Our review dinner at Aviary (opened in December), the new bar/restaurant atop the almost equally new Montcalm Royal London House hotel (opened in October) in Finsbury Square, and thus only a short walk from the Barbican, did not start well – indeed might have been something of a disaster. I am currently rather unsteady on my feet courtesy of a stroke from which I am not yet fully recovered and when we arrived were directed to a lift which took us to the 9th floor where the restaurant reception desk is located and where one can leave coats etc. So far so good but then was faced with a short staircase up to the 10th floor where the bar/restaurant is and this was not an easy climb for someone with walking difficulties. I managed to negotiate it OK only to find that there was no record of our booking (some glitch in the computerised reservation system I believe), and the restaurant section was full. However this was quickly rectified and an extra table was magicked up and placed mid-restaurant by the windows. My thanks to the staff who managed to do this at short notice.
Part of Aviary’s restaurant section with some of the bar seating area in the background.
From that point on, rather than being a potentially disastrous evening, things definitely went uphill and we ended up having an excellent meal in pleasant surroundings and with very good service from our attentive waiter.
Given we were there on a Monday evening and the restaurant was full and the bar busy, Aviary, although it has only been open a short time, is very obviously already well up on the City bar/restaurant radar. The restaurant section is not large (it can seat around 70 people) – the bar dominates – but adequate and it is run by the ETM Group which Barbican residents will know as the group which also runs The Jugged Hare and Chiswell Street Dining Rooms close to the Barbican complex and also The Well gastropub on St John Street and the Botanist in Broadgate Circle, both within an easy walk, as well as a number of other venues across London – most of which follow the bar/restaurant formula as at Aviary.
Trout with taramasalata, celeriac and rye
I started with smoked trout with taramasalata, celeriac and crispy rye while my dining companion decided on the crispy duck, rice noodles, bean sprouts, duck egg – both at £9. Other starter options ranged in price from £7 (white onion soup) to £14 (oysters or raw sea food platter). I found my trout dish extremely tasty, but my companion was not totally happy with her crispy duck, which she said was anything but crispy and more like a duck fish finger. The other parts of the dish went down well though. As a wine accompaniment I had a French Picpoul (£6.60) and my companion a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (£8.80), both very pleasant.
Crispy duck with noodles and ducks egg
For mains we both went for steaks. I had the Longhorn rib steak on the bone (£36) cooked medium rare and it was one of the best steaks I have had in the capital – easily better than a ribeye I had at a restaurant which claims to serve the best steaks in London! It claimed to be 400 grams – about 14 ounces – and I would think it was at least that. It was a big hunk of meat! It was cooked to perfection. Sides are £3.50 extra and I had new potatoes with seaweed with mine. Potatoes were nice but I wasn’t that impressed with the seaweed which was rolled so it looked a bit like some kind of sausage and really didn’t taste of much.
Longhorn rib on the bone
My companion had the retired dairy cow sirloin on the bone (£32) – medium well and a green gem and mixed onion salad and triple cooked chips. This too was a large (also 400g) piece of extremely tasty steak, although was perhaps medium rather than medium well. The salad looked to be iceberg rather than gem lettuce, but given the current difficulties in sourcing salads from Europe that may be forgivable. The triple cooked chips were also excellent.
We both had a glass of red wine with our steaks – a Chateau Maine Martin 2010 claret (£7.60) which was good and, on our waiter’s recommendation an Australian Shiraz, which was exceptional, at (£9.60). There is a good selection of wines by the glass and by the bottle and the restaurant also has a Coravin which enables some very classy wines to be available by the glass as well.
Retired dairy cow sirloin steak with thrice cooked fries
Other mains vary in price from £13 for one of the only two vegetarian options – Ricotta Gnocchi, squash, turnip, salsify and sprout leaves up to £85 for a 950g veal T-bone for two people. There seems to be a reasonable selection of fish dishes ranging from £14-£23 and some other traditional British mains at reasonable prices by today’s London standards.
Three scoops of sorbet – two raspberry and one mango
The Dessert Menu is a bit heavy on the over indulgent and rich side with all options at £7, except ice cream and sorbet (£6) and the cheese board at £14. Could probably have done with more lighter dessert options. Particularly after devouring one of the massive steaks! I did go for sorbets – 3 scoops but there was only a choice of two sorbets – raspberry and mango – both very good. There was a bigger choice of ice creams though. My companion had the chocolate and honeycomb sundae – perhaps too much of a good thing!
Chocolate and honeycomb sundae
Overall an excellent meal, but some hopefully constructive criticisms. The steaks are probably too big for some and smaller options might prove popular, particularly for those without gargantuan appetites and might keep the cost down a little. Perhaps a better selection of vegetarian dishes might be worthwhile – and some lighter dessert choices too.
Thed wine list is short by some restaurant standards, but adequate with bottles from £20 up. All the wines also appear to be available by the glass which is very welcome and, as noted above there are some extra fine – but very pricey – wines also available by the glass courtesy of the Coravin system.
If one chooses the steaks, excellent though they are, the overall cost of a 3-course meal for two with drinks and a glass of wine with each course will probably work out at around £75 a head. If one chooses less costly main courses one can cut this by about £15-20 a head. These are London prices and ne can pay quite a lot more still at some other restaurants – and even at those with pretensions all around the country! Eating out in London is certainly not a cheap option, yet new restaurants spring up the whole time and many are permanently busy. Disposable incomes among the capital’s young professionals who provide much of the custom must be at an all-time high!
So saying, when we came to leave the restaurant and looked with some trepidation at negotiating the stairs downwards to the 9th floor lifts we were informed there was a lift all the way to the 10th floor, but on the other side of the restaurant so there is disabled access direct to the bar/restaurant level, but one would need to ask. A kind staff member retrieved our coats from the 9th floor and another guided us to the 10th floor lift – so all’s well that ends well – and it was a very good meal in great surroundings. The bar/restaurant will really come into its own when the outdoor terrace overlooking Finsbury Square and beyond is usable in warmer weather.
The terrace will come into its own in warmer weather
Aviary opening hours:
Bar: Monday – Saturday, 11am – midnight; Sunday 11am – 11pm. Serving bar food all day from 12pm – 11pm
Kitchen: Monday – Saturday. Breakfast 6.30am – 10.30am, Lunch 12pm – 3.30pm, Dinner 5.30pm – 11pm; Sunday. Breakfast 6.30am – 11am. Lunch 12pm – 3.30pm. Dinner 5.30pm – 10.30pm
Address: 10th Floor Montcalm Royal London House Hotel, 22-25 Finsbury Square, London EC2A 1DX. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tel: 020 3873 4060