By Jonathan Hatchman, Food Editor, @TLE_Food
Just seconds from Mayfair’s Grosvenor Square, sandwiched between Oxford Street and Berkely Square, Avista holds one of the most prestigious dining destinations in central London. Opened as a rustic yet contemporary Italian restaurant a few years ago, the a la carte menu is now particularly contemporary, matched with an impressive wine list of mainly Italian fine wines. Many of the area’s higher-end Italian restaurants are remarkably pretentious, but thankfully this is not the case with Avista, even though the restaurant’s interiors, within the Mayfair Millenium Hotel, are unequivocally grandiose.
As for Executive Chef Arturo Granato, it’s clear that he’s brought a touch of his native Amalfi Coast into the kitchen at Avista. Upon arriving, we’re greeted and led through to the bright dining space: it’s Thursday night but it’s surprising to find the 75 seat restaurant is under populated, it is refreshing – however – to see just how much space each table for two has. There’s absolutely no sign of intrusion, even with the service, no matter how friendly. Instead, the whole dinner service seems very relaxed and is, as a result, very pleasant. To begin, we start with a platter of homemade breads. All of these are homemade, but one that’s most memorable is the delightful bacon bread. It’s so good, in fact, that it’s the best bread I’ve ever eaten, if not one of the best single delights to have ever passed my lips. Within such a treat, the texture and scent of freshly baked bread is present, but there’s one final touch – the incorporated salty bacon rind that makes this bread so enjoyable – no matter how controversial bacon is becoming, this is a love that will never cease to exist.
Moving on, the starters are also impressive: my friend’s vegetarian starter of slow cooked egg on toast is teamed with a selection of earthy wild mushrooms that work wonders with the runny yolk, topped with parmesan shavings and a generous heap of black truffle. Smoked duck, on the other hand, is presented with the same flair that’s found in some of the neighbouring Michelin-starred institutions – set aside a slab of cool fois gras that works surprisingly well with the licorice sauce and the more typically complimenting pomegranate seeds. As is often the case with the mains; although good, they’re a little underwhelming when compared with the expectations set by starters. Our waiter recommends the chestnut tagliatelle, explaining that it’s his favourite dish on the menu. It’s not until the mains arrive, however, that rather than my recommended choice, it’s actually my friend’s veal ravioli that’s his real preference. It’s a little annoying, but unsurprising given just how good the dish tastes, accompanied by candied ginger dice, pecorino cheese and another generous helping of black truffle shavings – amazing value at £15. In contrast, my dish isn’t quite so wonderful. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the tagliatelle or the wild boar ragu that’s joined by ceps and cocoa – it’s just overwhelmingly rich and could benefit from a little cheese to break all of the prominent flavours.
Overall, the contemporary Italian at Avista is enjoyable, and the given the high-end location and luxurious dishes on offer, the prices are, in fact, surprisingly reasonable. Just be sure to take advantage of the fine Italian wines on offer and don’t skip the bread platter.
Avista can be found at 39 Grosvenor Square, London, W1K 2HP.