From the @ symbol for a door handle to the artwork on the walls, Avenue brings contemporary to a neighbourhood comfortable in its traditional skin. You’ll find some tasty seasonal delights in a themed setting that may, or may not confuse, and prices that are a little more down to earth than some of its neighbours.
Avenue is a stone's throw from Piccadilly Circus, as well as some of London’s most famous tourist attractions. The building (a bank in a previous life) is a neighbour of some of London’s oldest and most exclusive clubs. It promotes itself as a high-end brassiere serving seasonal food and there certainly is a brassiere feel to it, with its white tablecloths, tidy tables and well-judged art. A long cocktail bar hugs the wall to the front of the venue, the room opens out with a split level, and a well-placed, wall-length mirror opens things out at the rear of the space. The colour scheme is quite clearly red and white, with selected walls painted in either colour to maximise the experience of the space.
In early evening you’ll likely find City folk unwinding at the bar, and a more relaxed vibe than you would during the hustle and bustle of lunchtime, when this place does a roaring trade. Seasonally changing artwork decorates the walls and is up for gabs if you have your cheque book handy. The general environment is comfortable, but there is something a little off - the minimalist design and use of colour is positively striking and the high ceiling is a fantastic feature, but you can't help but feel that it doesn’t quite work; perhaps stuck between the informality of a brasserie and somewhere slightly more high-end. The friendly and helpful staff are well attuned to the varying schedules and agendas that its clientele may have, and will not need reminding that your time is precious if you are in for a quick bite. In the evening, Avenue offers a very reasonable pre and post-theatre menu before 7pm and after 9pm which consists of two course at £17.50 or 3 courses for £21.50.
Avenue promotes itself as a high-end brassiere serving seasonal food. A glance at the menu suggests loyalty to this vision, with autumnal dishes sprinkled among some brassiere favourites. Once you’re seated, keep an eye out for the luscious rye bread which Finnish head chef Kimmo Makkonen prides himself on.
For starters, pan fried scallops, cucumber daikon and celery dressing (£13) add an Oriental twist to some very good bivalves, and are well worth a taste. The celeriac soup, winter truffle and chives (£6.50) is a surprisingly appetising given what might read on the page as something pretty bland - there's plenty of rich, warming flavour to it. Char-grilled mackerel (£8) with gooseberries and saffron is a fantastic combination of fish and fruity flavours.
The sirloin steak (£19.50), served with salad and fries, is extremely flavoursome and cooked to perfection, whilst the in-season grouse available as a special, and is served with cabbage and flawless mashed potato for a dish that packs the kind of punch that game-lovers crave.
The dessert menu contains plenty of classics including a very fine apple crumble (£5.50) served with vanilla ice cream, but the beautifully set vanilla panna cotta, blackberry and granola (£6.50) is the best of the lot with the blackberry proving to have just the right amount of sweet, tart tang.
Avenue’s no-nonsense wine list is laid out in a manner that makes things pretty simple: wines are categorised under the headings 'white' and 'red' and further subdivided under 'Europe' and 'New World' so you can get straight down to business. Listed in order of price, each title is preceded with the wines most notable feature, be it the region it hails from, or the dominant vine used. There is a good selection with favourable prices, kicking off at £5.75 by the glass and £19.50 per bottle. Among the new world whites, you’ll find the dry medium bodied Sauvignon Blanc, Montes, Curico Valley Chile 2011 (£22), which is a pretty good drop, especially at that price point. The house red is the food-friendly Barbera del Piemonte Amonte, Cantine Volpi, Italy 2011 (£19.50). If you are looking to splash out a little more then there's plenty of scope to do so, and you can choose from some top notch Malbecs, such as the Salentein Primus, Valle de uco, Mendoza 2007 (£76).
The Last Word
Plenty of bang for your buck (in the context of St. James, at least) and a kitchen that means business makes it easy to give this place a big thumbs up.