On Thursday morning, a small crowd of friends, neighbours and the Swedish embassy gathered outside the pavilion at St James’s Market, happily noshing on warm cinnamon buns and a bit of cheeky early morning mulled wine. The occasion was the launch of nordic eatery Aquavit, celebrated by a special performance of the Sankta Lucia, a traditional Swedish holiday choir procession that has a designated Lucia leading a choir while wearing a crown of burning candles. The clear, beautiful voices of the Stockholms Musikgymnasium choir, flown in especially for the event, rang through the square.
This is Aquavit’s third location, and first in London. Opened in midtown Manhattan in 1987, the nordic fine dining establishment has turned into an institution, one that brought with it a wave of Scandinavian dining in New York with two Michelin stars to show for it. Pete Wells of the New York Times, a food critic not known as easily impressed, recently revisited the restaurant and swooned about head chef Emma Bengtsson’s inventive menu: “Ms. Bengtsson sprinkles enough sea buckthorn around to show she’s perfectly aware of what’s happening in Copenhagen, but she is in no apparent danger of disappearing inside a cloud of hay smoke. She is her own chef.”
Aquavit's legacy continues on this side of the pond, albeit in a toned down manner. The space is still a temple to the sumptuousness of Scandinavian craft: Olaf Eliasson tapestries hang from the timber-cladded walls, the cutlery is by Georg Jensen and the photography offsets the so-hygge-they-literally-glow interiors with images of moody nordic harbours. Unlike the very structured tasting menus of its New York counterpart, Aquavit London offers all-day à la carte dining, including breakfast and an afternoon fika. Indeed, the dishes, where no no sprig of dill is out of place, are as beautifully designed as the interiors.