Lunchtime business is brisk at Aquarium in the heart of London's Square Mile, so good presentation of the mostly seafood menu relies on careful preparation. John Greenwood reports.
Lunchtime customers are often up against the clock as much as the chefs cooking for them, and Aquarium head chef Christian Sandefeldt is finding this is particularly the case in London's Square Mile. As a result, he has been forced to streamline his operation in St Katharine's Dock near Tower Bridge, to serve seafood and fish dishes to City diners in under an hour.
"If lunch takes too long, people won't come," says Sandefeldt, who left Sweden for the UK nine years ago to work at Le Gavroche as chef de partie, followed by time at Harvey's, Daphne's and the Hothouse.
"We know what we are going to sell and so I have designed the menu with dressings and garnishes that are elaborate but where a lot of the work can be done earlier in the day."
Assisted by a brigade of six, Sandefeldt overhauls the menu every two months. Described as modern European, the menu is almost entirely seafood and fish.
While Scandinavian influence on the menu is limited to gravadlax and steamed Arctic char and turbot, Sandefeldt believes his experiences in Stockholm have helped him with the presentation as much as the cooking of the fish. "The Swedish restaurant scene is very trendy, and restaurants have to change their concept frequently to compete," he says. The food at Aquarium is served on a wide variety of designer Norwegian plates and bowls in futuristic shapes.
His most popular starter is a carpaccio of tuna and veal with mint dressing (£8.25), served on a large square tile. "The veal is nearly raw, and the dish is served with lemon and mint and thin, crispy anchovy fritters," says Sandefeldt. Of the main courses, roast fillet of sea bass with red apple fondant, lobster jus and roast vine tomatoes (£13.50) is the favourite.
Chocaholics can overdose on the Lots of Chocolate dessert (£7.50), comprising a terrine of dark, light and milk chocolate, a banana and chocolate milk shake, a chocolate fondant, a chocolate crème brûlée with cardamom, and a chocolate sorbet.
With 67 seats indoors and a further 42 on the terrace, the restaurant is averaging 55 covers for lunch and 40 for dinner, at an average £38 a head with wine. Whereas lunch is dominated by City workers, tourists and locals make up half of the evening clientele.
Along with the new menu, the new year has seen a substantial redesign of the restaurant, with subdued interior decor leaving it to the clear glass walls to display the neighbouring water and boats that add to the Aquarium's maritime theme. n
The Aquarium, Ivory House, St Katharine-by-the-Tower, London E1W 1AT. Tel: 020 7480 6116. Web site: www.theaquarium.co.uk
A selection from the menu at Aquarium
Mussel soup with quails' eggs and parsley and spinach cream, £6.50
Gravadlax with dill toast and smoked cod roe, £7.50
Seared scallops with caviar and horseradish velouté, £9.75
Steamed Arctic char with seafood risotto cake and citrus and truffle salad, £13
Grilled tuna with crispy shiitake roll and horseradish salad, £12.50
Grilled swordfish with braised borlotti beans and lemon and aubergine purée, £13
Pineapple tarte tatin with coconut sorbet, £5.50
Raspberry omelette soufflé, £4.50
Crème brûlée, £3.75