Review – Brunch at Avenue
Just like gourmet dirty burgers, high-end fried chicken and speakeasy-style cocktail bars, brunch is one of those ideas that we’ve borrowed from our American friends… and only recently started to get right. For far too long restaurateurs and caff owners have used the word as a way to simply extend their breakfast hours, hoping to gather up jaded latecomers in search of sustenance.
But brunch should be so much more than just an excuse to eat a fry-up at noon. It should be the perfect way to start a day: enjoying great food and drink at a leisurely pace. Go to New York and you’ll see what I mean. Brunch in the Big Apple is celebrated with great menus offering a wide choice of dishes – some light, some mighty, some savoury, some sweet – perfectly amalgamating breakfast and lunch.
On to Avenue…
So to Avenue, one of the most recent additions to Hove’s busy Church Road dining scene. I’d heard great things in Suzanne Rose’s review – mainly about their evening service and cocktails, but I’m out of that game for the foreseeable future. Since becoming parents very recently, any chance of a night out seems like a hazy dream, out of reach for many months to come whilst we tumble through sleepless days and nights of nappies, feeding and washing. So much washing.
Equally, any occasion where we manage to leave the house as an ensemble before 11am should be greeted with all the fanfare of the Olympic opening ceremony. Brunch seemed like a good option, then.
We were warmly greeted by the owner, Ben, and as it was a lovely morning we were seated on their sunny terrace. Hint: if you sit at any of the tables at the far end and gaze down Second Avenue you’ll get a lovely sea view, reminding you how smashing it is to live beside the seaside. That warm feeling will soon fade to jealousy when (like most of us) you remember that you don’t live on Second Avenue.
Our drinks arrived promptly. I had a large glass of one of my current favourite wines, Kung Fu Girl Riesling (£9.80) and Mrs H chose the Virgin Mary (we did have the mini one with us, after all). Perfectly spiced, with plenty of celery and pepper, this was one serious Mary. One brief look at the menu had a great effect on me – my shoulders relaxed, I sank into the chair and smiled. Finally, somewhere that understands brunch.
Yes, there are the staples such as Eggs Benedict/Florentine/Royale (which are both necessary and delicious), but it’s clear that owner Ben and his team have taken time to think about what people really want at brunch. Charcuterie, a deli board and a goat’s cheese salad make perfect light options, with more robust offerings in the form of steak, burgers and confit chicken salad with buttermilk dressing (which I’ll definitely be going back for).
However the dish that instantly caught my eye was the Confit duck & potato hash (£8.50). Being lactose-intolerant, Mrs H’s options initially seemed a little limited, however Ben explained that everything was made from scratch and cooked to order (big tick) and that the chef would happily create a bespoke dish rather than simply removing dairy products from the regular menu offerings (massive tick).
Whilst we waited, we were given a plate of fresh breads, all stone-baked in-house in their pizza oven. I always judge a place by its bread and Avenue’s delivered: light, crusty slices with a hint of rosemary and plenty of salty butter, plus a bread roll packed full of fragrant, spicy oregano, melted cheese and shiny black olives. Ben described this as a ‘dough ball the chef has knocked up’. If I was the chef I’d be a bit hurt by such a throwaway comment: it was divine, and deserved to be shouted about. Incidentally, the full pizza list is also available at brunch, adding even more scope to the menu.
Our mains arrived and my dish, in particular, prompted a ‘why didn’t I order that?’ groan from a diner at the next table who was tucking into his charcuterie. There’s something wonderful about being the smug bastard on the receiving end of food envy.
Hashes can often be a bit heavy, with broken bits of potatoes binding everything together into a claggy mess. But for such a robust dish, this had been handled with a delicate touch. Rich, soft confit duck with plenty of crunchy bits, tossed with crispy potatoes and wilted spinach were topped off with a perfect poached egg and finished with a rich grain mustard sauce. Perfectly balanced, fantastic ingredients treated simply – this is proper cooking. Any half-arsed chef can hide behind dozens of ingredients and pointless garnishes, but it takes true skill to take a handful of ingredients and bring them together this well.
The bespoke dish created for Mrs H was equally triumphant. The chef had taken elements from a couple of the menu items and come up with a beautiful seasonal salad of chargrilled asparagus, sweet roast candy beetroot, quinoa and hazelnuts. This was all bound together by the star of the show, a smoky, fiery aubergine puree, Avenue’s nod to the classic baba ganoush. Not only had they gone to the effort of making something ‘off menu’, but it was simply delicious.
At this point we were both full and relaxed in equal measure so Ben’s suggestion of something sweet caused a bit of a dilemma. But, being a problem solver, I decided to try the Yoghurt panna cotta with gooseberry, oat and hazelnut crumble (£5.50) and Mrs H again went down the bespoke route with a dairy-free banana split (£5.50).
By this point we were expecting great things, and we weren’t disappointed. The panna cotta was sweet, yet light and zingy from the yoghurt and worked perfectly with the tart gooseberries, an underused but fantastic summer fruit. The ‘split’ involved two halves of banana, sugared and blowtorched to give a satisfying caramel crunch. They were topped with banana chips and two sorbets, mango and raspberry – all homemade, all excellent.
Despite only being a few months into their tenure on a very competitive stretch of Hove, Avenue has established itself as the perfect all-day restaurant. Great service, exceptional food and stunning sea views (from the right tables). We’ll be back soon, anyone fancy babysitting?
For more food insights, follow Rich Harris on Twitter.
Avenue, 65 Church Road, Hove, BN3 2BD – 01273 739742
Rich’s meal was complimentary, courtesy of Avenue.