Originally published January 2018 (some alterations for clarity have been made)
Avenue on St James’s Street has been one of those places I’ve been dining at since it first opened. I was a kid and going regularly for lunch with the family after visiting the RA just up the road on Piccadilly; the Sunday roast beef and Yorkshire pudding was unquestionably the must have and the place had the feel of a sleek Manhattan restaurant. As often happens with one’s old regular haunts, years went by when I didn’t go, but I now find myself having gone back to this, now D&D owned, restaurant a number of times of late, either for the bottomless brunch or a light dinner.
Most recently I was there with a group of friends, including London Lamppost contributors Brian Hick and Marshall Allender, after seeing Blade Runner 2049 (a superb film, the plot twist maybe a little obvious, but the filming, performances and the styling – they carry on the styling from the original film – are superb). In need of somewhere reasonably priced and that would have room despite us not having a reservation, Avenue was the perfect solution when Brian’s original plan of Zedel fell through thanks to a 2 hour wait (so mush for being a hidden secret with walk in tables).
As ever the friendly staff at reception had no problem squeezing us in. Not that it proved to be much of a squeeze. We were shown to one of the large round marble topped tables in the cavernous dining space that opens up past the long, often full, bar at the front of the restaurant. The table was so large that the six of us could each have been in our own postcode. Avenue seems to have cornered the market in decently priced food for large outings of friends or colleagues. Each time I’ve been in its modern incarnation, large sections of the restaurant have been given over to one celebration or another and this time was no different. It probably explains why the tables are so large. I even not that one of the images on the restaurants website is the entire place rented out for a corporate networking event. Not something you normally find as part of a restaurants gallery where they try and entice you to dine with them. To be honest this is probably where the troubles with this place all stem from.
The menu is typical mid-upper market modern with international inspirations – mostly American and European. But watch out with it, it’s an odd mix price wise, some dishes seem good value while others in comparison seem overpriced.
The steak tartare was the great surprise, so much so that I rewrote the Lamppost’s run down of the best alternative style steak tartares in our city. As one hopes for with steak tartare it had good heat, but what made it really stand out was the chunky size of the fillet, larger than usual it gave it real bite and texture. The inclusion of apple along with the traditional yolk and capers gave a freshness that paired well with the earthy sweet potato crisps. The only note against it was that for something that advertised being smoked, there wasn’t much smokiness to it. This seems to be an annoyingly common trend these days, kitchens are smoking everything as its trendy but most really don’t know how to balance it well, resulting the food either being widely over smoked and the flavours destroyed, or the smoke lacks any presence. Worst yet is when it’s there only for ‘effect’.
All in all though a dish worth ordering time and again.
But save for the highs of the tartare, the well priced ribs with a side of fries for the main course was an apt metaphor for the general feeling we had as a group, both about that dinner and pervious visits to Avenue. Decent enough, but lacking and a little dull compared to others on offer elsewhere and even available at Avenue a few years back. The ribs were just simply nice, the sauce had the requisite barbecue rub spice to it and the spring onion was a welcome addition both as a flavour and in the way it cut the spice of the sauce. The problem was that there was no where near enough of the sauce and what was there was a little dry from the oven or the heat lamps at the pass. In short there was nothing memorable about them, and short of a dish being dreadful, that’s the worst crime there can be with restaurant food. You are paying for a good and memorable experience both on the plate and in the room, and if either, especially the food, is lacking then what was the point of the expense, time and additional calories. Those minuets off my life that ribs invariably cause (what doesn’t these days) should be worth it. On my death bed I want to look back and say ’you know, those four minutes I traded in were worth it, I only lament it means I have four minutes less to spend eating ribs now’. Sadly I won’t be saying that. All that I can say was that the ribs weren’t the worst part, the fries were truly dreadful; cold, lacking any seasoning and just bone dry, a crime agains the potato.
All of the faults in the food were evident in the service too. The waiters were efficient but, with the exception of the friendly Maître d’, impersonal. They have also gone down the oddly popular uniform style of having the staff dress in light chinos with a light coloured tweed waistcoat. I have no problem per se with this style, my issue is that in almost every instance you see it, including at Avenue, at least one item is ill fitting (often the waistcoat) and worn wrong (again often the waistcoat) with the white shirt hanging out at the back as the trousers are too tight fitting and low sitting; many of the uniforms at Avenue could have done with a wash too – I appreciate it can be a messy job but that’s no excuse for not washing them regularly to remove the splashes of dried sauce.
It feels more a trendy spot that so happens to do food as a second element, the primary element is the space and filling it, then we’ll pour cocktails or the pricy wine list down your throats so u have a good time and don’t notice the stylish and trendy food is nothing more than fine and at worst flat.
So why do I still go, and why should you go? Well simply put, despite its negatives, the quality of the ingredients are high, the staff always look after you and ensure you have all that you need, it’s a great space to dine in, and best of all you can have a reasonably priced meal for the quality (if carefully chosen). I wouldn’t go just as a twosome, unless circumstances dictated. No. Its real strength is being a great place to go with a group of friends, where the food and everything else is the backdrop to a great time and a laugh. For this Avenue is ideal, and the bottomless brunch is perfect.