And now to one of the most delightful, delicious dinners i’ve had in a long time: a Spanish feast at Aqua Nueva. I was invited by my lovely friend and occasional travel companion B, who was reviewing it for work. Naturally, I selflessly offered to help her. I didn’t know much about the place; I knew it was in a vast, cavernous space, divided into two (Aqua Kyoto, a Japanese grill / restaurant, occupies one half, and has a roof terrace, which I’d been on before as part of a press event. Great views over Regent Street…).

The Aqua restaurant group specialises in big, bold dining rooms (they have an outpost in the Shard, and also in Hong Kong and Beijing), and Aqua Nueva has recently undergone some refurbishment. Certainly, the room is very appealing; you pass a big, navy blue statue of a bull on your way in, then the airy restaurant – nice and light due to the big windows – is decorated in dark oranges and browns, with mirror panelling on the pillars, leather chairs and banquettes, and a modern, gentleman’s-clubby feel.

It has an attractive bar, covered in gold tiles, and its own rooftop terrace too. It looks comfortable and imposing without being snotty or over-plush; we both liked it immediately. The staff, mostly Spanish themselves, couldn’t have been friendlier. Big shout to Miguel (and his tattoos) – I think B might have had a little crush…but he, and his colleagues, were all extremely knowledgeable about the food, and the wine (he recommended a delicious Rioja).

The menu, which B and I had both, separately, drooled over online during the day, was intriguing. It’s a small plates concept, so sharing is almost compulsory, and split into Vegetables, Fish, and Meat. Nothing sounded like the kind of tapas you’d see on most mainstream Spanish menus, but practically everything we tried was a hit. The idea, explained the manager, is that it’s small portions but everything is intensely flavoured; and it’s using Spanish techniques and flavours in a modern way.

After much discussion, B and I have a list of seven dishes (we did have six, but Miguel said we should add one more. We didn’t argue).  So we went for:

1. Escalivada – traditional crystal bread with smoked grilled vegetables. This, I have to be honest, was my least favourite, and I think we mainly ordered it because we had no idea what ‘crystal bread’ is, and to pretend we often eat vegetables. Crystal bread turned out to be a bit like long, small toasts, with grilled cherry tomatoes, shavings of leek, peppers and onion. It was served cold, which is fine, but it wasn’t flavourful enough for me.

2. Citrus marinated red tuna ‘escabeche’ – this was big chunks of seared tuna steak, topped with caramelised onion. It’s one of Miguel’s – and the manager’s – faves, and we could see why. It was delicious; meaty, citrussy, tender and tasty; we probably should have ordered two.

3. Lime and coriander marinated scallops with cucumber and chilli – lovely, zingy, ceviche-y scallops, with a gorgeous hot kick. They didn’t last long.

4. Grilled cuttlefish with cod brandade, potato ‘violette’: cuttlefish is firmer, chewier and more compact that squid, and this came with a creamy cod brandade, and crushed violet potatoes, which looked WELL cool on the plate. And in pics.

For the meat dishes, two of them came highly recommended:

5. soft poached egg with chorizo, pancetta and fried potatoes; this was incredible. A bowl filled with what looks like yellow grains, but is in fact potatoes chopped up into tiny cubes, dotted with red pieces of chorizo and pancetta, has a soft poached egg wobbling gently on top. You’re advised to break it and mix it through the contents; it’s crunchy, meaty, tangy and eggy – we’d never had anything like it before. Very, very good.

6. grilled Iberian pork secreto with aioli potatoes: this apparently means that the cut of pork is from a ‘secret’ part, in this case just behind the shoulder. So, basically the armpit, then!? Whatever it was, it was delicious; tender, grilled pork chunks (a bit like pork belly to be honest) with little potatoes covered in creamy, garlicky goo. Yum.

7. We couldn’t NOT have the matured ribeye with pickled green paprika and giant capers. It came medium rare, was melt in the mouth tender, and enlivened by the pickled hot peppers and vinegary capers on top.

After all that, we felt pretty full, having washed it down not only with a glass or two of that lovely Rioja but also some cava. But Miguel insisted we try dessert so, what Miguel wants, Miguel gets…

This meant we tried an odd sounding dish which combined bread, chocolate cream, salt and olive oil which, all together, was actually quite amazing (Miguel’s top tip; recreate at home with Mother’s Pride and Nutella), and a lovely cheesecake type thing with rosewater cream and cherries. AND a glass of rose cava. It was all rather insane but didn’t leave us feeling bloated; you could tell the ingredients were really good quality.

We’ve already threatened to return. I feel Miguel might be booking a flight home just in case.

 

Value for money: 7/10; for food this good, most dishes vary between £6 and £12; not too bad at all

Atmos: 7/10; if there aren’t many other people dining, it can feel a bit empty

Food: a jolly good 8.5/10