When Aquum launched it was amidst a sea of criticism. Bringing the ‘West End to Clapham’ didn’t seem to impress Claphamites. However, despite its Marmite-like appeal, it’s packed to the rafters night after night with a glamorous crowd. It’s worked hard to shed its initial reputation for being pretentious and has managed to pull it together. Worth a visit to make up your own mind.
Aquum is handily located a short walk from Clapham North or Clapham Common tube stations. It certainly stands out among the sea of chains, funky bars and pubs that make up this street. You can’t miss the red rope cordoning off the front terrace area. It has an attractive frontage with large windows offering glimpses of the swathe of white inside.
Stepping inwards you’ll be greeted by a winter wonderland with white as far as the eye can see. The space is quite large and airy with plenty of places to sit in the form of comfortable white leather seating areas around the periphery of the room with a few high tables and accompanying stools in the centre. The gleaming long bar takes up one side of the space, displaying its rows of premium spirits proudly. Across one section of the ceiling is row upon row of hanging crystals that sparkle in the light. It’s an attractive venue that’s glamorous, albeit not in keeping with what you have probably come to expect from the area. However, that’s no bad thing.
Down some stairs you’ll find a reasonably sized dance floor, spanned by some very clean, well put together toilets. Up the stairs is a VIP area with plenty of seating – all in white leather, naturally – a second, smaller bar and a glass panel overlooking the action of the main room below. It’s more spacious than many clubs in Central London but has the same appeal as venues like 24 London.
One of the criticisms that Aquum has faced has been its use of bouncers and a door girl complete with a checklist of names. However, the bouncers are friendly and the door girl, although so beautiful she may come across as intimidating at first, is smiley and not reminiscent of the ‘door whores’ of Central London. During the day, there are no bouncers on the door and the ambience is a lot more relaxed. In the evenings, the red rope may come across as a little flashy, but inside the friendly albeit glamorous crowd doesn’t alienate. You may even find yourself bantering with the table next to you.
The main bulk of the clientele comprises young, attractive locals looking to party somewhere a little closer to home than the clubs and DJ bars north of the river, and that’s a niche that Aquum fills perfectly. It’s even had its fair share of celebrity guests, including appearances from the Chelsea football boys. During the day, particularly on lazy Sundays, you’re more likely to spy dressed down but trendy Clapham locals tucking into a roast dinner.
The staff are particularly friendly and table service is a big plus if you reserve an area on a Friday or Saturday night as you won’t have to fight your way through the throng to get to the bar. The music is a cool, toe-tapping mix of funky house tunes, RnB and commercial dance that quickly gets the crowd up and grooving.
The food at Aquum is exceptional given it’s primarily a late night bar. During the day more substantial meals are available and on Sundays there’s a popular roast (£12.50). Comprising a choice of meat such as tender, moist chicken or perfectly cooked, succulent roast beef, the towering plate is filled with all the trimmings, including a light, fluffy Yorkshire pudding the size of a child’s head. If you’re out to party you can still enjoy the bar menu and you’ll get a lot more than the standard cheesy chips and greasy wedges.
Nibbles come in at £6 a plate. Dishes include monkfish and prawn brochettes - three kebab skewers filled with a generous portion of meaty monkfish and plump prawns drizzled in an oily but not too heavy dressing with a delicious creamy sauce on the side. Alternatively, the calamari is perfectly cooked with none of the rubbery texture you so often get with the dish - a surprise for a bar on a busy Friday night. Also excellent are the meaty, rich lamb koftas and a creamy sauce with a pleasant mint undertone. For the price, the quality is excellent.
Also worth a try is the charcuterie platter (£9.59) a large, rectangular plate filled with slices of fresh, rich pepperoni and thinly sliced, well flavoured prosciutto served with a generous portion of fresh pita bread and pickles and gherkins on the side. It’s extremely good value for money.
The cocktails at Aquum are a big selling point of the venue and it’s impressive that even on a busy weekend the quality doesn’t falter. They’re well priced at £7-£7.50 with Champagne cocktails coming in at £9, in keeping with prices of the area and well below what you would expect to pay out at similar venues in Central London.
If you like your cocktails strong then the Te-Killa Mango (Cazadores aged tequila, mango puree, vanilla sugar, fresh orange juice and a kick of chilli; £7) is an unusual combination with a strong mango flavour and delicate underlying sweetness but with a powerful kick to the aftertaste and a hint of tequila coming through. Alternatively, the Watermelon Martini (£7.50) is a much sweeter, easier to drink cocktail with a strong flavour of watermelon hiding the kick of the vodka. If you prefer the classics then their White Russian (£7) is a perfect example of the drink, layered well with a cherry garnish and the Classic Martini (£7.50) is perfectly mixed and has a strong, clear taste.
If you want to add a little glamour to your evening then the Champagne cocktails are excellent. The Bellini, Rossini and Raspberry Bellini are all good examples of the classics. However, their signature drink is the Fool’s Gold – a combination of gold and Champagne – just be warned, they sell out quite quickly at the weekend due to their popularity.
If you prefer your drinks simple then there’s also a good choice of beer here. They offer a small but decent draught choice of Becks Vier or Staropramen for £4.50 a pint or they have a larger range of bottles, including Corona, Asahi Super Dry, Modelo Especial and the rare Negra Modelo at just £3.50 a bottle.
The Last Word
Aquum has had its fair share of criticism since it opened, and it’s easy to see why it might rub some people up the wrong way. However, if you give it a go you’ll find that the quality of the food and drink is exceptional and the atmosphere inside is less pretentious and more about locals wanting to enjoy a glamorous night out without having to trek north of the river. A great addition to the area and worth seeking out if you don’t hail from Clapham.