Dine in style

As Aqua Grand Café opens it doors, boasting a menu packed full of delicious traditonal French dishes, we sit down with owner Ben Smithson to find out more about his latest venture…

Aqua Grand Café has recently swung open its doors on Whiteladies Road. Exuding opulence and style and emulating the grand cafés of Europe, the charming new arrival is offering Bristol a slice of local Parisian life.

At the helm is Ben Smithson, owner of Aqua Grand Café. Aqua Restaurants have been an independent family-run business since Ben’s father, proprietor Richard Smithson, founded the first Aqua restaurant on Welsh Back in 1998 and, more recently, in Portishead. The eateries have gained a reputation for serving high-quality food in elegant settings and Aqua Grand Café is set to be no different.

Evolving throughout the day, from a bustling breakfast and brunch service to a leisurely lunch and afternoon tea to atmospheric dining until late, the Clifton café has the promise to become a mainstay for local residents.

Speaking about the original concept, Ben said: “The inspiration for Aqua Grand Café came from my time working as a head waiter at the Savoy Grill in London, where I worked alongside Gordon Ramsay, Marcus Wareing and Lee Bennett. I have a real passion for the French classical dishes and for creating a luxurious all-day dining experience. We want people to feel like they’re being looked after from the moment they step through the door. We want it to be more than just going out to a restaurant; we want it to be a magical, memorable experience.”

Open from 7.30am every day, customers can sit down with the morning papers and enjoy a freshly brewed coffee alongside a baked pastry or one of the chef’s finest omelettes.

Delving into the menu, Ben explains: “Our signature dish over brunch and lunch is our Omelette Arnold Bennett – it’s something that I’ve brought back from the Savoy; it’s absolutely delicious. [Omelette Arnold Bennett is a rich combination of smoked haddock, hollandaise sauce and cheese cooked in a pan and finished under the grill. The dish was named after author Arnold Bennett, who ordered the omelette during his stay at The Savoy in the 1920s. The chefs perfected it to his taste while he was staying at the hotel, writing a novel.]

“In the evening, we’ve got the real showstoppers,” Ben continues. “The turbot to share is phenomenal – it’s the king of fish. Then we’ve got the traditional dishes like Dover sole meunière and boeuf bourguignon. Our coq au vin has got to be one of my favourites – it’s divine with a rich veal dew glaze. We also have a cocktail lounge for those who just want to relax with a drink and soak up the atmosphere.

As for sweet treats: “All of our desserts are handmade by our patisserie chef – they are beautiful. We’ve got lovely handmade salted caramel chocolate truffles, French macarons, Madeleines, chocolate salted caramel éclairs and an exquisite apple tarte tatin.”

With impeccable hospitality at the heart of Aqua Grand Café, Ben wants diners to feel welcomed and comfortable while they enjoy a theatrical dining experience. “We carve smoked salmon, make steak tartare, and fillet turbot and Dover sole at the table. If you want to go out for a real show, this is the place to come.”

Situated at 153 Whiteladies Road, there’s an authentic charm to the café’s interior. “Aqua Grand Café is something that I wanted to give to Bristol; there’s nothing like it in the city. You’re greeted by doormen, you’re whisked to your table, and you’ve got barmen, mixologists, and waiters keeping you entertained. The restaurant also compliments the architecture of the building. It’s got a beautiful arch above the entrance, high ceilings, chandeliers – it was just calling out to be a Grand Café.”

For more information, visit aquagrandcafe.com | The Aqua Grand Café, 135 Whiteladies Road, Bristol