I first encountered Nick Munier when I was a young chef working in Peacock Alley. He was the charismatic Maître d' who sounded part English, part French with a bit of Irish thrown in.
He could charm the skin off a snake, and he had the diplomacy skills of a UN delegation between customers and Conrad Gallagher. If a customer wanted a portion of chips in the Michelin star restaurant, he'd be the one to break the news to the kitchen and deal with the consequences. Nick was the only man who could get the chips – every other waiter would get fucked out of it and sprint away from the "pass".
I also tried to forge a special relationship with him because he was the man with his finger on the till. It wasn't always easy to get paid in those days, and I'd often be depending on a £50 sub from the till for my post work pints in Renards (don't judge me – it stayed open the latest!).
When I heard Nick was opening a new restaurant I was sort of worried.
Pichet had been nothing but a roaring success and instantly etched out a place for itself on the Dublin scene, but his new place was to be in Temple Bar. Something about good restaurants in that location just doesn't fit, and I wondered if maybe Pichet had been a fluke? Had it been as much about the food as the service? So as I walked down Crow Street I didn't really know what to expect.
Once you enter Avenue you enter another world. It feels like an elegant London restaurant rather than something you'd find in Temple Bar, with huge booths and splashes of art on the walls and even the plates matched with the decor.
When it came to food and drinks things didn't start great. Fresh orange juice came in a bottle, which is one of my pet hates. Just squeeze it fresh and charge me a couple of euros extra. Next up was gluten-free bread. According to the lovely Alana serving me, 90% of the menu was gluten-free.
I don't mind half the world suddenly thinking they're gluten-intolerant (many, of course, genuinely are), but why do I have to be put in that bracket? The bread was as good as gluten-free gets but that was besides the point. I was too busy admiring the menu and licking my lips by this stage, though, to let those two little things bother me.
I was in a mood for fish so started with the scallops. They were absolutely, completely and utterly out of this world. Light, perfectly cooked and sweet and sticky in exactly the way scallops should be. An example of cooking at its very best.
Being the greedy bastard that I am, and because of the way the menu was set up, I ordered three courses. Next up was tataki of sushi –another absolute delight, dished up in a huge portion with superb quality, clearly allowed to come up to room temperature perfectly and no cost spared on the fish itself.
Next up was hake, and by this time I knew I was in the hands of a world-class chef cooking fish at another level to most places in Dublin. I was sort of dreading a full plate as a third course but it came out as the perfect portion size; the fish was light and flakey, balanced with perfectly cooked veg. Basically, a real triumph of a dish.
I skipped dessert because it was Saturday lunchtime and three courses is enough for any reasonable man. Instead, I sat there looking around and smiled to myself. There's a cocktail bar downstairs and an private dining room upstairs opening soon – and when I thought about this ambition and the sheer quality of what I'd just eaten, I realised that Nick had done it again. Three floors of sheer class.
It takes a team of people to lead a brilliant restaurant but it also takes one mercurial visionary to deliver something this great.
As I read the menu all I could think was 'Marco Pierre White'. The design; the fonts; several of courses. But rather than copying the great man himself, it's more of an inspired nod to Nick's old mentor. There's even a MPW special of oysters tagliatelle on the menu; one of the greatest dishes ever cooked, and a fitting ode to the big man.
I was wrong about the location. Wrong to have a lingering doubt about Nick's ability to deliver another world-class establishment. The team here are strong, the cooking immense and this place will be packed not just for an opening three months but for years to come.