4th January 2017
£80/head with wine and aperitifs
Things I've been colossally wrong about in 2016:
2) The US election result
3) Nordic food
The second in particular has put me in a very difficult situation. I lost a bet over the election result, and now at some point in 2017 I'll have to dance in Trafalgar Square until I've scored at least £5 off the crowd.
After this series of global and personal political surprises, at the end of November I finally got a shock result that made me happy.
It turns out that Nordic food is delicious and accessible. Knowing very little about it, I presumed fishy flavours, bitter rye, and a lack of decadence. I was almost afraid to ask to ask publicly for company at dinner at Aquavit, lest I be shunned for my unchoosy food sluttiness. I half-deceived and half blackmailed my so-called friends into joining me, and in the end got two girls with the initials NJ to be party to my table at Aquavit during its opening week.
I was so wrong about everything. The menu was wildly inviting and inclusive, it's execution devastatingly brilliant. It was one of the best meals of 2016 and has become our new benchmark of goodness for dinner buddy NJ. Dinner at Veneta? Not as good as Aquavit. Lunch at Luca? Not a damn lick on Aquavit.
Situated in a newly developed pedestrian no-mans-land by Piccadilly, with enormous glass frontage outside and sumptuous flooring on the inside from Stone World, Aquavit is so pleasing. Dressed in warm timbers, with chestnut and riverbed-blue furnishings, it's a little reminiscent of Cipriani group's Downtown Mayfair There's Nordic rug art on the walls, but otherwise is more London than scandi. It's a visual precursor to the kitchen philosophy of pitch-perfect, dressed-up loveliness.
It's worth mentioning that this is the London branch of a highly successful, two-Michelin-star restaurant of the same name in New York.
Prawns smogarsbord came on a highly complementary sweetish bread. To compare it to prawn cocktail would be to compare a donkey to a unicorn. Sublime.
Scallops were raw and slivered, with kohlrabi and lovage accenting their creaminess. This was a brilliant alternative to Roka-style yuzu or Peruvian citrus.
We adored the sweet-salt flavours of the dehydrated beetroot with ash and goat's milk sorbet. So on trend - charcoal is the new black.
A perfect cut for venison was used for the tartare, soft in all places and without any chewiness. Served with blueberries, lingonberries and juniper, the sweet-sour and herbal sang beautifully with the meat flavours.
The starters (plus a small measure of akvavit) put me in a state of extreme positivity. I recalled the close proximity of Scandinavia to St Petersburg. Perhaps I should have hopped across the border to Finland during my last trip to Russia. I could have done that instead of going to the banya. I would have been spared a mortifying situation involving a lost towel, ice water and a bushel of herbs, and the whole world would have been better off.
On to mains. Let's get the lamb out of the way. It was alkaline and very pink, with a sweet-sour lingonberry compote. Good. But the duck was excellent. We wanted to build a monument to the duck to commemorate its succulence and its savagely brilliant flavour. It came with parsnips, treated Rowanberries, and a gravy made from its own juices.
On the recommendation from the waiter we ordered Janssen's surprise, a side made with grated potatoes, cream, anchovy, and surprise ingredient cinnamon. It radiated comfort, warmth, depth, and the impression of gravy. It's like a culinary a hot water bottle. NJ squared truly appreciated the cinnamon.
Anchovy vinaigrette dressed up the broccoli without the usual heapings of butter and garlic.
We three girls had room for more food after three starters and two mains, hence added turbot to our order. It came with brown butter, and fresh grated horseradish which added a third dimension to the flavours. If you do not feel like eating meat, this is a great lighter option.
Unable to choose between the warm chocolate cake and the arctic bird's nest, we asked our waiter to counsel us through this difficult choice.
He paused. "If you had to choose between two boyfriends, would you choose one like chocolate or one like goats cheese and blueberries?"
Funny, I've never compared my past beaus to food before. Luckily the NJs had no trouble doing that, and along came the fantastic arctic bird's nest, a dessert conceptualised by Chef Emma Bengtsson.
A woven nest of crisp pastry made with honey supported a goat's milk ice cream egg, replete with a yellow centre. Littered about were blueberries, chocolate bramble and dehydrated berries. It was whimsical and wonderful, and has filled me with respect for all the blueberries and goats milk boyfriends out there.
We asked for some ice cream and a teeny scoop came a sake-esque cup. Delicious, but we probably could have eaten more of it.
All in all an outstanding meal, with truly excellent service to boot. This is by far one of my favourite restaurants in London and arguably the best new opening in London in the fine dining category this year.