Some girls, when they are young, want to be ballerinas when they grow up (I was one of those girls). I also wanted to be Paul McCartney's girlfriend. That was a goal. We used to play 'Beatles' with our Barbie dolls, and I'd always go for Paul (my sister loved George).
The other thing I wanted to be when I grew up was a food critic.
So when I was offered to do a review of AQUA NUEVA's special Sunday brunch - having been to the sister restaurant, AQUA KYOTO, next door - I was excited beyond belief.
And then, just before the Sunday, I got struck down with that Bad Bug going round. So we had to reschedule, and it happened to fall on my husband's birthday.
And it was just beyond amazing. We took it really seriously - I took notes - and there were two wonderful musicians playing, very Woody Allenesque jazz tunes, and the food and atmosphere and service were just so excellent that at one point he said to me 'But you have to be a real critic. You have to be.. critical.'
So here goes: the octopus, shown on top, was perfectly executed. Simple, soft, pure protein. I felt like a fish, eating another fish, in the sea. Octopus can get tough very easily, but this felt silky, like eating sushi. If I have to be critical, I'll say that I wish it had been on an outdoor grill, to have that smokey, BBQ flavour, but we were not at a BBQ on the beach. Although, for a dark London day, this experience felt as sunshiney as if we were actually in Spain.
Part of that is because the chef, Alberto Hernandez, trained under Ferran Adria, creator/chef of El Bulli. The famous - infamous - three Michelin starred restaurant near Barcelona. Which is no more. And that was another of my life goals: to eat there. We had friends who booked it a year in advance, flew to Barcelona just for dinner. We can never do that. But we can go to Soho, and eat at Aqua Nueva, and that is as close to heaven, culinistically (that, I've discovered, is not a word) as we're bound to get.
So: the food. It was beautiful. Sculptural. You choose and serve yourself, like a buffet, and for the hot dishes, you select, and they put hot plates together for you. The prawn, shown here, with 'ali-oli', was just one sweet tiny morsel of seafood, poached so gently that it seemed still alive, just blissed out, in a little porcelain bathtub that when I asked the waitress what it was made of, she said 'oh, just pastry.' But perfectly crisp. The 'ali-oli' itself was light as air, and tasted of raw garlic essence. The combination of textures and flavours - sweet, garlic, salty, savoury - was just heaven.
But everything was like that. It was just sensation after sensation, with all the champagne, wine, drinks of any kind, that you could consume. I stuck to a non-alcoholic cocktail with a rose in it, which was delightfully girly. Not too sweet, but pretty and pink.
I've postponed this post for over two weeks because I want to truly do this wonderful place justice. And also, because of everything breaking in my life, falling apart, being put back together, seeing film star crushes, as recounted in my previous post, Gorgeous George. I don't know about you, but I'm one of those failed perfectionists. But I suppose that's what perfectionism is all about. I get my one opportunity to reach my goal, to be a bona fide food critic, and then I sit on it. And I can't fit all my photos and stories into one post, so I'll just have to do it in stages. Just like we did with eating the food. Baby steps: you eat some more. You wait. You get up, and try again.
Even something as simple as a 'classic tortilla' was just the most yummy thing I've ever eaten. You have never eaten a classic potato tortilla until you've tried this one: creamy, like a perfect Pommes Anna, light as a souffle. It has forever spoiled potato tortillas for me: nothing will ever live up to this.
Two sweet, stylish girls at a table near us, when the waiter came with more food, begged to him 'no more food!' We couldn't eat everything they had heated for us. We couldn't take it home. As the waitress said, 'let it go.' It wasn't easy. I didn't realise until later, I hadn't even tried the duck.
We went home in a kind of sensory overload stupor. My husband, having drank a glass or two each of excellent sherry, champagne, and red wine, fell into a deep sleep. I checked at one point to see if he was breathing. He was perhaps in a coma, and that's even with a double espresso at the end.
I haven't even shown you any of the meats, or told you about the desserts.. can I do another post please?
AQUA NUEVA is in the old Dickens and Jones building, on the top, and, weather permitting, dining is on the terrace outside. Sunday brunch includes wonderful live music. It is a special occasion kind of place. I saw two sisters with their mum, or gran, and a large table with gifts. It's a dress up kind of place. Be prepared, tho: you're not going to be able to move for a few days afterwards, but you'll be happy as a clam. Or Larry, whoever he is.
Thank you to the lovely people who arranged this, (you know who you are) and especially to Jess, for your infinite patience and general loveliness.