As many an unfortunate entrepreneur will tell you, large bags of money are no guarantee of success in London’s vast and fast paced restaurant scene.Indeed, even the most experienced and renowned operators have suffered embarrassing failures at the hands of London’s discerning and merciless diners. However, judging by their outrageously extravagant venue and big name chefs, it appears that the team behind Aqua has taken an irreverent approach to opening in our city.
Having opened on the site which was the rather insipid Dickens & Jones department store, Aqua couldn’t be more different.Walk down Argyll Street and you’ll spot a couple of bouncers conspicuously standing outside an uninteresting looking doorway. It isn’t a night club nor a casino. Nor is it a bank. Hmm. So this would be the entrance then.Take an elevator to the fifth floor where you will be met with an army of hostesses waiting to take you to your destination.The choice is admittedly zeitgeist, with two distinct dining spaces, ‘aqua nueva’ and ‘aqua kyoto’ – providing Spanish and Japanese cuisine respectively – together with a snazzy cocktail bar in the form of ‘aqua spirit’. We’ve reviewed both restaurants below and it was ‘aqua kyoto’ which provided the outstanding experience.
Offering a modern take on the traditional cuisine of northern Spain, aqua nueva offers both a tapas bar and a glamorous dining area serving proper meals.The restaurant certainly gets off to a good start by putting chef Alberto Hernandez at the helm; having cut his teeth at what is widely considered to be the world’s finest restaurant, the three Michelin-starred El Bulli in Spain, surely only great things could be expected.
The meal kicked off with a clever and fun pre-starter of Sweet corn soup with beetroot & Monte Enebro Cheese ravioli.Unfortunately, nothing else really matched up to the first dish.For starters, sweet Lobster matched well with crispy pork & chickpea puree, but the Scallops with potato puree & porcini mushrooms was just far too salty.Mains were a well cooked and reasonably tasty Beef tenderloin topped with a generous sliver of fois gras and some fairly non-descript bits of veg. Similarly, the Seabass with cockles and Spanish vinaigrette threatened to be a seriously interesting dish, but felt as though the flavours had been toned down.Desserts were actually pretty fun, including a light yet punchy Apple jelly with apple ice & yogurt ice cream and a decadent chocolate dessert tasting dish.
In a similar vain to the food, the service was lacking polish.When asked what the recommendations were, our waiter’s answer was a rather concerning ‘nothing’. Wine recommendations were also similarly vague, with two waiters doing a lot of head scratching over the short list before taking a punt!The guys behind the restaurant have clearly spent a lot of cash on giving it a top-end look, but it appears they forgot to invest in the most important parts – the food and staff!
Cuisine type: Spanish
Dinner for two (excluding drinks): £70
Wow, is this even the same restaurant?
The décor has improved dramatically – still snazzy, but in a seriously cool and moody way.The food and service have taken a big leap forwards too.aqua kyoto also has a distinctly livelier atmosphere, probably due to it being located next to ‘aqua spirit’, the main bar area, as well as having a more informal room; in particular, the ringside seats of the cooking area also add to the drama of the venue.
So onto the food.The menu provides contemporary Japanese cuisine, with various sushi and sashimi options, a selection of dishes prepared on a traditional sumibiyaki (charcoal) grill and some interesting signature dishes.Promisingly, despite having a far larger menu than aqua nueva, the knowledgeable staff are able to guide us through it.
Wagyu beef sushi sees coarsely minced Wagyu masterfully seasoned with the precision of a ninja’s blade and served topped with a raw quail’s egg yolk to provide an incredibly rich and flavoursome dish; it may cost £9 for a modest piece, but it’s seriously worth every penny.Conversely, some simple but high grade Salmon sashimi demonstrates the restaurant’s attention to quality ingredients.Soft-shell crab tempura was coated in a heavy handed and stale tasting batter, so is worth a miss.However, quality resumed with beautifully braised Pork cheeks in a rich tomato & miso gravy as well as a delicate char grilled sea bass with shitake mushrooms & truffle garlic soy.An obligatory miso Black cod dish was also perfectly charcoal-grilled.We didn’t venture into dessert, but an Elephant Tree cocktail (chocolate liqueur, Amarula, espresso & mascarpone) certainly hit the spot.
Cuisine type: Japanese
Dinner for two (excluding drinks): £80
aqua nueva & kyoto
5th Floor, 240 Regent Street (entrance on 30 Argyll Street)
London, W1B 3BR
Tel: T: 020 7478 0540