10 Steps to Rome: Aqua Man’s Journey
Ben Smithson, the face our guests all know and love, has been pivotal in Aqua’s growth for many years. His love for food and fine wine partnered with his attention to detail and delivering unparalleled service has made for many memorable guest experiences over the years. Perhaps an amalgamation of his own hospitality experiences has created something special in Aqua.
Originally from Newbury, Ben attended boarding school at Christ Hospital in Horsham, Sussex, and went on to study banking and finance at Cardiff University, before relocating to Bristol.
Hospitality has always been an integral and formative part of Ben’s life, from growing up in his dad’s hotels to working in a family friend’s restaurant on the Isle of White. “Right from the word go. Dad had started off with a restaurant called Raffles in Albourne and then moved into hotels a few years later.” Just outside Stratford-upon-Avon, at a hotel called Ettington Park owned by his father, Ben has fond memories of riding a lawnmower through the hotel’s grounds with the gardener named Charlie.
You might recognise the name ‘Ettington’ if you’ve studied Aqua’s cocktail menu at any level. You’ll catch glimpses into Ben’s life throughout, including the ‘Old Blue’ which references his time at Christ Hospital. “You’re known there as the Blues and then when you leave, you’re an Old Blue.”
While his dad has been in the industry for most of his own life, it wasn’t always his wish for his son to join him. Ben spent a summer working in a restaurant on the Isle of White before his dad took his wishes to join Aqua seriously. Even then he had to spend a year working both front of house and in the kitchen. “I had to learn from the bottom up, which was great seeing all the different aspects, so it’s not coming in silver spoon and you’re going in as a manager.”
A trained chef, Ben has a level 3 NVQ in cookery which he gained whilst learning the ropes in his father’s restaurant. From there he went on to work in London at the prestigious Savoy before returning to Aqua in a more permanent role.
For Ben, Aqua is all about the service and standards, and creating memorable experiences for the guests. “The atmosphere, the ambience, building those relationships with guests, that’s what has seen us through.” It has seen the business survive several lockdowns and maintain a firm spot in the market.
Watching teams grow and flourish within the restaurants has been equally as rewarding. “A number of our guys have come from waiters up to managers, from KPs through to head chefs.” Those relationships with his staff are important for Ben and for the business.
It goes without saying that the food is key to Aqua’s success. Ben’s favourite dish on the menu currently is the Lamb rack, but if he’s cooking at home he opts for a classic Sunday roast. “I’m quite a traditional person at heart and meat and two veg for me is what it’s all about.”
And when he’s not cooking or working at the restaurants, you might catch Ben out for a run in Bristol. “That’s a good escape for me, especially in Bristol. There are some great routes where you can just escape.”
For Ben, Aqua has been his “PhD in life,” something that he is proud of and holds very close to his heart. “I think of where we started off to how we’ve grown over the years, it’s been exciting to see and exciting times to come.” We can’t wait to see what Aqua’s future has to hold.