PUBLISHED: 15:29 01 February 2016 | UPDATED: 15:31 01 February 2016
A new bar and restaurant in Cheltenham’s Regent Street is creating ripples of excitement in the Cotswold food and drink scene
Translated as ‘water of life’, new Cheltenham bar and restaurant AquaVitae certainly lives up to its name with its range of inventive cocktails, many of which have been created to match the food cooked by ex-Jamie’s Italian chef Marc Davies.
Launched in November, this new Regent Street venue is open throughout the day for coffees and lunch and late into the evening, when guests can enjoy the expertly crafted cocktails paired with a menu of grazing dishes and light bites.
AquaVitae is the latest venture from Richard Davies, who also runs the town’s 21 Club, together with Ross Jones, a former Royal Marine whose hospitality experience includes stints at the two Michelin-star Hand & Flowers in Marlow and Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.
The former Trapeze menswear building has been extensively renovated into a stylish space spanning two floors. The ground floor features a metal-topped bar, running to a theatre-style kitchen at the rear.
On-trend exposed brickwork walls have been paired with bare and copper lighting, together with leather banquette seating and scaffold top tables. A hand-painted horse head mural provides a dramatic backdrop for the marble top bar upstairs, with sumptuous deep blue velvet seating and grey brass-studded topped stools.
“We want AquaVitae to be a place for people to make their own at any time of day,” says Davies. “From morning coffee, corporate catch-ups, light brunches and lunches, right through to after-work cocktails and special occasions into the early hours.”
The cocktail menu experiments with seasonal flavours and puts a twist on classic favourites. Bar Manager Adam Barbury previously worked at Brasserie Blanc and his signature cocktails include the AquaVitae #1 (a concoction of Ketel One vodka, fresh grapes, vanilla syrup and fresh basil, topped with soda) and the AquaVitae #100 (calvados, dry sherry, apple syrup and prosecco).
Many of the cocktails have been created to match dishes on the menu. The smoked Bloody Mary is proving a popular pairing with pulled pork and beef sliders, whilst the basil and spiced ginger flavours of the NinGINsky work well with gorgonzola, pear and walnut flatbread.
Head Chef Marc Davies has devised grazing menus featuring flatbreads with a variety of toppings including blue cheese, pear and rocket, together with sliders of white fish, baby gem and tartare, and seared beef, Gloucestershire cheese and pickle. Other options include ‘lollipop’ lamb chops, antipasti sharing platters, shredded pork tacos and sesame tuna tartare.
General Manager Ross Jones says: “When we created the menu, the ‘small plates’ concept was always the main thing to be mindful of. We wanted to try and move away from formal dining as much as we could. “People love the sharing, grazing concept and the space we have is ideal for people sharing dishes. It’s a spacious environment that changes and evolves throughout the day.”
Jones says diners have embraced the grazing concept and there are already firm favourites with the Cheltenham crowd.
“The flatbreads are already one of the best-sellers and something we want to make an AquaVitae speciality. Ranging from heirloom tomato, mozzarella and basil, to roasted chicken, red pepper and avocado, people are really falling for them, whatever time of the day they are dining.
“There is a move away from formal dining, and the small plates, sharing and grazing idea is such a great way to enjoy food.
“We are also trying to use as much local Cotswold produce as we can. There are so many great local suppliers in the region and so much quality produce we are spoilt for choice.
“Our beef sliders are from Cotswold reared beef, the pulled pork dishes are from Old Spot pigs. Even the coffee we serve is from a local Cirencester supplier. We believe it’s really important to support as much local, independent trade as we can and people are really starting to appreciate that.”