Flawed whatever moves it tries to pull.
However well decorated a club or bar is, during the day and early evening it lacks its most important decoration: the people. As a man who worked in pubs for several years, the dullest part of the shift was when there were no people. You see the stains on the floor and smell the stale alcohol. When you talked, the walls talked back at you. Without the context of people, most drinking venues are tacky and try-hard.
Which perfectly sums up Aquum the place, but not the food. For all its faults, we ate honest, authentic and fresh pan-Asian food. But there were a lot of faults. The dim sum pastry was soggy, the Malaysian curry bland and under-seasoned, and the steamed bream fillet with red Thai spices too watery. We also had a duck stir-fry dish that was overcooked, and overcooked duck is a very sad thing indeed given how moist it should be. But we did get to drink fresh coconut juice straight from the coconut, and the lychee sorbet we had to finish was sweet and refreshing – probably outsourced, but still tasty. It was also nice to see that they had created a special wine and cocktail list to match the food, which shows an awareness of flavour and an aspiration to make everything work together. Which it doesn't, yet.
But it's the atmosphere on eating in a place that, just hours later, would be full of young hipsters drinking Champagne and yelling at each other over second-rate R'n'B that really grates. It's bizarre to enjoy authentic Asian food in such a overtly un-Asian surroundings. And it's not that the atmosphere is wrong, there just isn't one, and no bustling crowd to provide it. The food needs to sing, to draw people in. But Aquum's menu doesn't. The menu is so wide it would rival most Indian takeaways, assaulting you with choice and inevitably just driving you towards what you know and trust.
But what is strangest is who the menu is pitched at. A main course was between £7 and £9. Truth be told, this is a bargain. But it sits strangely next to the drinks menu, from which you can order a £3,000 bottle of Champagne. It's aimed at two completely different people, no one would ever order both.
If Aquum wants to convince some slightly drunk revellers that they don't need to run out for a kebab when the hunger strikes, they've pitched it right, although a menu of Thai finger food and platters would be better for a club. If they're are trying to be taken seriously as a restaurant they have got it wrong. Either way, the food needs to be better, the menu more concise, the drinks cheaper and the prices higher.