Hungry for a taste of the Nordic lifestyle, Sophie Ritchie heads to Aquavit in St James’s Market for lunch with a striking Scandinavian edge
Aquavit is something of a special restaurant – you can tell from the enormously high ceiling, gleaming interiors and buzz of well-dressed diners that you should probably be on your best behaviour – although I imagine it can get pretty lively in the evening when all the business folk start to loosen their ties up a little bit and get stuck into the House Cocktail menu.
I visit for lunch with my dad, who, having spent the vast majority of his working life flying back and forth between Nordic countries, is a big fan of the cuisine (the most I remember from tagging along on business trips to Copenhagen is my older sister aggressively raiding the hotel mini bar and needing to sleep it off on a park bench the next day). Luckily, we’re both in for a treat – I’ve been invited to try the new a la carte menu courtesy of new Head Chef (and true Swede) Jonas Karlsson. Placing emphasis on seasonality with a subtle sprinkle of contemporary creativity, I can’t wait to dive in.
A cathedral-inspired space with sleek and chic furnishings, Aquavit is housed within a Grade II-listed structure. The original core has been preserved, but the archaic stuffiness is replaced with a simplistic but cozy atmosphere. Paired-back timber, eye-gawping wall hangings courtesy of Scandinavian artists and even marble sourced from central Sweden – interior designer Martin Brudnizki certainly spared no detail when it came to evoking the Scandi spirit.
The QR code menu offers All-Day dining, with the array of drinks and dishes split into into three clear sections – a long list of tipples on the left, a selection of dishes in the centre and a few more drinks (well, when in St. James’s) on the right. On the foodie side of things, visitors can select from ‘SMÖRGÅSBORD’ for starters and small plates (a spelling contest-worthy term that became internationally known at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, after being served at the Swedish Pavillion’s restaurant).
There’s a mix of hot and cold dishes, of which the Smoked pumpkin & einkorn salad (£10.00) catches my eye entirely. Served with green kale and smoked vegan cheese, I’m not sure what to expect – but the dainty arrangement of cubed pumpkin, bottle green kale and splashes of vibrant green jus is deliciously pleasing. Einkorn is also one of the healthiest grains out there, an ancient alternative to wheat that’s been consumed for over 12,000 years. Of course, this is no rabbit food – each mouthful is full of contrasting flavours.
Moving onto Mains, I order the Stone Bass Fillet from the mix of meat, fish and single vegetarian risotto. At £29.50, it’s certainly not pocket-friendly – but it still reels me in with a gorgeously supple texture and silver skin that reminds me of a knight’s gleaming armour. I don’t eat fish very often these days, but the hunk of juicy fillet could have me questioning my plant-based lifestyle if I lived within delivery distance. It’s served with a simple celeriac croquette and liquorice jus – the former of which is balanced atop a bed of white shredded celeriac. This too is delicious, crunchy and indulgent – and I love the way the pops of vibrant colour around the plate create a seasonally artistic bite.
I also order the Rydberg potatoes, smoked oil, parsley (£6.00) on the side, because cold days need carbs. Eyes bigger than my stomach however, I end up splitting the chunks of crispy potatoes with my dad who still has room after inhaling Aquavit’s famous Venison Meatballs with gusto.
Like father like daughter, we both pass on dessert as we’re stuffed – ordering two silky coffees to end the meal instead. The room’s quieter by now, the whirlwind of business lunches winding down – and with the windows clearer, I enjoy a spot of prime time people watching from my perch before we put our cups down and bid Aquavit ‘adjö’.
Make it happen
Where: 1 St James’s Market, Carlton St, St. James’s, London SW1Y 4QQ
How: Find out more and make a booking by visiting aquavitrestaurants.com or phoning +44 (0)20 7024 9848.
Words by Sophie Ritchie, editor