Passenger Pick of the Month
Agua Restaurant & Lounge
In just over five years Agua has quickly established itself as one of Cayman's best restaurants. After winning the overall top pick in January's 2012 Taste of Cayman, Agua got awarded the Three Diamonds from the Triple A Guide and the Award of Excellence from the Wine Spectator for their extensive wine list.
Italian owners Cristiano Vincentini and Walter Fajette became great friends while working together at Calypso Grill, and then achieved their dream of creating a successful restaurant along Seven Mile beach. As this month's Passenger Pick of the Month, we wanted to learn more about the story behind Agua, so recently we caught up with owners Walter and Cristiano.
PP: So…two Italian guys open a restaurant, but this doesn't feel like a typical Italian restaurant. Tell us about it.
WF: In planning Agua, we saw that there are so many Italian restaurants on the island, and many of the menu items are the same. But we wanted to do something different. So, 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.
PP: Absolutely, this truly has a much more international feel.
WF: We have chefs from all over the world: Austria, Dominican Republic, Malaysia, and Italy all bringing their particular knowledge and skills to the table and therefore infusing our cuisine with a wide range of flavors.
CV: Every time we need to hire another chef we always try to bring somebody who can bring new ideas to our restaurant.
PP: So with that wide of a variety of backgrounds in your chefs, how do you design your menu?
CV: It's exciting because the menu is always evolving. We 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. Collaboration between all the chefs is the key for the creation of our dinner menu.
WF: Cris and I are the creators of our menu. The reason why we have such a multiethnic kitchen is because this allows us to come up with many different authentic dishes, done by the chef with the right experience. One example is the ceviche: we wanted to have ceviches on our menu but in the beginning we were not happy and we decided to hire a Peruvian chef (ceviche is Peru's national dish) and now we think we have the best ceviche on island.
PP: We agree, your ceviche is outstanding. In fact, we understand you were the first to bring it to Cayman, so thanks! Also your Tuna tartar is delicious! Who heads up your kitchen?
CV: Our kitchen is headed up by Executive Chef Marc Benkoe. He is from Austria where he attended culinary school. After few years working in his country he moved to Grand Cayman seven years ago. He has been with us since the start. We are very happy about our kitchen staff. Yango, our Malesian chef who has over 40 years experience, is amazing. You definitely don't want to miss one of his mouth watering Asian specials. The rest of the team (Rene', Jippy, Francesco and Philip) form an amazing talented brigade. We just hired two new guys, Heivel from Peru (ceviche, ceviche, ceviche) and Carlo from Italy to add fresh ideas to Agua.
PP: You are known for your outstanding fresh seafood. How did that develop?
WF: We always believed quality is the key of any restaurant's success. We always buy the freshest local catch or the top quality from the market.
PP: Your Sunday brunch is something that many of our passengers continue to rave about.
CV: Agua's brunch reflects our extended regular menu, and goes from typically Italian recipes like homemade Lasagna, Carpaccio, Seafood Salad, cold cuts and cheeses to Asian dishes like Beef RanDang, Hummus, Babaganus, Sushi and Sashimi. We also serve Peruvian Ceviche and Tiradito, Blue Point Oysters, Spanish Paella, Beef Wellinton and many other dishes. Do not get too full! You must try our homemade Dessert: Tiramisu, Chocolate Mousse, Fruit Tart, Bomboloni, Semifreddo, Profiteroles and Fresh Fruit.
PP: So what do you like to do when you can find some time off?
CV: I love to spend time with my beautiful wife and our 2½ year month old son, Sergio.
WF: For me it is easy to find me up at Barker, kitesurfing. In fact, I love kitesurfing so much that I also own Kitesurf Cayman, a kitesurf school.
PP: So with the tough competition in the restaurant business how do you keep attracting the locals?
WF: Well of course the quality of the food is the main thing but we always try to make it interesting coming up with different ideas; one example is that for the slower season we had a tasting menu every night that changed weekly. We also have different theme nights, just last week we had a Chef from Spain (Jesus Ramiro) who owns a Michelin Star restaurant and a winery in Valladolid coming to Agua to work with our staff to create a Spanish Night. It was a great dinner, we had the chance to work with liquid nitrogen, this is very trendy back in Spain and it was a great experience for our Chef Marc and the rest of the guys.
PP: We hear the cocktails at Agua are amazing.
WF: They really are! Simon won the best bartender award in 2013 for the Cayman Islands. After going through other competitions in Central and South America, he participated in the World Class finals and amazingly placed 11th out of 48 from all over the world. We just brought on Alessandro Palumbo, who as well as Simon has participated in the World Class competition. Together with Manu, they have formed a great team of mixologists.
CV: Every night we have special cocktails in addition to our own list using local seasonal fruit (Sour Sop, Mango, Passion Fruit, Starfruit, etc.) and don't miss our Friday Margarita night, you must try one or two!
WF: Agua was just added to World Class 50 best places drinking guide and we are very proud of it.
PP: You mentioned your team, your staff. They seem to share your same unique sense of warmth and hospitality.
WF: That's very important to us. We're very proud of our staff, most of our guys have been with us since the start. When we hire new people we want to make sure they understand our ideas. If we think they wouldn't fit with the rest of the team, we don't hire them. Competition is continually getting tougher in Cayman's restaurant business, but, judging by our happy customers, we think we are on the right track at Agua.
CV: To show how important our customers are, Agua provides every day a full Gluten Free, Vegetarian and Vegan Menu. To assure that top level of customer service, one of the two of us is always here. People know they can talk directly to us. When we opened in 2009, people thought we were crazy, but we're happy to keep doing what we're doing. The goal is to create great food, and for people to leave happy.
PP: And from what our passenger's tell us, they certainly are!
Agua Restaurant & Lounge