Like an old pair of shoes (but not to eat)

There are some places you go where things are just…well…right. Places you visit while on holiday, to eat or to socialise – it’s that unique blend that gives you a distinct sense of belonging. Often you can’t even put your finger on why, but you’re drawn back again and again for more like moths to a flame.

I first went to The Avenue (http://www.theavenue-restaurant.co.uk) way back in 1997 back when I was eating out far more than now and probably far more than was healthy for me. I can’t even remember why I went there in the first place, other than I think I may have seen a review and thought it looked quite appealing. I do remember walking in there for the first time and seeing this gigantic bar stretching away from me into the distance, lit from underneath like some throwaway piece of scenery from Miami Vice. The high ceilings stretched upwards to give this amazing feeling of space, almost like you were outdoors. Some may feel a bit put off by bars like Avenue with their stark minimalist interiors and upmarket clientele but I knew straight away that I was going to enjoy it there. I subsequently went on to eat there very regularly indeed, sometimes visiting more than once a week. It was like walking back into a sense of belonging every time I visited, like being welcomed home, and knowing that what you were going to get was superb.

Yesterday I went back to Avenue for the first time in quite a while. I always liked the fact that every time I returned having not been for some time, the decor had been refreshed and a new artist would be presenting their work on the walls for your enjoyment and, hopefully, purchase. Last night was no exception, although not entirely sure I’ll be buying this time. Pre-dinner drinks were expertly created as usual from the vast (and I mean vast) array of spirits and wines behind the bar. I counted no less than 14 different vodkas and 8 types of gin. And when my guest ordered a very specific order of Martini, the bar tender even checked on how dry and whether he wanted olives, a twist etc. Attention to detail that’s very rare in these days of Eastern European or Antipodean bar staff.

The menu had changed too from the last time. It used to be larger and would change every day but the choices available last night were outstanding. I chose gin and juniper cured salmon with savoury melba toast which was absolutely outstanding. My rack of lamb was perfectly pink, accompanied by smoked aubergine and fennel, and the side dishes of creamed potato and sprouting broccoli were excellent. Other choices around the table were equally inviting.

And that’s the thing about Avenue. I really don’t think, in all the many, many times I’ve been there, I’ve ever had a bad meal. I mean really, not once. For a restaurant that is over ten years’ old now, I do think to achieve that level of consistency is something quite special. And the nice thing is that, because they’ve not followed the Michelin Star crowd and tried to over-complicate matters, you can always get a reservation there although it is inevitably very busy.

As the title says, I guess it’s the restaurant equivalent of a old pair of shoes that just…well…fit. Perfectly.

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