Avenue in St James’s: “Seasonal produce and live music to alleviate the anxieties from the past year”
I’m ashamed to admit it, but so accustomed have I become in the past year to listening to music exclusively through speakers and headphones that it takes five minutes to realise that the song drifting down Avenue is actually being performed live. Thursday nights mean “gin & jazz” at this suave St James’s joint, and this evening’s vocal and guitar duo create a bright yet disarmingly mellow sound. The venue is vibrant, the bar area bordered by expensive-looking artwork and a gargantuan green A-shaped wreath that hangs from the front window. It’s a summery statement piece that announces a fresh start, which is just what the restaurant is getting with the arrival of a brand-new head chef, the seasonally inspired Rudi Warner.
Further down this sprawling space, we find our table tucked away in an ideal spot: above our booth is a skylight and ahead of us stands an impressive circular counter displaying bottles of gin, with glasses of various sizes towering up toward the ceiling in a cylindrical formation like a shimmering tree. It’s beautiful in the way only highly impractical things are – part of me wants to ask for the most obscure drink I can think of just to see the waiter precariously scale the trunk.
Though this feature appears to be for show only, we are pleased to learn that the cocktails themselves have more substance. We order a couple from the gin emporium list, a collaboration with Cambridge gin which is set to run until the end of August. The first, Forbidden Fruit, is a fresh mix of Japanese gin, berries, mint, apple juice and honey syrup. It’s the ideal tipple for rejuvenating the mind and body after the horrors of the underground in July. The more interesting of the two, though, is the Truffle Martini, which tastes far subtler than it smells and slips down surprisingly fast considering it’s a lethal mix of truffle gin and sake.
When it comes to the menu, there’s also plenty to sink your teeth into, and we strongly recommend you don’t skip the starters. We opt for the marinated hand-dived Orkney scallops, which come elegantly poised alongside young peas, soft Cedrat lemon confit and intense black olive. It’s a fresh combination with a pleasing acidic bite. Then comes one of the standout dishes, the dry-aged beef tartare. The meat itself is wonderfully rich, the charcoal dressing boosting its natural flavour. The pièce de résistance, though, is a smoked egg yolk that hides like golden treasure underneath a generous covering of crispy straw potatoes.
When it comes to the mains, we start with the lobster. The crustacean shines through in an intense bisque, and the unlikely addition of exotic fruits brings a pleasing sweet dimension to the dish. The new-season lamb-rump that follows comes generously cut and accompanied by barbequed asparagus, mint salsa, strained yoghurt and roasting jus.
For dessert, we opt for a comforting bakewell tart with cherry blossom ice cream. This brings another Japanese twist to the table, and though not deconstructed or served in a cauldron of dry ice, it’s a slightly more refined iteration of the British classic. We also go seasonal with the poached cherries. The presentation looks simple, but diving into the dish reveals a layer of set custard with the lightness of whipped cream. If you are unconvinced by boozy desserts, it’s a gentle initiation, delivering notes of sherry at just the right volume. Though we don’t try it on this occasion, the presence of their trademark “eggy bread” on the menu brings me some joy – it’s not often that a menu calls French toast by its proper name (controversial, I know).
If you’re looking for an easy evening to alleviate the anxieties of the past year, a stroll down Avenue might be worth your while. The restaurant provides the perfect platform for talented musicians, with jazz and blues every Thursday and Sunday, while the plates themselves showcase the power of seasonal produce.
Photos: Cristiana Ferrauti
To book a table at Avenue, 7-9 St James’s Street London SW1A 1EE, call 020 7321 2111 or visit their website here.