Passenger Pick of the Month
Agua Restaurant & Lounge
Agua is one of Cayman's best restaurants; so you definitely want to put it on your list to visit while visiting the Island. They’re getting a lot of impressive recognition, being awarded the Three Diamonds from the Triple A Guide, and on top of that the Best 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 Chef Jonathan Rivard, who is also the Certified Angus Beef brand ambassador for the Cayman Islands. Jonathan started his career at the tender age of ten working after school for his mother who owned a food truck in Quebec. So saying Jonathan has the chef genes in his blood might be closer to home than you think! He has worked in Canada, Paris and Bermuda, and he is pure French Canadian, though with a little bit of Toronto thrown in as well. Then we have Peruvian Chef Antonio Mercado and pasta Chef Fabio Andreazzoli who have created a menu that offers our guests an eclectic variety of Peruvian, Italian and Caribbean plates. Yango, our Malaysian Chef who has over 40 years’ experience, is also amazing. You definitely don't want to miss one of his mouthwatering Asian specials. The rest of the team (Rene', Jippy-our dessert guru-, Francesco and Philip) form an amazing talented brigade.
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 Wellington 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 5 year 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 our Sommelier Stand-off that we have been doing for the past few months. We have wine dinners, where two Sommelier’s from various Restaurants or Companies on Island compete with each other, pairing two different wines with each course that Chef Jonathan creates. The customers pick the wine that they feel is best paired with the course and at the end of the dinner, the winner advances to the next stand-off. It has been a great success, we still have one semi-final and the final left. If you are on Island, you do not want to miss this!
PP: We hear the cocktails at Agua are amazing.
WF: They really are! Currently we have Simone Pagnozzi mixing behind the bar. Simone is the Stolichnaya brand ambassador in Cayman for two years running and will be competing again in the World Class competition. Together with Manu from Costa Rica our clients experience true cocktail heaven.
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. Agua’s 28 page wine menu has won annual Wine Spectator awards of excellence and have been carefully selected and compiled by our Master Sommelier AdrianoAntonini. In fact Agua has just been awarded the Wine Spectator Two Glass Award for 2016.
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. As a recognition of just how awesome our staff is, Agua just received a Best Service Award at the 2016 Table Talk Awards presented by the Jamaican Observer.
PP: It’s so encouraging to see you receiving this kind of recognition. Count us as some of your most loyal fans!
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 continue to tell us, they certainly are!
Agua Restaurant & Lounge