High in the city

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Oxford Circus, London’s bustling shopping mecca, may not seem like an obvious dinner destination, but there’s fine dining to be found, if only you look up. Perched atop Regent Street – claiming the space of the old Dickens & Jones department store – is the newly re-launched Aqua Nueva, part of the Hong Kong-based Aqua group’s London bolthole, and a stellar destination for a contemporary Spanish feast. Offering a decadent respite from the chaos below, Nueva is a sparkly, opulent place, with a dress code sharp enough to lure the most glamorous night-owls from neighbouring Mayfair.

Welcomed into the cavernous lobby by a perma-tanned, sequin-spangled hostess on the door, confusion arises – have we unwittingly entered a nightclub? Led to expect an echoing, rowdy place filled with sloshed city boys and glaring girls, it’s a relief to be proven instantly wrong.

’’’While Nueva is still as famously gargantuan as it was pre-revamp, the copper-vaulted ceilings (designed to imitate the interior of the renowned sherry casks of Jerez,) warm lighting and comfortable banquette seats now make for a truly cosy space where one could very easily while away an entire evening. It’s a friendlier, more welcoming place than the adjoining Japanese space Aqua Kyoto, which we later see is where all those prosecco-drinking 20-somethings have migrated to.

The menu is divided into four families – classics, vegetables, fish, and meat, and is orchestrated by formidable head chef Alberto Hernandez, previously at Catalonia’s triple-Michelin El Bulli. A brilliant blend of recognisable Spanish fare and contemporary quirks, it navigates that pin-thin line between inventive and pretentious, with portions you don’t need a magnifying glass to see, and flavours that comfort, rather than tease.

Working steadily through the truly hospitable waiter’s recommendations, a few dishes stand head and shoulders above the rest. One is the beautiful braised lamb loin, served perfectly pink with fresh apricot and peach, and the other is the red mullet fillet, balanced atop addictive black-ink rice parcels with a powerful aioli.

The desserts are also impressive. An essential choice is the pan con chocolate y aceite – a luxurious twist on a Spanish signature, it’s essentially a thick, salted ganache melting over clouds of white bread with a subtle twang of olive oil. Order one each: this isn’t for sharing.

Unashamedly glam, Nueva is the kind of place that stuffy cynics would sniff at: it’s extravagant, flash, and unapologetically sexy – but when the food is this good, it’s hard not to be seduced.

by Roberta Lister

Aqua Nueva, 5th Floor, 240 Regent Street (Entrance 30 Argyll Street) London, UK W1B 3BR
Tel: 0207 478 0540





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