the UK based Restaurant and Hotel Review

Aquasia - water and the Orient
Stylish Pacific Rim dining in Chelsea Harbour - and it won't break the bank!

Like pigs snuffling out truffles, we at Dine Online are always on the look out for great cooking at sensible prices. OK, so you get what you pay for, but you shouldn't have to be ripped off in the process. As you read this review, try to guess what a meal for two would set you back at this very classy riverside Chelsea restaurant. Then get a nice surprise for once when you discover the truth!

Reader's Comment
August 2001

After reading your glowing appraisal of Aquasia I booked a table to kindle my new found romance. The setting is great, the service even better. Our waiter Oliver found the right balance of humour and attentive service without being overbearing or indiscreet.

The food was quite simply excellent, well presented and excellent value. The wine list, whilst a little pricey was most comprehensive. The Chablis we chose was one of the nicest I have tried. Thanks for the review, without that we would have missed this stunning dining experience!

T.Antley - South Wales.

Aquasia is located on Chelsea Harbour where even on a snowy winter's night the sight of gently bobbing cruisers seemed to hold out the promise of lazy days on the river, or summer nights sitting having dinner, or even a drink on the deck outside the restaurant itself. Aquasia is a submarine vision of curvy lines, gleaming chrome railings and port hole shaped aquaria filled with fish. When we arrived on the first Friday evening of March, the bar area was heaving, with many guests tucking into the huge range of oyster dishes - both hot and cold - paired with glasses of champagne, an early spring promotion that seems to have caught the mood. We couldn't resist, and tucked into a half dozen each of tempura oysters with a dark ginger sauce and the more traditional oysters Rockefeller. A bargain at £10.00 including the Champagne when you consider that champagne by the glass usually kicks off at around £6 a glass.

The restaurant began to fill up, so we got in ahead of the rush and were soon tucking into some very exciting Pacific Rim cuisine from the newly promoted executive head chef Roger Sergent. (His predecessor has been snapped up by Mosimann's Dining Club). Roger cites his most important culinary influences as the year he spent at Nicholinis in Hong Kong, followed by the launch, together with top Ozzie chef Tom Milligan, of Cecconi's Restaurant in Melbourne. "Melbourne is a huge melting-pot of new ideas, flavours and combinations. It's the balance between the Mediterranean and the Orient that I aim to incorporate into the Aquasia dining experience" he enthused, as he assembled a couple of highly contrasting starters. The Med influence yielded up Prosciutto and black fig chips on green salad with apple balsamic and warm goat's cheesesticks, while the Orient had clearly inspired the crisp crab and tuna Norimaki with ruby grapefruit and wasabi mayonnaise.

I began with wonton wrapped prawns stuffed with Thai spices and a pineapple and chili jam. The presentation was a delight, not too fussy, but with some bold but deft strokes of the squeegee sauce bottle! But you could still taste the prawn. That's meant to be a compliment by the way.

Fish and meat combinations don't always work - though surf and turf was thought rather daring back in the 1970s! I didn't like rabbit and scallops much in a well known place in Covent Garden, so I wondered about my wife's choice of Peking duck and scallops. Again it looked stunning and she liked it a lot; I must say I thought the two contrasting textures were interesting. But Peking duck it certainly wasn't. For me it fell neatly between two stools, needing to be either pinker, rarer and not Peking duck at all, or crisper, drier and crunchier.

We washed the starters down with a very nice half bottle of Gewurtztraminer, the reserve 1996 from Heim, fairly priced at £14.00. There is a decent selection of house wines at only £12.00 a bottle, so this was pushing the boat out a bit! We continued with another half, this time a Rioja from the long established bodega Montecillo at £10. You have to watch half bottles, in fact the Alsace wine was corked, but our charming wine waiter rushed off to fetch another bottle, all smiles and apologies.

Choosing a main course was agony! Whether 'tis nobler for the palate to taste monkfish skewers with steamed jasmine rice? (No, had something similar earlier in the week at Jamies in Charlotte Street. Or maybe swordfish loin wrapped in vine leaves with potato gnocchi, grapes and lemon butter? Or wild seabass with chorizo and butternut pumpkin, asparagus and basil oil? - no, better wait until the English asparagus season is in full swing. Or mascarpone and rosemary basted guinea fowl - must try that at home!

No, let it be aged Scotch beef fillet with white bean and truffle puree and a wild mushroom sauce. This was beef at its very best. It had been hung almost, almost to the point of gaminess - pink but not crudely bloody within, full of both flavour and texture, complemented and not smothered by the fungal earthiness of the garnish. The crispy parmesan tuille (nice enough in itself) was a strangely odd and unnecessary note, but one that could not detract from a dish that was already a triumph.

Aquasia dishYou have to know your way around oriental culinary terms - words like "chow mein"  won't get you very far at places like Aquasia, thank heaven! My wife's Char-Siu lamb turned out to be chargrilled chops, very nicely served up on a pretty bed of Ho Fan noodles and Chinese mushrooms. Again the presentation was such that you immediately recognise that this is cooking that demands your serious attention, which was amply rewarded in the eating. People have likened cooking to art, but you don't consume paintings, certainly not installations, nor even Damien Hirst's cows and sheep served in their rich reduction of fomaldehyde jus. No, cooking has more of the ephemeral nature of music - each dish is a performance, repeatable, and with the possibility always of disaster - risks have to be taken to ensure that each rendition is fresh and alive.

We just managed to spare a corner for puddings, and as is now increasingly the rule in better English restaurants, the culinary standard of the pastry brigade is top notch. The puds are to die for! If you are up for a real treat and have the stamina at this juncture in the evening, you should try the Aquasia chocolate plate. This isn't mere death by chocolate, it's transfiguration! Particularly clever was a chocolate creme brulée, but for looks as well as flavour, there was an impossibly sharply pointed cone of chocolate encasing a light mousse.

The waiting staff are very obliging and rather good looking, and they come from many countries of the European Community, except England. I urge you to go to Aquasia, the cooking is stunning, and now I can reveal, wait for it - three courses at dinner can be yours for £25.00 - I think that's fantastic value for food of this complexity and style. So for heaven's sake go before it gets even more popular and the prices go up.

Clifford Mould, March 2001

The cost of your meal:

Lunch Weekly Table d'hote: 2 courses £16.00 3 courses £19.00
Dinner: 2 courses £20.00, 3courses £25.00

Wines start at £12.00 a 75cl bottle
Prices include VAT, a 12.5% discretionary service charge is added.

Aquasia at the Conrad International, Chelsea Harbour London SW10 0XG
Reservations on 020 73 00 84 43

Please send your comments to us at: Dine-Online
NB Dine Online is an independent review magazine. We have no business connections with any of the restaurants and hotels we write about. We do not make bookings or reservations for you!

Back to Dine Online Home Page

Dine Online Copyright Clifton Media Associates June 2000, All rights reserved.

Views or opinions expressed by authors are not necessarily those of the publishers, Clifton Media Associates. While every care is taken in compiling this publication, the publishers cannot assume responsibility for any effects arising therefrom.