“ Address: Unit 12 Flagstaff House / 9 St Georges Wharf / Vauxhall / SW8 2LE / Tel: 0207 820 3609 „
I visited Vauxhall's Aqua River Brasserie in April this year on the weekend of the Royal Wedding, whilst visiting my cousin who lives in Stockwell. Eating in London always shocks me as I'm a Northerner and I can never quite believe the prices. Knowing this, my cousin always tries to hunt out the bargains and we usually go to little bistros and cafes off the beaten track to get a great deal and cheap eats - whilst not compromising on quality - yes, this is possible in the Capital! My cousin had just purchased a Taste card and suggested we eat at La Tasca initially where we could get 50% off Tapas, but they didn't accept the Taste card on a weekend, so our plan B was Aqua River Brasserie.
Upon arrival we chose to seat outside as it was an absolutely glorious day. There were four of us and we ordered two pints of lager, one lager top and one lager and lime - all Kronenbourg. We were given menus and selected our starters and main courses - I was very surprised at the prices and selected a Tuna Steak served with new potatoes and salad. It was £14.95 and I figured with the 50% discount it made the price very reasonable. We sat chatting and catching up with our friends and half an hour passed, still no drinks or order taking. A waitress popped out to change our ashtray and we had to ask her for our drinks and to take our order. A few moments later we got our drinks (four pints of lager, no lime, no top) and she took our order.
Time to kick back and relax and watch the world go by... or not, there were very few diners but there was a table of rowdy drunks a little down from us, who kept dropping glasses, shouting and arguing, generally just having a great time - but on a Sunday lunch when you're out for a meal it's really the last thing you want. However, the staff seemed oblivious and just left the rubbish, food and smashed glasses on the floor for the pigeons to peck through. We ordered another drink each and again, asked for the original drinks order and again it was wrong, this time I mentioned it to the waitress and she did no more than say 'Ok, next time I do that'. Well it didn't help the previous two incorrect drinks we'd each had.
After an hour and forty minutes our starters were served - though there were only three served to begin with and the fourth came out after a considerable delay; I had a delicious Halloumi and Rocket Salad which was absolutely divine but simple. Around the table there were Calamari, Garlic Bread and Garden Salad starters which were all well presented. My Halloumi was grilled to perfection paired with a lovely fruity salad dressing which really complemented the savoury cheese. The salad was fresh and well washed and I got a decent sized portion which I was happy about, because an hour and forty minutes after being seated, I was absolutely starving!
I visited the toilets and the interior was absolutely beautiful, really stylish and cool - in both senses of the word. The interior was very tidy and clean - as were the toilets and though the kitchen was slightly noisy, the ambience was pretty relaxed with soft music playing in the background. A big contrast to the noisy, dirty outside area.
The starter plates festered on the table for a while and then the waitress reappeared to take them away. She was pleasant enough, but there was absolutely no attentiveness and she was pretty stiff, there was no easy flowing conversation, the order was taken formally without acknowledgement or recommendation and it was all rather awkward. I'm not entirely sure she knew how to speak Basic English very confidently. Anyway, after more time passed and our glasses were once again emptied we considered the wine list; I politely declined a £28 bottle of Pinot Grigio (cheapest on the menu!) and we each had one more pint of lager.
The mains were served by two waitresses, our waitress and her colleague who'd come to help her. We were each presented with a plate and everyone's dish looked absolutely delish, aside from mine, which was a Tuna Niçoise salad. I called her over and said I'm sorry, I ordered the Tuna Steak and she said no, you ordered Tuna Niçoise, I again said I didn't order it and she said she would go and see what she could do. When she returned the manager came with her and told me they'd be quite happy to cook me some new potatoes to go with the salad, but that was all they could do. I didn't want to wait around for potatoes and I certainly didn't want to interrupt my friends' meals, while they waited for me, so I sent her away and got on with the salad. It was nice. I wouldn't say it was anything spectacular, the Tuna was cold in the middle and hot on the outside which concerned me, the green beans were nice and crisp and the hard-boiled egg tasted fine. That was it though and if I ever do order / make a Niçoise salad I like to have anchovies, canned tuna, green beans, eggs, etc like the traditional dish; so it was ok, pleasant, bland.
After we'd eaten none of us were really impressed and had no desire to stay any longer than we had to so we asked for the bill. It took ages to come and in between the request and the bill coming, we were offered sweet menus by three different waitresses - so all in all there must have been at least 5 waitresses and the manager working, us and the table of rowdy drunks who'd already eaten and a couple who were drinking not eating. It annoyed me that with that amount of staff working they still couldn't get our orders and food right.
The bill arrived and I nearly keeled over. They'd added the 'optional' 12.5% service charge on (for what I do not know!) and though we'd used the Taste card, the bill came to £99 which included £16 service charge (charged based on total bill, not discounted bill) even with a £41.80 discount for the food. I personally don't know if I am a little blinkered with me living in the North, but £25 per person for two courses and three drinks with a 50% discount is a little expensive, even for London, given the service and quality.
I've eaten at some of the other 'Thames' bars, I've found them all to be pretty amazing and there's nothing like sipping a chilled drink looking over the Thames with the sun blaring down from the sky. That said, I would rather sit in one of the many cheap city centre Bistros I've visited like Bistro 1, which is a West End eatery; delicious and dirt cheap. But Aqua River Brasserie is a total rip off for what you get and though they are a member of the Taste scheme and offer 2-4-1 on Pizzas and Pastas all day every day, I'd much rather have a McDonalds if it came down to a choice! The reviews on their site are pretty good, so it might be down to my high expectations on service and standards, but appetite for a bargain - I wouldn't personally recommend it but if you do fancy checking out their site here are the contact details (I recommend booking and also mentioning any discount cards on the phone prior to making a trip there).
AQUA River Brasserie
Unit 12 Flagstaff House
9 St Georges Wharf
Tel: 0207 820 3609