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Aster is the newest Nordic restaurant on the London scene, conveniently located opposite Victoria Station. Designed by Russell Sage Studio, the elegant first floor houses the restaurant (the cafe and bar located on the ground floor). Executive Chef Helena Puolakka showcases her signature Nordic/French cooking style, so we dropped in to find out how she combines punchy flavours with exquisite technique.
Within Aster, the restaurant interior is an unusual mix of industrial chic meets soft Scandi tradition, which are simultaneously pleasing and perplexing on the eye. Anyone who classes themselves as a Scandi fan may display involuntary skittish movements as their senses (like that of my guest) are overwhelmed. Split into distinct zones, guests can either dine by the restaurant bar, in a booth area (ideal for large parties but not couples) or by the windows overlooking the little Big Ben.
Helena Puolakka’s menu will quench any thirst for seafood. Starters at Aster restaurant include a Baltic seafood broth, blinis with Nordic fish roe, smoked eel, and scallops. We opted for the Foie gras with smoked eel, apple and lace potato (£12.50) and the Scallops with celeriac, sea buckthorn and liquorice (£14). The Foie gras was well prepared, oozing in richness and sublime paired with the mature flavour of the smoked eel and sharpness of apple. Equally liquorice sauce daubed as an offering next to the scallops, is a quirky Nordic twist on a classic dish with a deliciously complex finish to each mouthful.
To drink, we enjoyed our starters with signatures cocktails (all £10.50) in the form of an Aster Martini (made with vanilla vodka, passion fruit puree and lingonberry jam, topped with sparkling wine foam) and a Brûlée – resembling, as may be guessed, the french dessert, made from a combination of vanilla, cream, milk and egg shaken with crème brûlée infused vodka.
For our main courses again we opted for the fish options in the form of Arctic char, hot smoked with Greenland prawns, aubergine caviar and dill (£22), and the Skrei cod (in paper) served with fennel, olives and tomato (£19.50). The plump Arctic char was tender and fresh, overall a well presented dish. Equally the cod en papier was served with a trio we often serve with baked chicken, but here the flavours of fennel and olive are subdued through the baking process, and balance well against the delicate fish.
As a side dish, the Truffle potato (£3.50) is an absolute must. The creamy baked slices of potato with gratings of truffle becoming even more moreish with each mouthful. Definitely a recipe we’ll be trying to replicate at home. We paired our main courses of fish a Pinot Grigio wine from Slovenia.
Dessert caused a minor relapsed of un-restrainable excitement from my Scandi-fan guest when we were informed liquorice ice-cream was available with a salted caramel sauce (£5.50). As liquorice fans, the liquorice hit could have definitely been punchier; however for liquorice lovers and loathers alike, the subtle flavour is well balanced with the salted-caramel sauce.
For those wanting punchy flavours, try a food adventure in the form of the Beetroot sponge with smoked beetroot sorbet and chocolate (£8). This colossus of beetroot and chocolate should not be feared. With beetroot manifesting as a jelly, sorbet, caramelised wafer and within the sponge, this dessert is a showcase of technical masterpiece. The sponge itself was a little dry, but paired with the chocolate mousse, sorbet, this was a minor fault.
We found the service a mixed bag at Aster restaurant, with various staff attending our table we found ourselves explaining on two occasions that we had already placed an order. Much simpler for staff to stick to assigned tables, surely?
However the service from the Sommelier was excellent. She was knowledgable about the wine list, and gave us advise about the wines paired with our starter and main courses, and also allowed us to sample different dessert wines.
For circa £60 per person for three courses, a cocktail and a glass of wine, Aster restaurant offers great value for the quality of food served. We enjoyed the way Helena Puolakka has combined both Scandinavian and French influences into a simple menu of light food with bold statement flavours.
Eagle eyed gusts will also notice that staff are dressed in Karen Millen, reflecting Aster’s (and parent company D&D) commitment to quality across it’s product offering. Given it’s location, the pre-theatre menus at Aster Restaurant would also be a good choice if you’re catching a show nearby.
Aster Restaurant & Cafe is located at 150 Victoria Street, London, SW1E 5LB.
If coming by tube, exit the underground onto the ‘Victoria Street’ exit and the restaurant is about 50 yards to the right.
For more information or to book visit aster-restaurant.com.