international mix is a recipe for success
“Even though we are both Italians we decided to call our restaurant a very “un” Italian name and broaden the cuisine so it extends out much further than Italy,” Walter says. “We have chefs from Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Austria, Malaysia, India and Italy all bringing their particular knowledge and skills to the table and therefore infusing our cuisine with a wide range of flavours.”
Walter and Cristiano, each with many years of restaurant experience behind them in Cayman and overseas, put a huge amount of effort into designing the menu to cater to the tastes of their guests.
“It’s exciting because the menu is always evolving,” Walter confirms. “We have quickly established ourselves with some “must haves” on the menu and these items will not change; however we are constantly tweaking the menu: adding new dishes and maybe taking out some dishes that we do not feel work so well.”
The partners were in agreement that a must-have on their menu was fresh seafood.
“We saw that sushi was growing in popularity in Cayman but we did not want to copy what was already being well presented, so we decided to create the best ceviche on the island,” Walter says.
Cristiano explains that the kitchen is headed up by Executive Chef Marc Benko, an Austrian of Italian descent, who brings with him a wealth of expertise, have spent many years in Austria before moving to Cayman in 2007.
Cristiano says: “Born in a little mountain village near the Italian boarder, Marc started his culinary carrier at the age of 15 as an apprentice in an Austrian wellness and spa hotel. After that he moved all around Austria, gaining experience in some of the first class restaurants all over the country.”
Marc adds: “I picked all different kinds of restaurant to appreciate as many different ways of cooking as possible, mostly French, Italian-Mediterranean, Hungarian and Austrian.”
“Combining this knowledge with the other nationalities in the kitchen is what makes Agua a different dining experience from other places,” Cristiano adds.
Marc says that he does not have a favourite dish: “As long as it contains the right mix of fresh ingredients, creativity and love for the product, everything could be my favourite dish!” he says.
Peruvian Chef Antonio Jesus Marcado was brought on board to infuse the cuisine with the freshest seafood creations, called tiraditos, which are his speciality and really have to be seen to be believed, mini works of art that seem like a crime to destroy. The flavours are intensely fresh and clean while the fish is so fresh you would swear the catch was brought in minutes before dining.
A key ingredient in the marination of the seafood is known as aji Amarillo, a special blend of celery, garlic, ginger, cilantro, onion and lime juice which lends its distinctive Peruvian flavours to the dish.
“This is how we have built up our menu,” Walter explains. “We find a dish we really want to have on the menu then we seek out the expertise to create the dish in the manner that we are looking for. For example, we had in mind a flavourful paella full of spicy chorizo and juicy shrimp and infused with saffron. Our Mexican chef produces exactly the right consistency of rice and the perfect balance of flavours that we longed for.”
Other dishes that have become firm favourites with clientele are the tuna tartare, which, Walter says, has become something of a classic, along with the uniquely flavourful paella and the crusted seabass that is enveloped in a crunchy panko herb crust and served with asparagus and creamy mash. Snapper all Ligure is a nod to Walter’s home town in Italy, prepared in the same way with lots of robust flavours such as tomatoes, scallions, olives and pine nuts to add texture to this divine dish.
Furthering the quest to push out the boat and try something new, Agua offers a Saturday brunch which again has quickly gained a cult following, especially with the younger crowd all happy to have Sunday to sleep off any excess.
“We offer a fantastic selection of appetisers buffet-style as other brunch menus do, however we then allow our guests to choose a main and a dessert off the menu. This has proved to be really successful, especially for celebrations. We can cater for large parties as we have the patio area outside that is shaded and comfortable (though will most likely not be used for the next few months now that summer is upon us).”
Keeping the innovative touch, wines are offered by the glass, bottle or “quartino” which gives a third of a bottle of wine or about a glass and a half.
“It’s the perfect size for couples who might want to try out three wines with their meal but not drink more than a bottle between them,” Luciano, Agua’s sommelier explains.
“We see wine as an important part of the dining experience, complementing the meal in an affordable and unique way. We offer a very eclectic and ever chancing list, providing a diverse and interesting selections with over 50 wines under the $50 mark, half bottles and many label exclusively at our restaurant (such as Isole e Olena, Williams Selyem, Leeuwin Estate, Sine Qua Non, Bond and more). We are always on the lookout for new ideas and new wines, so we always keep the experience interesting.”