Avenue opened in 1997, at a time when St James’s was still playing FTSE and the area’s hedge fund managers were indulging in ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ excess. Conran Restaurants hired the leading minimalist designer of the day, Rick Mather, to create a vast white box of a room. The unflattering uplighting of the hugely long bar made the rich show-offs look even more like Jordan Belfort in rehab.
Come 2014, and the financial hangover of the last five years is starting to wear off. Much the same team – now called D&D London – have refocused their efforts on what had become a dated and faltering restaurant, reinventing the vaguely American theme for the current age. So the late Rick Mather’s clean lines have been softened up; the waiting staff have learned to smile. The bar is still a major draw, helped along by great snacks, friendly bar staff, well-crafted cocktails, and an impressive wine list with some terrific wine flights.
The menu’s also had an all-points overhaul. The most fun dish is the New England clam chowder, served in a hollowed-out loaf crust, a presentation that was first fashionable during the 1970s. The chowder itself was very creamy and as rich as a stockbroker. As for the lobster mac, it’s comfort food that unsubtly signals the affluence needed to lace a simple dish with a luxury ingredient – a juxtaposition that seems apt on this faux-homely menu.
Meatloaf is a staple of home cooking across the US, here served in a pork version. It was a fine dish that any mom would be pleased with, but the portion was so massive it could have fed a family of four – and no doggy bags were available. It’s always tragic to see good food going to waste; perhaps the days of moneyed excess aren’t over just yet.