Aqua Nueva, 240 Regent Street (entrance 30 Argyll St), London, W1B 3BR
Less than 24 hours after arriving back from Barcelona we headed for dinner at the lavish and indulgent Aqua Nueva, part of the renowned Hong Kong-based restaurant group. Exhausted and with the holiday blues we really didn’t expect much, we sometimes feel this way with really showy-off high-end places. Plus Aqua is known for being a celeb hang out which always puts us off (I blame the day job). Plus we’d spent the weekend having such stunning food in Spain. How wrong we were. Slightly hidden away on Argyle Street, I must have walked past it a hundred times and not noticed it. The entrance is ground level with the restaurants on top of the former Dickens & Jones department store on Regent Street. It felt very club-like on entrance, and so dark I almost walked into a wall.
There are two restaurants, Nueva serving contemporary northern Spanish dishes, overseen by acclaimed chef Alberto Hernández, who trained under the legendary Ferran Adrià at one of the world’s finest restaurant, the (now closed) three Michelin starred elBulli in Catalonia. And then there’s Aqua Kyoto, a Japanese restaurant with a sushi bar and Sumibiyaki charcoal grill, not sure what that is but it sounds impressive.
Aqua is famous for its rooftop bar so we had a drink there first, the weather was glorious, it felt like we were still away and our post-holiday blues lifted immediately. The queue for the bar was long, we waited in one of the two lines and when we eventually got to the front we asked for an Aperol spritz, only to be told that this was the line for wine and beer only! So where was the sign? As an Aperol is a cocktail, apparently, we’d have to join the other queue! So we asked for a drinks menu, only to be told bluntly that they were all inside…Shockingly unfriendly, had we not been eating we would have walked out. Eventually having a very pretty fruit-filled Rekorderlig pear cider we attempted to admire the views (impossible, the terrace on the other side is better). We ended up people watching, and acknowledging admiring glances at our fruit laden drinks.
We sat just inside of the terrace so we could watch the sun set and the pretty men making moves on the even prettier women. This appeared to be the more formal dining area but just around the corner (en route to the toilets) is a lighter and brighter more relaxed area. It had stools against a bar where you can watch your tapas being cooked and a row of tables for two that lead to a little smaller roof terrace overlooking the beautiful Liberty building. There’s also a little room here set aside for private dining or business lunches, they’ve thought of everything!
We passed on wine, being a hot summers night cocktails seemed more appropriate. We noticed the cheapest bottle of red was £21 for a bottle of Tempranillo, not bad. Not that anyone ever orders the cheapest bottle… I had a pretty unremarkable Gentle Mary Tanqueray gin, fresh rosemary, passion fruit, orange juice, a splash of mango and a dash of Campari £10.50. Ade’s Sharp & Stormy Gosling’s Black Seal Bermuda rum mixed with fresh ginger, pear, lime juice and bitters and ginger beer £11.50. was more my kind of drink, cocktail envy. Before we knew it was time to eat, as I said earlier we really weren’t expecting much, despite the chef’s background. But our brilliant waitress, Trinidad, was so welcoming and knowledgeable things looked up straight away. First up Trinidad delivered a delicious assortment of warm bread rolls with olive oil. Although they were fantastic we made sure we didn’t devour them all, I had a feeling we would be eating a lot…
Calamar relleno de habas y aceite de tinta Sauteed squid with garlic and broad been puree and squid ink olive oil £9.50 was so beautifully presented it seemed a shame to eat it. For the first time in ages the flavours matched up to the presentation. Usually when we have such pretty food it looks a hell of a lot better than it tastes. The squid was perfectly cooked, the crispy blackened garlic reminded Ade of the scrapings from a roast (that’s a good thing). The garlic purée was subtle enough so not to overpower the delicate squid.
Huevo estrellado Chorizo, pancetta and fried potatoes with soft poached egg £7.00 was next, this didn’t look as pretty but still tasted great, Ade described it as ham, egg and chips Spanish style. The teeniest golden cubes of fried potatoes, chorizo and pancetta, amazing. The idea is you mix it all up on your plate so the egg combines it into something less dry. This is a very traditional Spanish dish, although the presentation would be nowhere near as refined.
Next came another stunning dish, Bogavante con panceta Spicy paprika marinated lobster with crispy pork belly £16.00. Wow, the smokiness from the pork belly and paprika combined with the lobster was truly wonderful, the waitress said this was her favourite dish and we can see why. The crackling wasn’t crispy but the pork was so succulent… We were in food heaven.
Merluza vizcaína con salsa de arroz negro Hake with black rice sauce, baby squid, alioli and a garlic and paprika dressing £22.00 with such intricate presentation, the little edible flowers dotted on the alioli were a sweet touch, yet another exciting dish, beautiful too – almost a work of art. The thick black sauce against the flaky white fish was a great sticky combo and the squid was so tender, not even a hint of that rubbery texture you often get.
Just when we thought we couldn’t eat any more we had Secreto de cerdo Iberico con morcilla patatera y pure de manzana confitada Iberian pork secreto with blood sausage and confit apple £22. The blood sausage was too rich for me but the combination of pork, chorizo and soft apple mousse was great. The least overpowering flavour combination of them all but still tasty and perfectly cooked. This was Ade’s favourite dish, he’s such a carnivore, he adored the treatment of the chorizo, it seemed to have been whipped into a meaty mousse.
Luckily dessert were fruit-bases dishes, I don’t think we could have coped with anything else. Borracho de piña y coco Rum sponge cake with coconut parfait and pineapple granité £7.50 with a light sponge, and iced pineapple. Ade’s special birthday dessert Canelón de mango y albahaca con helado de fruta de la pasión Mango and basil cannelloni with passion fruit ice cream £8, looked more my thing, complete with a song a candle and a message on the plate, sweet! He washed that down with their signature cocktail, the Spanish Garden, Ciroc vodka and dry Spanish white wine served with green grapes, torn basil, vanilla sugar and spiced green tea liquor £10.50. An extremely refreshing drink to go with an extremely light and refreshing dessert.
As we travelled home we both agreed that we were pleasantly surprised by our experience, we really thought it would be the kind of food for people with more money than sense, but we loved everything we ate, and that doesn’t happen all that often. Yes it is extravagant, expensive and definitely one for special occasions. We fear it has been lost in the London food scene, I have never heard anyone talk about it, maybe it’s about time they were.
240 Regent Street (entrance 30 Argyll St),
London, W1B 3BR
020 7478 0540
Click here for opening hours
Nearest tube: Oxford Circus