New York’s two-Michelin starred Nordic restaurant, Aquavit, recently opened in central London’s St James’s Market development. Plenty of London restaurants and coffee shops have taken design pointers from Scandinavia’s trendy minimalism, but there’s none of that here.
Stockholm’s Martin Brudnizki has managed to create an intimate yet opulent feel to the high-ceilinged space using timber-paneled walls, polished brass, blue and burnt-orange leather seats and striking emerald green wall hangings. The focal point is the huge bar, topped with Swedish marble and lined with bottles of snaps, aquavit (of course) and other sturdy Scandinavian spirits. But shots at the bar are for another time, this visit was to try Aquavit’s Nordic afternoon tea.
We began with a selection of Swedish smørrebrød served on crisp sunflower-seed-studded rye bread baked at 6am that morning. Picture-perfect toppings for the open rye sandwiches included gravlax tartare, intense liver pâté and delicate venison tartare served with lovage. Shrimp skagen was a highlight, the Nordic version of prawn cocktail with punchy horseradish and dill mayonnaise covering plump little shrimp, topped with salmon roe.
Fika, the Swedish tradition of taking time out for coffee and pastries, is still rife in Sweden and Finland, and Aquavit has tapped into this idea for the sweet round of its afternoon tea. Where traditional English afternoon teas serve scones, Aquavit keeps it Nordic with semla buns – mini dough balls filled with almond and cardamom paste, and whipped cream.
Other traditional Swedish sweet treats included marzipan Punsch-rolls infused with aniseed notes from Punsch liqueur, and iconic mums-mums – little dark-chocolate-coated swirls filled with a light marshmallow centre.
Aquavit likes to reminisce, and so the final round of delicacies came in the form of a classic Swedish cookie selection. According to Swedish tradition, when you go round to your grandma’s house (or any house in fact) for coffee, you should be offered no fewer than seven biscuits. This tradition has evolved from the early 19th century when coffee became legal to drink and kafferep (coffee parties) became popular.
We saw parallels to English biscuits when working our way through the plate, with a Swedish version of Viennese swirls topped with coconut flakes, chewy cinnamon oaty biscuits, and one that was reminiscent of a Jammie Dodger crossed with a bakewell tart. The latter was almost cake-like due to its melt-in-the-mouth almond shortbread. Our favourite was a very thin cookie with dark chocolate chips and hazelnut pieces.
Accompany your biscuits with Danish Hoogly tea. We tried a delicate floral white tea along with a rhubarb and vanilla flavour with creamy rhubarb and custard sweet notes. If you prefer to keep it Scandi with a coffee, Swedish coffee pioneers Johan & Nyström provide blends from their roastery in Stockholm.
For a slice of Swedish nostalgia in a stunning contemporary setting, Aquavit’s Nordic afternoon tea is definitely worth a try.