Hotel restaurants are never as atmospheric as one would like, supplying elegance rather than character. Avista, at the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair, is a supreme example: refined, comfortable, with the superb service you would expect in Grosvenor Square (though thankfully it’s not too over the top). It’s just a bit too tastefully beige for me.
The food, though, takes some of the risks the designers didn’t dare to, and makes it worth the visit. Italian chef Michele Granziera has a very sure hand and a talent for combining flavours. My starter of burrata with mixed beetroot and an orange sauce (£11.50) was a flavour revelation, though the cheese was just a touch too cold. There’s also a showman at work here: fried calamari with tartar sauce (also £11.50) were presented in two cleverly propped ice-cream cone shapes, each containing baby squid, one black from its ink. To suggest the sea-side? Not sure, but I was told they were excellent. There’s plenty of choice for carnivores too, angus beef carpaccio with crispy vegetables (£13.50) sounding good, as did smoked duck breast with pumpkin, celeriac and truffle mayonnaise (£10.00).
Pasta courses (sensibly priced as either a starter or a main course) are enticing. I chose pumpkin gnocchi with smoked ricotta (£11 as a main course) partly because I was curious to see how it would compare with a sublime version I had in Venice recently at Enoteca ai Artisti. It was actually very similar – a rather smaller portion than in Venice but succulent, sweet and altogether delicious. If I hadn’t been dining with work colleagues I might have tried the spaghetti with tomato sauce, basil and buffalo mozzarella (£9.50 / £12.50). It takes a very confident cook to serve up such a simple dish in a Mayfair restaurant so I bet it’s good.
I didn’t have a main course but around me were very appreciative noises for pan-fried cod with chorizo, baby spinach and white wine sauce(£21.50) and pan-roasted sea bass fillet, baby lettuce, cherry tomatoes and lemon (£25.00). I would probably have gone for braised pork cheek with whole grain mustard mash, gratinated swiss chard and red wine sauce (£19.00).
Puddings (£4.20-£7.70) are a mixed of reliable classics (apple tart with vanilla ice cream, very good), classics with a twist (cinnamon creme brûlée, ditto) and the fanciful (Caribbean hot chocolate foam, raspberries and ginger – very, very chocolaty and quite an eye-opener).
The wine list is as classy as would be expected in Mayfair, with a very good range of Italian wines in particular (not surprising) and although you can pay a lot, there’s a decent selection between £20 and £30.
The staff (and the kitchen) coped admirably with a group of nine people and were both discreet and helpful – not always the case in grand establishments. So if you need to impress in a ‘safe’ environment but want to make sure your tastebuds won’t suffer, you could do a lot worse than come to Avista.