The luxury dining industry is having to cater ever more to the changing dietary needs and wants of its guests. With the rising number of vegetarians, vegans, gluten and lactose-free diners (amongst others), I was interested to see just how much one could customise their meal at a top restaurant.
Stepping up to the challenge was Mayfair’s Avista restaurant. Winner of three prestigious AA rosette awards, Avista is an arm of Millennium Mayfair Hotel in Grosvenor Gardens and a favourite with travelling business people and discerning locals looking for a quiet and relaxing, yet innovative meal. Plush booths give the dining room an intimate feel, intriguing artwork from the Tanya Baxter Contemporary gallery adorns the walls, and to the side by the kitchen, talented chefs prepare cold starters on a bar in full view of guests.
The staff were all too obliging to meet my culinary whims; even taking it on as a challenge. Being a vegetarian myself and my friend a pescatarian, Executive Chef, Arturo Granato, and Maître d, Andrea Mick Barni, animatedly talked me through their suggestions for each of our seven-course meat-free, seasonal dishes. The restaurant’s sommelier apparently also enjoyed the task of specially selecting a wine to pair with each of our customised courses.
First on the table was a bowl presenting two toasted and deep fried rice and mushroom crisps and two beetroot meringues, filled with horseradish ganache. These literally melted in the mouth like candyfloss and set the bar for presentation for the rest of the night.
Secondly, a bread selection with Puglian olive oil and a triad of dips. Now, I’ve eaten a lot of bread in my time and this has to be up there with some of the best. Everything at the restaurant is made ‘avista’, meaning ‘on-site’ in Italian, so customising dishes was easy for the skilled chefs, especially as Arturo told me that all the food is prepared ‘à la minute’ once ordered, meaning everything is as fresh as possible.
Following this, another amuse bouche: crunchy quinoa covered in 24-month aged melted parmesan, topped with two crispy potato flakes, which replaced mushrooms and truffles. This was paired with a delicious dry rose wine from Puglia that emanated strong notes of strawberry and raspberry. Just enough to gear up our tastebuds without filling us up.
The first of three main dishes chosen by my friend was hand picked Cornish crab (middle header image) with samphire, pickled shallot, and a layer of rocket leaves, topped with a luminous, velvety Granny Smith foam (she chose to eschew the coconut snow that originally came with the dish).
Meanwhile, my love of carbs pulled me to the ‘bigoli pasta Venetian way’ (third header image), which, swapping out the anchovies, was served in a creamy artichoke sauce with grated egg yolk and breaded onion. With this course, we had a glass of refreshing citrus white wine. With strong notes of apple, the Gavi di Gavi wine is made from the Cortese grape and originates from the Piedmont region of Italy and was the perfect accompaniment to this slightly heavier course.
The next course was a real spectacle. Delivered to our table on plates enveloped in glass jars that, once lifted, let out a billow of white smoke to reveal beetroot risotto with parmesan and puffed rice. This beguiling dish was a deep red, leading us to think it would taste predominantly of beetroot, yet the rich, smoky parmesan was the ultimately overpowering ingredient in this dish. The cheese was a substitute for the original menu of foie gras and smoked eel, proving that meat and fish-free meals do not by any means have to be plain to the taste, as they are often perceived to be.
At this point, our stomachs were starting to fill up, but there were still two more courses to go. My pescatarian friend chose the paccheri pasta dish with lobster, borlotti beans, chilli powder and Amalfi candied lemon.
She decided to forgo the Colonnata lard in this course but said it was probably her favourite dish so far. I, on the other hand, went for a ‘surprise’ course and was served a beautifully presented medley of sweet-tasting vegetables, such as parsnip and candied onions. For this course, we enjoyed another white wine: sauvignon blanc from northeast Italy. Almost tropical, this dry and fruity wine had strong mango notes, prepping us for our dessert.
Lastly, and at this point barely able to move, was dessert. If anything, my marron glacé sorbet with pecan tuille and sweet pumpkin and white chocolate foam actually revived me from my food-coma. My friend went for death by chocolate in the form of a rich and nutty dark and milk chocolate rocher (first header image), coated in gold pistachio with a mandarin shot on the side to cleanse the pallet. The Moscadello di Montalcino dessert wine from Tuscany that accompanied this final course was deep and sweet, almost leaving a bourbon taste as it settled on our tongues. This was actually the only course we didn’t customise in the slightest.
Little encapsulates the vibe of Mayfair so much as Avista. From the sleek, gleaming interior and impeccable service to the exquisitely presented, fresh (highly customisable) food and sumptuous wine list, this fine dining Italian restaurant and bar undoubtedly lives up to its three coveted AA rosette awards. Fussy diners, eat your hearts out.
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