Whenever we Google Map a restaurant and find it’s within spitting-distance of Oxford Circus, we usually cancel our reservation. Not because we’re snobs, but because as London locals we refuse to crowd into a restaurant crammed with camera-toting tourists. Thankfully, we didn’t cancel our reservation when we found out that Aqua Nueva – an outpost of the famed Hong Kong concept – was accessed at Argyll Street, the road that runs parallel to Regent Street. Its entrance is like a dark, velvet-draped black hole, where you’re greeted by a burly bouncer in a suit and whisked five floors up via a sleek hotel-style elevator. Once at the top you’re greeted by a bevy of beautiful young girls at the reception desk before being shown to one of the two dining rooms; Aqua Kyoto, a sushi bar and sumibiyaki, and Aqua Nueva, a tapas bar and Spanish restaurant.
We opted for the Spanish version, and were shown down an impressively long hallway (more like a runway than anything else) and into a spacious dining room flanked by men in suits and women with ludicrously expensive handbags. It’s all cocktails and flutes of Champagne at the bar – both inside and outside on the gorgeous al fresco terrace – with an impressive drinks menu influenced by both Asia and Spain. We opted for a gazpacho-inspired take on a Bloody Mary and a lemongrass-infused Martini, both of which slipped down all too easily.
We were then shown to plush booth-style seating in the dining room, which is spacious, stylish and awash with light. With so much breathing room – despite it being busy on the night of our review – it has a distinct New York vibe about it (usually only American restaurants offer so much space under one roof). And what of the food? The starters are designed to share – four or five plates, we were told – and certainly don’t scrimp on portions: we went with a selection of cured Iberian sausages; crostini sardines with sun-dried tomato and creamed cheese terrine; grilled tuna belly with avocado, roasted red peppers and sorrel; and spicy paprika marinated lobster with crispy pork belly. All were gorgeous, all were authentic, and all threatened to ruin our appetite for mains. That said, we wasted no time in tucking in when mains arrived promptly after our starters were cleared away; duck breast with grilled summer fruit and vegetable tallarines was cooked perfectly pink and sized just right, while the fillet of wild seabass with ‘potato paella’ was crispy, oily and bursting with Med-fresh flavour. Wrapping things up nicely were desserts of lemon tart with banana and cookie ice-cream – zesty and refreshingly light – and a layers of crushed hazelnut, praline and chocolate mousse. A decadent end to a dinner, if ever there was one.
While East End scene queens and insiders who haven’t bothered to check out anything remotely Central will undoubtedly turn up their noses at somewhere so, well, convenient, we thoroughly enjoyed Aqua Nueva’s offerings and would happily drop by for a drink, dinner or indeed people-watching. It’s all good.