Review: Aster

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Until now Victoria’s dining scene has been virtually non-existent. Despite neighbouring glitzy Belgravia, Sloane Square, St James’s, Westminster, Buckingham Palace, and their plainer brother Pimlico, Victoria remains the ugly duckling pressed up against them. Given its location, it shouldn’t be, and will no longer be (if you can ignore the John Lewis Offices and House of Fraser on Victoria Street).

The area has been undergoing a regeneration with the major local land owner, Land Securities, pouring in billions alongside the redevelopment and expansion of Victoria Station and Underground. This has led to a completely new look Victoria Street of glass and stone. Homes have shot up in value by about ten percent a year for the past five years. Despite this and companies like Tom Ford moving in, there still haven’t been any particularly good shops or restaurants

Now, however, things are changing. M has moved in on Victoria Street. Bleecker, purveyors of New York-inspired street burgers, that the IGT team would be willing to kill for, have set up shop just round from The Goring. But best of all is the Nova development, opposite the station, a development of glass and steel office blocks that has been designed at the street level to form a dining quarter; soon to house everything from Ole & Steen and Crosstown Doughnuts, to Shake Shack and Bone Daddies, to a Jamie Oliver Barbacoa and a Sticks’n’Sushi, and a Jason Atherton.

Nestled in this development of offices and apartments is Aster, a “Nordic French” restaurant, next to the equally new Timmy Green bar and restaurant . Being a member of the ever-expanding D&D, we expect grand dining space, solid food and a reasonable price tag. In that regard, Aster delivers. Despite being close to the station, Aster offers a stylish oasis from the hustle and bustle.

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Despite the look from the outside, Aster is a relatively large dining place over two floors. The ground floor is a café offering an all-day menu, with a discrete delicatessen counter by the entrance, a reception area in the middle and seating at the back, while the first floor hosts a formal restaurant offering views over, Victoria Station, and there are two private dining rooms. We picked one of the early slots to dine in the café for its soft launch and were greeted by very friendly and understandably slightly anxious staff.

The dimly-lit dining area is chic with a pastel colour scheme and wood furnishing. Tables are set quite closely to each other but it only adds to the intimate setting, which is not bad thing unless you happen to sit next to someone particularly obnoxious. We were quickly attended to by our waiting staff, explaining the concept behind the menu.  The concise menu, rather expectedly, places an emphasis on fish. The usual suspects of smorgasbord and smoked fish all make a welcome appearance. There are a few meat dishes featuring venison, duck, ox cheek, and reindeer for the more adventurous. In short, the dishes are generally hearty and comforting, with nothing outlandish.

The starter of home-cured salmon was fantastic and the pickled cucumber and crispy rye bread make it an accomplished dish. The smoked haddock chowder was unfortunately over-seasoned and too thin, missing that creaminess one would expect. The dish was duly replaced with our choice of alternative. We picked the mushroom and potato smorgasbord – an unspectacular-sounding dish brought to life by the accompanying tangy lingonberry jam. Both starters were on the house, and a fine example of why it’s worth going to restaurants soft openings.

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The main course we plumped for were the cod with brown shrimps and the less common Arctic char. The Baltic fish pie tempted us, but when we asked what makes it “Baltic”, the server duly replied “fish in cream sauce topped with mash”. Right. No thank you. The less said about how silly a reply that is the better.

The two main courses were great with beautifully cooked fish, crispy skin and flaky flesh. The char was particularly good with great fat content (a bit like a cross between cod and salmon), and the accompanying prawns and bisque sauce round off the dish brightly. The desert menu, should you decide to have one, sounds wonderfully wintery, featuring ingredients like lingonberries, rhubarb and pears. After all, Aster is a solid place for Nordic cuisine.

There are more exciting restaurants elsewhere but Aster is a welcome addition to the area, and does what D&D does best – decent food and fair prices. It is smart enough for business and friendly enough for lovers. The service is immaculate, though the menu could expand its rather thin smorgasbord section. No doubt it will be successful and the menu will develop as the restaurant beds in.