The Avenue is a highly successful venture that has settled into its stride. Desserts are the highlight, these being of a level well beyond the rest of the cooking and to a very high standard indeed. The mainstream cooking is consistent and competent without ever reaching any real heights, while the atmosphere is lively and the service operation efficient. Not a place of great originality, but the Avenue is a very enjoyable place to eat. Here are notes from a meal there.
There is a huge picture window into the restaurant interior from St James Street, which is flanked by two classical-style columns. You are greeted on entry through the glass door, and then led away to your table. As you head towards the dining area you pass by a video wall on the right playing a fashion show (pop videos on other occasions), an appropriate choice since many of the clientele would look at home on the catwalk. On the left as you enter is the spectacular long bar, cleverly under-lit with yellow light; with a beautiful flower display at each end. Opposite the bar are a number of low chairs, stools and tables at which to wait and have a drink. The floor is white-tiled and the room benefits from a very high ceiling. Walls and ceiling are gleaming white, the walls almost entirely bare. This leads to quite a noisy feel, partly due on this occasion to a bunch of nearby nouveau riche Russians knocking back bottles (not glasses) of vodka. In the background is rock music, occasionally alternating with some live piano music. Lighting was from overhead spots and was quite bright.
The part of the dining area to which we were ushered has bench seating, the bench in fact being back-lit in purple, and there is a narrow sky-light above which appears to have blinds which can be rolled over it. On the wall are a couple of large modern paintings. The tables by the benches are bare wood; white linen tablecloths cover those in the rest of the room. White linen napkins are used, and on each table is silver cutlery and an ashtray with a letter @ design. Chairs were modern, wood and fairly comfortable. The clientèle was generally fairly young and well heeled. The wine list is predominantly French but with a smattering of good New World choices. Examples are the basic Guigal Cotes du Rhone at £17.50, Krug non-vintage at £90 (not unreasonable given that it retails at £60 or more) while the dessert wines include Tokaji 5 Puttonyos at a ludicrous £35 or £7.50 a glass (about four times retail). In general the mark-ups are fairly high but the growers are good. There was also a new idea, a fine wine menu selected by Christies, with various serious wines like Petrus 1993 at £195 and Lafite 1978 at £275.
Bread was a choice of herb foccacia or a brown bread with a salt crust, both fresh and having good flavour. A leek and Gruyere risotto was a little over-creamy in texture but still had plenty of flavour, the mound of risotto topped with shreds of deep fried leek. The Gruyere flavour was kept in control and the leek strips added a texture contrast to the risotto. Overall this was 13/20. A blue cheese salad with croutons featured ultra-fresh, crisp baby Gem leaves, good croutons and was garnished with a little deep fried parsley (14/20).
My sea bass was well timed, moist and full of flavour, topped with a very well balanced herb crust which complemented rather than overwhelmed the fish, served on a bed of young, tender spinach and in a light buttery sauce with baby broad beans. This was a harmonious dish, all the components cooked correctly (15/20). A salmon fishcake had excellent salmon flavour though was just a little flaky, served with a butter sauce that had a hint of aniseed. The courgettes, mange touts and carrots that accompanied the fishcake were delicately cooked, and the sauce flavoured lightly with mixed herbs. Overall 15/20, with the vegetables a clear 16/20. A side dish of champ had good texture for the potatoes but was swimming in a pool of butter; however the chips were thin, crisp, salted perfectly and all in all were hard to fault - some of the best chips I had all year.
A chocolate assiette dessert consisted of three components: a white chocolate triangular parfait slab had very smooth texture, a dark chocolate tart had plenty of rich flavour and excellent base of pastry, while a chocolate mousse also had smooth texture and kept the potentially overwhelming coffee taste within check. These dishes were garnished with a thin biscuit wafer interleaved with chocolate, and some dribbles of chocolate sauce artfully arranged around the plate; a few slices of strawberry added a little colour. A pretty dish that showed a dessert chef of considerable abilities (17/20). A baked vanilla cheesecake was also a great success, with a perfect base and a well balanced compote of blueberries accompanied by a little creme fraiche (16/20). As the £2.25 coffee arrived an incident occurred. I had ordered a double espresso, and as so often happens a small cup arrived with a tiny pool of coffee at the bottom of it. I get fed up of this practice, and asked the waiter “is this a double espresso - it is tiny?” The waiter, who until that moment had been efficient but rather poker-faced, smiled and said: “sir, you should see the single espresso” and waltzed off. The coffee itself, both filter and espresso, was good. Some chocolate covered coffee beans were brought to snack on while you sip (very, very carefully) your drops of coffee. To be fair, the filter cafetiere for one person did provide two cups.