Sunday lunch is not my favourite time to visit a restaurant or gastropub. There are just too many places who simply offer a traditional Sunday roast made with little or no imagination. However, as it is my birthday we are visiting The Avenue, a restaurant attached to the rather beautiful Lainston House Hotel in Sparsholt, Hampshire. The restaurant has a decent reputation and it runs a cookery school – so I’m hoping they will offer something more interesting than most.
The 17th century hotel is in a building originally commissioned by Charles II and built by Sir Christopher Wren. Located in the countryside north west of Winchester, it soon becomes clear where the name for the restaurant comes from. Outside, opposite the terrace, there is a mile long grassed avenue of lime trees that stretch into the distance almost as far as the eye can see. It is a fabulous setting.
For a celebratory beer I choose the Punter, a light amber craft ale from the local Upham Brewery. It is just what I hoped it would be – well-flavoured with malt and good fruity notes. We are served an amuse-bouche of celeriac and cauliflower espuma with baby onion and chorizo. This has raised our expectations of what is to come.
Rock has the chicken terrine with rhubarb, beetroot and parsley to start. She loves it – the terrine is brought to life by the rhubarb jelly, tiny beetroot crisps and flaked almonds. I have the poached egg with chorizo, hollandaise and chives. The egg is perched on a small slice of toasted bread and I feel like I am eating the most sophisticated version of egg & bacon on toast.
The kitchen has not let their imagination run wild with the Sunday lunch main courses but I am operating in the hope that the execution of roast beef with yorkshire pudding, horseradish, watercress, roast potatoes and roasted vegetables will be more creative than it sounds. The beef comes in thick, medium rare slices and the roast potatoes are beautiful. There is nothing interesting about the vegetables. A decent Yorkshire pudding has been completely filled with horseradish – a nice surprise if you really love horseradish but it makes the batter inedible for anyone who doesn’t. I would have preferred a little horseradish on the side to have with my beef and my Yorkshire left well alone. I am comforted by an excellent glass of Rioja Crianza.
Rock is having the confit sea trout with watercress pearl barley, lemon yoghurt, chorizo and pine nut. She is similarly underwhelmed – it is just not as interesting as she had hoped. There has been nothing wrong with either main course except that both failed to live up to the quality of the starters. We order coffee and petit fours which, as they have discovered it is my birthday, do not appear on the bill. We’ve had good service from Steve throughout and this is a really nice final touch from the restaurant!
Overall – The Avenue has a beautiful location, good beer and wine, and the kitchen can clearly produce very good quality dishes. But, unless you are a real fan of the traditional Sunday roast, you should probably choose a different time to get the best possible Avenue experience.