One of the highly-anticipated newcomers to the London restaurant scene, Aquavit, opened its doors in November 2016. Located in the grand quarter that is St. James’s Market, it is the new UK branch of its much-loved, two Michelin-starred sister restaurant in Manhattan, New York. Aquavit is renowned for its high-end Nordic contemporary cuisine and design, which it is now bringing to a new audience in London.
Emma Bengtsson is Executive Chef in Aquavit New York since 2014 and is the only Swedish chef and only the second female chef in the U.S. to run a two-star Michelin kitchen. Emma joined as Executive Pastry Chef in 2010 and before that worked in some of Sweden’s top restaurants including Operakällaren in the Stockholm Opera House and Edsbacka Krog, a two-Michelin star restaurant. She will oversee the menus at Aquavit London, with Executive Chef Henrik Ritzén running the kitchen in the exquisitely-stylish new location. Henrik, also from Sweden, has worked in the UK for many years, most recently as Executive Chef of the highly-acclaimed Lutyens restaurant.
Together this powerhouse team offer Londoners Aquavit’s signature style of cuisine in a new unique way, inspired small plate dishes with a taste of seasonal Nordic tradition, executed with precision and creatively designed.
“London feels like a very natural step from New York as the cities have so much in common, especially on the culinary scene,” said Emma Bengtsson on the opening of the new location. “As Aquavit London is a new concept within the Aquavit family, a more relaxed all-day dining restaurant than the fine dining restaurant in New York, we have tweaked the menu to fit the concept but have stayed true to the Nordic heritage and quality.”
“The London menu has some of Aquavit New York’s signature dishes such as the ‘Kroppkakor’ and the popular dessert ‘The Arctic Bird’s Nest’, but otherwise most dishes and their recipes have been put together as a team in London. Henrik and I work closely together and I come to London from time to time to support the team,” she explained.
Two other important factors in the new venue’s concept, but also at the core of Aquavit’s distinctive restaurant style, are the locations and their interior design, as Emma explained to me, “They have both been key factors to our success, especially the design, as our restaurant is a piece of art itself from the little spoon to the chandeliers and, of course, the food.”
The interior design is overseen by Swedish-born Martin Brudnizki’s studio and showcases work from important Nordic designers including furnishings, silverware, wall-mounted textiles and staff uniforms. The importance of design transcends from furnishings to food, each plate resembling a work of art comprised of natural bounties from land and water.
The smörgåsbord of small sharing plates available on the menu celebrates the Nordic region’s traditional seafood dishes, including Shrimp Skagen, herrings, Gravad lax, and Vendace roe, starters such as Venison tartare with wild blueberries, lingonberries and juniper, as well as main courses including Turbot and Swedish meatballs.
Nordic cuisine has been at the forefront of culinary trends for the past few years, its popularity seemingly unwaining among diners. Executive Chef of Aquavit London, Henrik Ritzén, highlighted the translation of this in his menu in the restaurant and the importance of combining the traditional culinary techniques with the best of UK produce, “Nordic cuisine is appreciated greatly because of the quality of the food, the freshness, and many people associate it with being a healthy option due to the nature of the ingredients. Married with this is the importance of using quality local produce as much as possible. We source a few rare Nordic items that we can’t find locally. Otherwise we only work with locally grown, fresh products. You can find just as good quality meat, fish and vegetables locally and then cook it the Nordic way. We want to be as good to the environment as possible and not support longer transports just to be able to say it came from a specific region.”
“In fact, Aquavit’s definition is the respect for ingredients and to showcase them in their best way possible. That is its style of food, simplicity.”
Photos courtesy of Aquavit