St. James’s Market is an area reconstructed from the dull anonymity that used to lie between Haymarket and Lower Regent Street. Now dripping with the sort of elegant offices that the better sort of hedge fund can call home, this extension to the spiritual home of truly luxury London has now begun to attract commensurate restaurants, such as the truly excellent and eclectic British restaurant Fallow at the Haymarket end. A few steps but also a world away from the jostle of Jermyn Street. But a rarer beast is a Scandinavian restaurant, let alone one carrying the name of its famous New York parent. First impressions are subtly striking: a soaring space framed in pure golden wood with an appealing 1930s-style bar area, a dining area bathed in light from huge windows and all topped by chandeliers in the Gotham style. I lived in New York when the original opened, and this venue has the same impact and presence as the original. It all bespeaks a proper restaurant for proper food.
This assured atmosphere almost necessitated a choice of cocktails rather than wine, and a sound decision that proved to be. The signature cocktails are divided into seven sins and seven virtues, each of which takes a classic but twists it in a very Nordic way. My first choice was Kindness – Empirical Spirits The Plum, Martini Bianco infused with jasmine – and very good indeed, but the follow-up, Pride – Laphroig, clementine and vegan egg white – was simply outstanding (after our) hesitations as to how this could mix with the food. It is a rare feat to pull off a cocktail that can keep the iodine heft of Laphroig in check but here it was perfectly balanced.
Starters did not disappoint – a selection of herring rollmops were fresh and properly fishy in the way that only rollmops can be, with interesting flavours (loganberry was my pick), potatoes and wickedly tart miniature cheese pies. Better still was the gravadlax. Not thinly sliced to which we are accustomed, and no sign of any over-acidic sauce overcoming the cured fish. Instead thick tranches of salmon cured using gin and dill, and with sufficient heft to make the textural mixture with granola something very special – a dish I cannot wait to try again. Mellow mood music, audible but not overbearing, combined neatly with the understated starters.
For our main courses, we first had roast cod with haricot beans, parsley and bacon sauce – a slightly austere but very pure dish where the quality of the cod (and the substantial portion) carried the dish. Then came trout with Sandefjord sauce, chive and trout roe. This is classic Nordic cooking – a sauce made with cream and butter, usually with a touch of lemon and coriander. A little like a hollandaise, the sauce is proper Scandinavian comfort food that can be paired with all types of fish. Eating it is like being enveloped in the warmth of the sauna after an icy dip. Utterly delicious, and with a genius touch of the trout roe bursting through the creaminess of the sauce nevertheless keeping the trout as the centre of the dish.
Puddings were again true to origin and displayed a wholehearted approach to ensuring that cake or pudding fully satisfies.
Finally, a mention must go to the staff – service throughout was elegant and explanatory but with real warmth and friendliness. If you have any interest in Scandinavian food or just want to find a new high-end restaurant in the West End, then Aquavit should be on the list.
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