Aquavit celebrates opening with Swedish Christmas procession
Not every restaurant’s opening is launched with a Swedish Christmas procession performed by a youth choir flown in from Stockholm, but then Aquavit isn’t every restaurant.

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. 

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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.”

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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.