The Avenue. On a road to nowhere.

NB; THE VERSION REPORTED UPON HERE IS NO LONGER IN EXISTENCE. THERE’S A NEW CHEF AND A NEW THRUST, SO T SPEAK. I HAVEN’T RUSHED TO TRY IT, GIVEN THIS:

When I think of this restaurant I think of the naked gold woman. Many years ago, before all the banks were bust, a client of mine came to a party here and there was a gold statue of a naked woman sitting at the bar. Except it wasn’t.  She was real and when she got up and walked out at the end of the evening,  it caused a riot.The bar she was sitting at used to be the biggest in London. I’m not sure if it still holds that title, but it’s pretty impressive. And the place itself is modern and airy in a Conran, early 90′s sort of way. Nothing wrong with it, but when it’s not full it feels a bit clinical and lacking in atmosphere. And it wasn’t full. You could blame a lot of things for that.

  • The England game.
  •  The fact that it was a Monday.
  •  It was raining.

Or you could blame the food. The menu isn’t challenging. Indeed I’d say it’s verging on the dull. It’s fairly formulaic Euro-neutral. Not particularly expensive, given the location, but not memorable in any way. I ordered a goat’s cheese salad. Actually,  it was quite good.

Thin slices of mooli underneath fresh radishes with fresh, quite mild goat’s cheese, dotted around the middle.  I really don’t know why anyone uses friseé anymore.  I always manage to flick bits of the dressing from it onto the table/my clothes and it just isn’t worth the effort.

I know I sound gripey already, but I really wasn’t looking to find fault.  As it turned out, I didn’t need to. It found me. The waitress (who was excellent, by the way) knew from looking at me that we were going to need chips, so helpfully added them to our order. I know you think I’m going for it now, but how do you make chips which taste of precisely nothing? I had to drown them in salt and vinegar  and tomato ketchup, to counteract the absence of flavour.

On the plus side, the side dish of heirloom tomatoes were excellent. Next up was a tranche of turbot in a butter and caper sauce, with brown shrimps. If you’re going to offer that dish, you really do need to actually use some butter. It was dry. The only moisture in the fish was the unpleasant gelatinous bit in it near the bone, which I really didn’t enjoy and as a consequence of being starved of butter, the shrimps were also dry and chewy.  And there weren’t enough capers.  It wasn’t actually bad, it just wasn’t good enough .

My companion’s pork belly was, he said, delicious and melting but it needed a contrast ingredient to set off the blandness of the meat. There was apple, so they had clearly thought about it, but it was two little pureed  blobs at the side and that just didn’t cut it.

The desserts.  Rhubarb crumble. It’s an easy dish.  My sister makes it in 10 minutes. She needs to come and show them how it’s done. A crumble must have rhubarb, properly cooked. It must have a crumble topping which is both chewy and crunchy. The chewiness must come from the fruit/sugar  caramelising and bursting through the crust.

If you do it properly, there should be an offer of cream, ice-cream or custard. What it must not have is uncooked rhubarb, which has been uncooked in a strange herb which alters the taste of it in a bad way. What it must not have is insufficient sugar.  What it must not have is a layer of thick lumpy pale crumble on top.

What it must be, as a minimum, is edible.

And the cheesecake. It came as a precise slab, with a fruit jelly layer on top and a  raspberry garnish. It was spoilt by the over-zealous use of a setting agent (presumably gelatine) and having been kept in the fridge for too long. And it didn’t taste of anything.

If you’d told me it was from the supermarket, I wouldn’t have argued; in fact I’d have suggested that you were going to the wrong supermarket because M&S does a better job than this. By far.

I have been to this restaurant before.  I don’t remember it being as bad as this. And what is really difficult is that I was given the most wonderful service by the staff. They were aware that I was reviewing the restaurant for a publication which meant they were particularly keen to be accommodating.

They did offer to replace the desserts, but by then we really had given up with the whole dessert thing and were happy to stop.

Oh, and the petit-fours were clumsy – four rolled balls of something I couldn’t describe and a number of big macarons. More Lidl than Laduree, they were chewy instead of light and just not worth the calories.

Postscript As a result of this experience, I have decided that I won’t do “restaurant-funded” reviews for said publication and in future will pay my own way.  In this instance, I refused to submit the review, because,  frankly, I felt guilty at allowing them to pay and then slating it.  I can’t bite the hand that feeds me.  Having a meal funded by the restaurant compromises my ability to be honest about what I find and I also want to make sure that I see the restaurant as it really is and not how the restaurant’s PR wants me to see it. Avenue Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

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