This Deluxe Tasting Menu In Central London Will Transport You To Scandinavia

As someone whose knowledge of Scandinavian food extends as far as Ikea’s Swedish meatballs, an invite to Aquavit was something I couldn’t turn down. After acquiring two Michelin stars at its flagship site in New York and reigning as one of the city’s most popular dining destinations for the past two decades, the brand is showing Brits what it’s all about at its beautiful St. James’s outpost. 

Aquavit London Menu Review | DesignMyNight

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The high ceilings and opulent bar make for a show-stopping first impression as you enter the restaurant’s spacious main dining area. The Scandi interiors centre around a stripped-back design; the wood-panelled walls supply the backdrop for the minimalistic furniture, with a flood of natural light adding to the warm glow of the room. Two large original textile wall hangings by famous Scandinavian artists serve as the focal point of the room, but besides that, there is little to distract from the food, which is where the real artistry comes in. 

In dire need of a crash course in Nordic cuisine, we were eager to delve into Aquavit’s new tasting menu (£90), which promised a well-rounded, non-intimidating exploration of classic dishes found in that part of the world. You can make dietary requirements known and put in meat-alternative requests prior to your visit, but for the most part they like to keep the menu untouched, bar the odd seasonal switch-out. 

The menu, curated by head chef Jonas Karlsson, consists of five courses preceded by a selection of Scandinavian snacks. The word ‘snack’ almost seemed like a derogatory term for these mini masterpieces. We were told that the four bite-sized morsels were to be eaten in a specific order, an extra touch that definitely paid off and made the care and thought that went into the menu immediately apparent.

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The Aquavit reviews are in - this restaurant is a real winner.

The first in the sequence was a seeded cracker topped with beetroot hummus, followed by a cheese tart, pickled herring with trout roe and a spoonful of beef tartar mixed with juniper mayo. Each one had a stronger flavour than the last, building on the palate and making for an explosive last bite. 

We were then served a slice of house-made rye bread and a mound of cod roe butter alongside gravlax, which is cured salmon. The salmon was cured in aquavit, a distilled spirit flavoured with herbs, plated up with dill mayonnaise and tonic gel. Traditionally, Scandinavian gravlax is cured with a mix of salt and sugar and topped with dill, so this plate was pretty much a gourmet spin on the classic recipe. The bread probably had the strongest taste of all the dish’s three components, so I wasn’t surprised to find out that the sourdough starter used to make it was 7 years old. The bread had an unmatched depth and richness that intensified when paired with the silky salty butter. The salmon is best eaten separately from the bread to appreciate its delicate, balanced flavours. 

Next up were the two meat dishes; first up was the smoked duck breast with pickled carrot and red wine vinaigrette. The duck was sliced as thin as the carrot ribbons, meaning you could get an even distribution of each with every mouthful, benefiting from the tang and crunch of the veg without the meat taking all the attention. It was a light and tasty cold dish which felt salad-like and almost refreshing. The next plate was more substantial, featuring a hunk of roasted red deer, parsnip puree and savoy cabbage; imagine a gourmet roast dinner with the most tender meat and the sweet puree adding an extra dimension of flavour. 

Aquavit Restaurant | DesignMyNight

The interiors are super stylish with aesthetically-pleasing plates to match.

We were finally on to dessert, with the first serving as a palate cleanser in preparation for the indulgent last dish. The pretty plate starred a brightly coloured scoop of sea buckthorn and orange sorbet, surrounded by small chunks of kiwi and strawberry. It was delightfully fresh and sweet and reminded me of a souped-up fruit salad. We ended with a baked Swedish cheesecake paired with cloudberry jam and vanilla cream. I think this was my favourite dish of the night, and for someone who isn’t a dessert person, that’s saying a lot. The cheesecake was almost savoury, which resulted in perfection when married with the sweet cream and sour jam. 

The DesignMyNight Digest

As far as introductions to Scandinavian food go, you couldn’t ask for much more than what this tasting menu had to offer. Each plate was executed with care and precision; every aspect came across as intentional and well thought out instead of pretentious and just-for-show, something other ‘fancy’ restaurants can sometimes push their luck with.

The knowledgeable staff talked us through the backgrounds behind each dish, turning the meal into more of an experience. It was clear that we were getting a true yet amped-up taste of Scandinavia, with the chef being mindful enough to respect tradition but also having the conviction to try new techniques. The price tag is slightly on the eye-watering side, but when you consider that the restaurant is showcasing the best in Nordic cuisine and interior design, you’re less likely to feel short-changed.

  💰 The damage: £180 for the tasting menu for two.

  📍  The location: 1 St James's Market, St. James's, London SW1Y 4QQ

  👌 Perfect for: Nordic food novices and splash-the-cash dinner dates.

 ⭐ Need to know: You can pay extra for a boozy or non-alcoholic pairing menu where sips are served with each dish.