Avenue: Road to nowhere?

Why call a restaurant avenue? Are diners being taken on a journey? If so, to where? Plaudits to Avenue for having survived for over twenty years – no mean feat in the cut-throat restaurant market of London. Some of its success must be down to constant reinvention, attempting to stay relevant and draw in as broad a range of punters as possible. Last time I went to Avenue (in 2011), the angle was American; now – as seems to be the current fad – the emphasis is on cuisine with a range of Asian and South American influences. Yet, a scroll down the menu would reveal that the good old burger, lobster and steak remain. I repeat: what sort of journey is this? The answer – divined after a recent evening experience at Avenue – is perhaps a somewhat depressing one: let’s try and be as many things to as many people as possible. The reason for this is that Avenue has a large space to fill – 112 covers no less. And a prime location in St James probably also means quite a hefty rental bill to foot. On our visit, barely a quarter of the space was occupied. This is a pity, however. The design team at Avenue has done an exceptionally good job in using the space available, making a wine glass chandelier its centrepiece and creating a number of different seating areas either for buzzy or more intimate dining. Furthermore, Avenue seems to have hired a chef who is damn good at the job. All seven of the starters on offer sounded enticing, and so my comrade and I decided to order three to share. Each was a marvel in terms of design, composition and taste. Stand-out was a salad of avocado, pickled apple, edamame and mango – all simple ingredients, but combined here with panache. Onto the mains, and we went for one fish option and one meat – both were excellent, although the lamb slightly had the edge on the stone bass. The use of gochujang (Korean spice paste) as a marinade for the lamb was handled expertly. There is an extensive wine list and the sommelier was only too keen to help, providing some interesting selections. Avenue deserves to be a lot busier than it is. Time will only tell whether its revised formula works. Failing that, reinvention may just be a road to nowhere.