Shaking off a wet week and handing our coats to the smiling staff, our Italian feast began beautifully with a glass of bubbles - as the best things often do in a 4-star hotel - and a selection of aperitifs. Savoury meringues sandwiched cheekily with a lightly creamed goat's cheese, an intriguing whisper of crackle that I thoroughly enjoyed crunching and slivers of aubergine air dried with honey that melted on the tongue.
Disclaimer: We were invited guests of Avista, but my (very many) opinions are only ever my own, and I would never recommend anywhere that I wouldn't happily revisit.
As a gluten-free diner, it can often be hard to wander into a restaurant and not have to surrender yourself to the inevitability of meat and vegetables - especially in Italian and French restaurants famous for their fresh pasta and bread selection. Much to my surprise when I meekly explained my intolerance, our maitre'd Raphaele broke into a smile and told me it wasn't a problem. I can't tell you how relieved I felt - not eating a pasta dish in an Italian restaurant seems like exploring a winery but not drinking. Sacrilege.
We nibbled on a selection of leavened delights and a delightfully palate cleansing hors d'oeuvre of crab with mango and passion-fruit water ice whilst we perused the embossed menus. Gluten laden and non-gluten alike we dipped into the pure olive oil with relish (though without balsalmic much to the bemused confusion of our waiter). Every detail was considered - even the gluten free bread was toasted less on one side to retain a softer, more contrasting and porous texture.
|Burrata con variazione di pomodori crudi e canditi, olio alle olive nere e basilico
Burrata, texture of raw and candied tomato, black olive oil and basil
Paired with the sommelier's suggestion, a Italian 2013 Le Pianure Pinot Grigio, was a perfect complement to my light and flavoursome starter. (The mister was drinking diet coke, but we won't talk of that abomination. And he wonders why I leave him at home sometimes...)
|Tartare di manzo battuta a coltello, salsa Caesar, tuorlo d’uovo e caviale di aceto balsamico
Hand-cut beef tartare, Caesar dressing, egg yolk and balsamic caviar
|Paccheri al pesto, crema di mozzarella di bufala, pomodori canditi e olive taggiasche (v)
Paccheri pasta with pesto, buffalo mozzarella cream, candied tomato and taggiasche olives (v)
Feeling nicely paced but rather full, I opted for the lighter mains option of Sea Bream, which is possibly the prettiest dish I've ever seen. Vibrant and fresh, the perfectly seasoned flesh was counterpointed by utterly immaculately crisp skin that broke at the barest pressure of fork tines. The sea bream totally overshadowed the delicately stuffed courgette flowers but provided a interesting texture contrast.
Just one more angle? Oh, ok then.
|Orata del Mediterraneo in padella, mousse di granchio e fiori di zucca
Pan fried Mediterranean sea bream, white crab mousse and courgette flowers
|Filetto di manzo in padella, friggitelli, lardo, mandorle, patate fondenti e salsa al porto
Pan fried beef fillet, baby green pepper, lard, almond, fondant potato and port jus
There was no running anywhere that evening.
|Spumone ghiacciato allo yogurt, fragole candite, mandorle e
gelato al cioccolato bianco
Yoghurt parfait, candied strawberry, almond and white chocolate ice cream
Something to be savoured gently over a few hours, an evening at Avista is something that should be prescibed for all city weary souls needing a soupcon of Italian style. The decor is sumptiously elegant and flavours focus on fresh seasonal characters that made our tastebuds zing. Each plate was a work of art, evident with delicate touches and balances of the best ingredients without being fussy.
The restaurant is lovely mix of elegance and conviviality - everyone was welcomed with a smile and couldn't want for anything. Avista, you have my heart.