For someone who has just completed his inaugural breakfast service to a room packed full of food critics and fine diners, Aquavit’s executive chef Henrik Ritzén, looks incredibly chilled. Indeed, he is as cool as a cucumber – or should that be ‘pickled cucumber’, since preserving vegetables is one of the main components in Nordic cuisine? For those unfamiliar with the Scandi way of eating, other traditional delicacies include smörgåsbord (small sharing plates), Gravlax, smoked herrings, lingonberries and squidgy cinnamon buns. The latter, as with all Aquavit’s dark ryes and sourdough breads are baked here on the premises.
Fresh-faced Henrik grew up on a farm in Sweden’s Koster Islands. It is, he says, about as far west in the country as you can get and is home to around 350 inhabitants. His parents were organic sheep farmers and his mother also kept bees. “It was quite a Bohemian upbringing,” says Henrik. “We ate home-grown organic vegetables and fresh fish and meat… so that’s where my love of seasonal ingredients began.” Today, at Aquavit, he is passionate about sourcing British produce wherever possible. The venison, which is made into a tartar and served with wild blueberries is Scottish, the scallops are from Cornwall… while the trout hails from Hampshire’s freshwater chalk streams.
In contrast to the renowned two Michelin-starred Aquavit in New York, the London outpost promises to be more of a relaxed all day dining concept. It begins with a Nordic breakfast, which includes Raggmunk (potato pancake) with bacon and lingonberries. There’s also Henrik’s twist on Eggs Benedict, in which smoked eels take the place of eggs and the hollandaise sauce is also smoked. Fika (coffee and buns) is served throughout the day, while the evening menu offers heartier fare such as Swedish meatballs.
Meanwhile, Aquavit’s bright open space is flooded with natural light thanks to the large glass façade. As expected, the interior adheres to a minimal, Scandinavian aesthetic. It is the work of Swedish-born Martin Brudnizki (The Ivy, Scott’s and Sexy Fish) and is inspired by Gunnar Asplund’s design of Sweden’s Gothenburg City Hall. A large tapestry by textile designer, Olafur Eliasson, takes centre stage on the main wall. Elsewhere, silverware from Georg Jensen, artwork from Andrea Hamilton, and furnishings by Svensk Tenn, complete the contemporary Nordic vibe.
The restaurant’s arrival in the new St. James’s Market redevelopment on 1 Carlton Street is a further indication that this area of town is fast becoming a foodie destination. Neighbours include Italy’s ‘Veneta’, while it could be buns at dawn when Danish bakery Ole & Steen opens its doors later this month. Still, this chilled-out chef seems unfazed by the ‘healthy’ competition. “Our cinnamon buns will be far superior!” he says confidently.
Aquavit, St James’s Market, 1 Carlton Street