Aqua Nueva & Spirit, Oxford Circus

Type of Bar: Bar/Restaurant, Spanish, Japanese
Damage££££
Ideal for: FoodDate, Small Groups, After Work

 

As crowded as Argyll Street is, it is easy to miss some of the signs around you – including the doorway that leads up to the 5th floor, where three of Aqua’s dining experiences are hidden away.

The opulently decorated Aqua series begins with the shimmering mirrored surfaces of the Aqua Spirit bar, before opening up to the Nueva restaurant, heralded by the charging Pamplona bull – an awful lot of spectacle, so the Hoodooist was curious to see if there was substance behind the glitz.

 

Aqua Kyoto Nueva London cocktails

The Smoke Over Spain

 

Once seated at our table, looking out the balcony to the Central London skyline, and over the bar of Nueva, we are served with the London Cocktail Week offering of the Smoke Over Spain.

I’m already sold with this. Tanqueray gin, orgeat, sherry, wild strawberry liqueur, fresh lemon juice and served with a paprika foam, a gorgeous balancing act of sweet without being sickly, citrus without being overpowering, and smoky for a burst of flavour. You begin with the smoky paprika foam that teases the tastebuds before a wash of fruit and nutty sweetness of the orgeat, giving way to the powerful strawberry flavour that dominates the drink, leading to a dry finish from the sherry.

This is a cocktail you will remember, even for the Hoodooist who notoriously avoids sweet or fruit dominated cocktails. I do wish this will find its way onto the cocktail menu year round, to firmly place Aqua on the map for cocktail ingenuity.

We enjoy snacks of Manzanilla olives, chickpea croquettes, and Iberian meats before being served padron peppers fried with olive oil and dusted with sea salt that the Hoodooist absolutely adores. The addition of sea salt does stand out from many servings of padron peppers, and the Hoodooist doubts he can have it any other way now! A pile of green pepper heads on his plate, we are served another cocktail.

 

 

Aqua Spirit Kyoto Nueva London cocktails

Salmon and avocado maki with salmon ‘pearls’

 

Aqua Spirit‘s offering of the Japanese Citrus initially does not go down well – until it dilutes. Then we find a wonderfully refreshing drink. The melting ice dilutes the pungency of the powerful yuzu sake, which is mixed with Ketel One vodka, fresh lemon juice, ginger syrup, Angostura bitters and topped with soda water. Once you’ve waited a few minutes, the yuzu citrus provides a wonderful backdrop for the ginger to sizzle.

This was paired with salmon and avocado maki, topped with salmon roe. Clearly freshly cut and succulent salmon made this sushi worth travelling for, exciting seasoned residents of Japan at our table. Soon, chicken wings stuffed with coriander and miso are served, as well as crisp prawn tempura with garlic chilli sauce.

 

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Finally, melt-in-your-mouth oxtail topped with avocado creme is paired with a glass of champagne, before the finale of a shot of Espresso Martini as a digestif to polish off a wonderful evening.

Staff at the Aqua Nueva & Spirit are faultless: polite, swift, and conversational. I do prize service above everything else at a bar, and the Aqua series certainly score here.

 

Overall, the glitz is not just for show. Cocktails are engineered to be paired with food, so do not attempt to be enormously complex or demanding – but when they do, we find stars like the Smoke Over Spain. The Japanese Citrus is also a great example at how cocktails meant to be paired can be enjoyable even on their own.The atmosphere is perfect for a celebratory dinner, after work drink on the balcony, and particularly for meetings. You can’t go wrong for why you’re here, really.

Sure, it’s a steep price, which is expected – but all things considered, the Aqua Nueva and Spirit are venues a visit to London should not do without.

 

Drinks: ***-****
Atmosphere: *****
Service: *****

 

Aqua Nueva & Spirit,

240 Regent St, Oxford Circus
London W1B 3BR

http://aquakyoto.co.uk/
http://aquanueva.co.uk/

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Mizuwari, Soho – CLOSED

Type of Bar: Japanese, Whisky, Dive
Damage£££
Ideal for: Date, Whisky flights

NOTE: Unfortunately, as of Winter 2014, Mizuwari Soho has been shut down. We will miss it dearly.

Mizuwari is a gem. It has certain drawbacks, but it is unique in London as a bar specializing entirely in Japanese whisky – an ignored market here.

Old Compton Street’s Bincho is clouded in smoke and vapour from the open kitchen where diners feast as you move to the end of the restaurant and take the stairs down into the self-described ‘dive bar’. This is kind of where the only problem I find with Mizuwari lies. The room is far too dark to read the menu, the television is highly unnecessary, and the furniture incredibly uncomfortable. Considering how low the seats are, and the sense of wanting to lie back and relax with the strong drinks, the backlessness of the chairs is such a major pain.

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Seated, the incredibly knowledgeable bartender will walk you through the major whiskies they provide, from the well-known Suntory: Yamazaki, to the various Nikka, Ichiro and Karuizawa on offer. ‘Mizuwari means ‘mixed with water’, the traditional way to serve whisky in Japan – so we began with the Yamazaki 12 single malt Mizuwari, and the Hakushu 12 single malt with soda, each with crystal-clear hand-cut ice blocks of binchotan charcoal filtered water. Being new to the Mizuwari serve, the charcoal filtered water provided us with a novel new way to explore the flavours of whisky as the water rounds out and dissects the layers of taste for inspection. Among the group, we did see that Japanese whisky may not be for everyone, but it is easy enough a taste to acquire if you already have one for Scotch.

We followed with the whisky cocktails. The Hoodooist went for the Risshun – the Hibiki 12 blend whisky, honey Umeshu plum liqueur and ginger. Sharp on the nose, and slightly intimidating; the Risshun is strong, and doesn’t kid around, but has an unmistakable air of sophistication and wit to it. The Umeshu helps soothe the sharpness of the Hibiki 12, and the ginger to bring back its tartness. Conversely, the Shosho (Hakushu 12, soda, rose water and fresh mint), is a fresh, crisp libation for the early evening.

Bar snacks include edamame beans on the house, and yakitori skewers to order.

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Other than the flawed furniture choices and the perpetually sticky floor, the impeccable service of Mizuwari always makes it a perfect destination for the whisky-fan. Of course, the absence of cocktails with other spirits means that you don’t want to bring anyone without a palette for whisky, so do make sure before booking. Even though it’s not on the menu, I’m sure you can request plum wines and sake instead.

Drinks: ****
Atmosphere: **
Service: ****

Mizuwari @ Bincho,
16 Old Compton St,
London W1D 4TH

www.bincho.co.uk/whisky-joint‎