THE SCENE: Aquum oozes Friday-night chic with its white-wash walls, leather sofas, huge mirrors and neon lighting. It could seat well over 100 diners during the day, but on a weekend night it is packed to the rafters with young professionals, who come for the good cocktails and good music. It has a VIP area, vital when a bottle of champagne can set you back £3,000, as well as a terrace area and three floors to party on.
THE GRUB: The food is impressively cheap, authentic and cooked using fresh ingredients. The menu is wide ranging, almost intimidatingly so, but it means you are sure to find something you like, whichever Asian national cuisine you prefer. Our meal opened fresh coconut juice drunk straight from the coconut, along with some fiery chilli prawn crackers, then meat platter and chicken dim sum to start. The dim sum pastry was a little soggy but the platter was decent. For the main course we had the Malaysian curry, Tamarind duck and Ikan Bakar, a fillet of bream steamed in banana leaves with red Thai spices. All the mains lacked in spice and subtlety, and the duck was overcooked, but the fresh ingredients meant the meat and fish flavours were strong. The dessert menu is tiny, but the lychee sorbet was a lovely refreshing way to take the edge off a spicy meal.
BEHIND THE BAR: The cocktails are the main selling point at Aquum. They have an enormous bar menu, where cocktails start at around £7 and go much, much higher. You can even buy yourself one of several champagnes worth well over £1,000 if you have that kind of cash burning a hole in your pocket. There is also a special drinks menu matched with the food. The cocktails are inspired by Asian flavours, and the wines worked most of the dishes on offer.
BILL PLEASE: The starters are around £6 each, the mains are all between £7 and £9, with sides around £6. You’ll also have to pay a few quid for the rice. Desserts are £4.
THE VERDICT: Excellent prices, a varied menu and friendly service can’t quite make up for the fact that Aquum lacks that restaurant atmosphere. It’s design and layout is too clinical, and it feels like it’s missing it’s most important asset – the people. The food was also a little bland at times, but always authentic and and so well priced it feels tight to complain. For sheer convenience though you could do much worse that grab a meal here before the evening properly kicks off.
68-70 Clapham High Street, SW4 7UL