A large fifth-floor Spanish bar/restaurant (with terrace), between Oxford Circus and Carnaby Street, with the potential – if it gets the right crowd – to become quite a ‘scene’; it also offers a spacious and convenient setting for a business lunch.
ere’s a profound thought: restaurants exist in space and time. Space is pretty obvious. If you want a Eurotrash-style outfit, you’re unlikely to deviate far from the South Ken-Mayfair axis. If you’re looking to surf the edge of the urban Zeitgeist you’ll probably head for Shoreditch. And so on.
But what about time? When you visit a restaurant is almost as important as where it is. Was it fair, for example, for the UK’s most read critic to slam a new City restaurant in part on the basis that it was deathly quiet on a Monday night? Well, it would be, wouldn’t it?
The overall experience we had at aqua nueva was clearly influenced by the fact that we visited at lunchtime, and in the first week of opening. We’ll come back to the atmosphere, but first let’s note that neither food nor service induced any strong feelings one way or the other.
We ate from the tapas menu in the main restaurant – it’s only available at a dedicated bar in the evenings – in the company of an Hispanophile. She didn’t find the flavours especially authentic, citing a timidity in spicing and the use of garlic. We’re not usually ones to get too hung up about authenticity per se, but we’d certainly agree that the flavours rarely zinged. Service was trying hard though (if still a bit early-days slow), and incidentals like non-alcoholic cocktails, bread and coffee were good. And the head waiter was, rightly, proud of the quality of his olive oil.
But let’s get back to the ambience, which is where the whole timing thing comes in. Here we are, in an unusual fifth floor site (once part of the Dickins & Jones store) in the very heart of town, which has been turned into one of the biggest restaurant openings of recent times (with some 300 seats, if you include a neighbouring Japanese restaurant, opening shortly).
If food and service are, as our siting shot suggested, decent middle-of-the-road, the success or not of this place will surely depend on the atmosphere. At lunch, there frankly isn’t much. The place feels a bit odd and dislocated. Although it is understated, spacious and airy, it does not feel particularly Spanish (which is perhaps unsurprising, as the operators are from Hong Kong). It might make an ideal setting, in fact, for a business lunch, as long as you don’t mind a slightly could-be-anywhere ambience somewhat akin to a superior hotel coffee shop.
The imponderable question is what the place would feel like at night (and, perhaps, at night once it had got into a proper swing too). If – and this seems to us to be a big if – they can get the beautiful people in, this fringe-of-Soho, fringe-of-Carnaby Street (but also fringe-of-Oxford Street) spot could become a really happening sort of rendezvous, the sort in which you might film a London episode of Sex and the City. With the right sort of pretty – we’re guessing, younger – faces, the posy-dark tunnel approach, the loungey Miami-style terraces (spoilt only by not overlooking the Atlantic) and the inoffensive but flatteringly-lit interior could well decisively come into their own.
But will such a dream actually come to pass? We like to think that we can usually judge from an early-days visit how a restaurant is likely to ‘turn out’, but in this case our only conclusion can be that it’s just too early to say.