, gentle and without too much grease) but the gravlax didn’t appear to have much of the ‘Grav’ (pressed element of sugar, salt and dill) in to the ‘Lax’ (salmon) itself but appeared to be more salmon with dill sprinkled on top. The dill sauce was also a little lacking in dill punch for our palates which was a shame as this is one of the mother-ship combinations, but it simmered at the doable level as a starter and was nicely fresh. For the mackerel lover, all elements worked well together but more of an explanation on those elements and guidance from the staff as to how much should be mixed, if at all etc and this is where more interaction from the staff is not just a status bonus, but a simple practicality.
What wasn’t such a small issue unfortunately was the piece of bone in the cod that I had but otehrwise the dill emulsion was utterly gorgeous to go with the light and well done cod itself. The veal was done beautifully, falling away from swipes of the knife and I have to say these were pretty much the finest Swedish meatballs and meatball sauce I have had on record. My childhood is littered with being spoilt with a vast array of wonderful sauces from my Mother who still can knock these out of the park, including Swedish meatball sauce but am sorry to say that this was even better….but only just(!). Desserts were simple and satisfyingly well done whilst rosehip may not be to everyone’s palate (it can be quite bitter) it did not seem to be very vibrant here as a dessert – more kick or sweetness would have elevated this.
Overall it was a very worthwhile experience and is retained in the bag for other occasions and even if Scandanvaian food is something you find too much in surplus of these days, or just not your bag, the value for money set menu here was very good. As I am half Norwegian, I have a natural soft spot for the cuisine and world in itself but that has not made me generate positive discrimination for the culinary verdict on this visit – as a summary, I found the food comforting, fun, clean and as if I was in caring hands, but ones that had just missed the mark on one or two aspects; not enough though to make me not come back as I left with a smile and a desire to come back another time.
Food Grade: 69%
Location (Click google logo for directions)