Aqua opened it’s doors to the Lewes public at the end of 2016. Situated under the new Holiday Inn in the old Courthouse the restaurant is in a great location between the town centre shops and the train station. There is pay and display parking to the rear of the restaurant making the venue easily accessible for all. Aqua Restaurants pride themselves on delivering contemporary Anglo-Italian food with a local ‘neighourhood’ pop in attitude to dining. The Smithson family founded the first Aqua restaurant in Bristol in 1998 with Lewes as their 6th opening. We visit Aqua on a Sunday lunchtime. We are warmly greeted by Toby (Smithson), son of the founder of the original restaurants. Despite having restaurants in 6 locations…this is still very much a family business…so it seems fitting that we visit with this in mind…how well does Aqua cater for families?
As we arrive at the restaurant we are helped through the door with our pushchair and guided to the rear of the seating area. We are given a table laid up for 4 near a window. We are offered a high chair which our hostess arranges at the table. Our excess glasses are removed and we are offered menus and colouring crayons. We always try to come prepared with our own activities for the kids when we dine out as not everywhere provides colouring or activity sheets. Within minutes of arriving our table is swamped with tiny dinosaurs, tractors, felt tip pens and pieces of art work. But at least everyone’s happy!
The children’s menu is really impressive. It offers two courses and a drink for £6.95….a lot of children’s menus don’t include a drink which can add up to £3 on top of the set menu charge so from the off set I’m happy. Another great aspect of the menu is that it offers a wide choice of dishes, many of which don’t fall into your typical kids menu category. We are given the choice of Chicken and Courgette Risotto; slow roast Duck Papadelle and Chicken Milanese…..great alternatives to tempt your more adventurous young diners. If, like Daisy, your child prefers something more predictable there is also the option of burgers and pizza.
The adult menu is just as inviting. Offering a vast range of options from Mezze Plates to Fresh Oysters; your typical Starters and Mains; Light Meals, Sunday Roasts, Weekend brunch, Steak and Grills and finally Pizza!! Everyone is catered for….even Vegan and Gluten Free guests have their own menu available on request. After much dilemma we order. Daisy and Logan choose a Tomato and Mozzarella Pizza and Penne Pollo. Matt and I order Carpaccio and Calamari for starters followed by Chicken Caesar and Smoked Haddock Risotto for main.
Whilst we wait for our food to be served we explore the restaurant. The kitchen is open plan adding a great sense of theatre and life to the venue. Logan loves watching the chefs at work. It’s also a great way of seeing the fresh ingredients you can expect to find in your meal. Daisy commented several times on how she liked the fancy, blue chairs in the restaurant. It’s fair to say the decor in Aqua is beyond what we expect from a family Italian. There is a sense of Art Deco that runs through the dining area. The furnishing are elegant and rich in colour with a hint of vintage, adding a real sense of luxury to the experience.
The children’s food arrives at the same time as our starters. Daisy’s pizza is huge! She is a very fussy eater and we asked for the pizza to be as plain as possible….any hint of a herb or garnish and the food risks being rejected on it’s appearance alone. I’m happy to see that my request has been noted and Daisy happily tucks into her meal. Logan is also happy. His penne pasta comes in a bowl too large for him to see over the edge but we manage to present him with an array of tasters from everyone’s dishes on a small wooden serving board. Another happy customer.
My Calamari is a generous portion and beautifully presented. The crisp battered squid laid on traditional style fish and chip paper on a wooden platter and a tangy layer of Aqua dressing with capers. Cooked so the batter is lightly crunchy and squid melt in your mouth. The capers and chilli adding a subtle zingy kick to the dish. Absolutely delicious.
The Carpaccio, again presented beautifully on a wooden board and bursting with colour. The serving consists of sliced aged filet of beef with aged Parmesan cheese and Cipriani dressing and is served with chunky Italian bread and rocket garnish. The slithers of beef extremely tender, with the Parmesan and dressing bringing a vibrancy to the dish. A delightful starter with a real essence of the Meditteranean.
Our starters are cleared at the same time as the children’s mains. Our server asks if we’d like to crack on and serve the children their pudding as we eat our main. This works well for us. As any parent knows, dining out with kids is like dining with little time bombs…there is only so long that they will sit at the table….and one way of extending this is by presenting them with pudding!
Our mains are delivered shortly after, swiftly followed by the children’s desserts. Again we are impressed with every aspect of the food we are served. The Chicken Caesar is served with crispy pancetta, a huge portion of chargrilled chicken and a generous amount of Cipriani dressing. I really enjoyed this. The chicken Is moist and flavoursome and the Cipriani dressing is light but zesty…and best of all…plenty of it!
The smoked haddock risotto is served with spinach and broad beans and is finished with creamy mascarpone. This risotto is a dish bursting with flavour! The haddock salty and smokey; the spinach and beans wholesome and subtle with the mascarpone bringing the flavours together whilst adding a hint of creaminess. A wholesome, hearty dish perfect for a cold day.
The children are both busy tucking into their chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream in the meantime. Another generous portion. Another dish received well by the mini taste testers!
We thoroughly enjoyed our experience at Aqua. We felt welcomed and well looked after. The children were treated as guests of equal importance to their Mum and Dad…with seating and colouring equipment being organised with great efficiency. I’m hugely impressed with the children’s menu, I think it’s actually one of the best I’ve come across. The food throughout the visit was served promptly, presented beautifully and was consistently very good. I can honestly say that Aqua caters for families particularly well and is a restaurant we will happily visit again with kids in tow….or….. having seen the decor, the funky bar and the cocktail list maybe the kids can stay at home?