Sophistication in St James’s
Avenue relaunches its menu proving this glamorous venue remains a pleasant destination for a meal à deux or for an elegant drink
Review by Rupert Watkins, photography by Andy Barnham
Over recent years, St James’s has certainly left behind its traditional impression as a bastion of gentlemen’s clubs and the establishment. Top quality and fun restaurants and bars jostle for your attention and as many offer excellent drinks or set menus, this august part of the world is not merely for the high rollers among us.
Having sat just up from Berry Bros & Rudd for a number of years now, Avenue has recently refreshed its menu under the careful eye of head chef Dominic South. The restaurant though retains its Manhattan inspired décor and menu. Entering you are confronted by a slick and gleaming long bar. Leather banquettes and modern art line the walls and with the lighting kept low in the bar area one can certainly imagine doing a Raymond Chandler impression propping it up.
Moving through to the restaurant, the room opens out. Decent use of mirrors adds light and depth and the tables are nicely spread. The rear restaurant is dominated by a central wine and glasses table, further glasses acing as an impressive chandelier. Taking our seats, our member of staff suggested a glass of fizz to set the evening off. Sensibly taking his advice, my guest and I enjoyed a glass of Anderson Valley, Brut NV. Light and nicely dry, we rehydrated ourselves whilst perusing the new menu.
The New York vibe remains readily apparent. Seared fish, steak tartare, lobster and a very decent selection from the grill give an Upper East Side edge to the small but precise menu. My guest opted for a healthy starter with the gazpacho with cucumber, San Marzarno and peppers. A hearty portion, it was judged delicious – light and not too peppery. I went for the steak tartare as a rare treat. Very tasty, I did wonder though whether it needed just the slightest touch more seasoning.
Moving onto our main courses, we accompanied the food with a glasses of Dormaine Saint Paul Colline 2014 which was zesty and fresh and Jackhammer Pinot Noir 2013 which was elegant with lovely hints of blackcurrant. Our respective white and red set off our dishes of native lobster salad with avocado, sheep’s ricotta and herbs and slow cooked suckling pig shoulder with beans and summer squash rather well. The lobster salad was a substantial plate with plenty of succulent and very fresh crustacean; with ripe avocado and light dressing this was judged a success. The accompanying chips were a treat – crunchy and all too moreish. My pig shoulder was perfectly cooked. A good size, not too large, it had that lovely salty tang I look for in pig shoulder and belly dishes. The beans were an excellent accompaniment though perhaps fractionally too salted in their own right. However, all round the courses thus far were doing justice to the urbane surroundings.
Come desert, I succumbed – as ever dear reader – to the chocolate option. The Avenue chocolate bar is rich, a marvellous blend of crisp biscuit base and gooey chocolate with a drop of edible gold leaf for dramatic effect. Just the right size is served to finish a meal (thank God or the paramedics would have been wheeling me out). My guest’s strawberry parfait was likewise decadent and rich. Extremely tasty, there was though a momentary struggle to polish off the plate…
Dining as we were on a Tuesday evening, Avenue was not particularly busy. We had both actually dined at the restaurant before on a Friday night and certainly felt the bustle, lower lighting in the restaurant and the sense of occasion greater at the end of a week. This is a destination eatery and bar – dress up to enjoy it to the utmost. Away from the a la carte, with two course set menus for £20 and three for £25 and a very respectable selection of classic gin and whisky based cocktails to enjoy en route to table, Avenue is a slice of sophisticated St James’s dining that does not need to break the bank.
Enquires: Avenue, 7-9 St James’s, London SW1A 1EE / 0207 3212111 / www.avenue-restaurant.co.uk/at/