Author: Jocelyn Chen
Since Ensue opened in Shenzhen three years ago, the dynamic city has been developing its high-end culinary scene according to world standards. The most recent addition to the rich swathes of dining establishments peppering the city is the L’Avenue, a bistro-styled restaurant tucked away in a quiet villa in Shenzhen’s bustling central business district, offering subtlety of Parisian flair and timeless French flavours.
If first time impressions are anything to go by, L’Avenue has carved out a soul of its own. Chef Arran McCredie approaches traditional French country cooking with fine dining methods and techniques, and there is little room for error.
I’ve heard for quite some time that Ensue’s investors have brought in the sous-chef of Hong Kong’s one-starred restaurant Belon to collaborate on a new restaurant in Shenzhen.
Located inside a lush building in a shopping area (with outdoor seating) and dotted with greenery and pot plants, the two-storey restaurant features a Parisian-styled bar on the ground floor except that Parisian bistros in cramped old buildings hardly have the large space that L’Avenue has. At first sight, I thought Arran and I had met before, but it turned out that he looks like Macaulay Culkin starring in the Home Alone franchise.
A native of Scotland, Arran started out in the United Kingdom, where he was part of the opening team at the two-starred Michelin Kitchen Table and also one -starred Lyle’s. Later he went to work at the Quay, a three-hat establishment in Australia, and most recently as sous-chef at Belon, a Parisian-styled bistro in Hong Kong.
Manned by Head Chef Daniel Calvert whom Arran worked alongside, Belon made real waves and news, and was ranked at one time at No.4 on the Asia 50 Best restaurants list, while also earning a Michelin star that same year. I never had the chance to visit the restaurant, as chef Calvert had moved to Tokyo and Arran had moved to Shenzhen to prepare a new restaurant. Last time I was in Shenzhen attending a four hands dinner co-hosted by Ensue and 102 House, and finally got a chance to visit L’Avenue to make up the loss.
At L’Avenue, Arran aims to bring his solid culinary skills and unique take on traditional flavours with twists of refined elegance and modern simplicity.
Designed by Chris Shao, the space of L’Avenue is lit with elegance and luxury once you set foot on it, which is rather different from the usual bistro style you would think of. It was a lunchtime visit, so I wonder what it will be like in the evening when the restaurant is full. Behind all its cool, unobtrusive grandeur, the design has a trendy, slightly minimalist appeal without being out of place, which in a sense just like Arran’s style of cooking – carefully crafted to express traditional delicacies in the best possible way.
L’Avenue’s menu offers glimpses into French culinary classics such as Whole Roasted Chicken, Salmon en Brioch, Crêpe Soufflé and many more.
The lunch menu started with Arancini, delicious deep fried rice balls commonly served at Sicilian breakfasts (or as snack). The arancini I had in Sicily are about the size of Shanghai sticky rice rolls or larger, and are usually prepared and only need to be reheated upon ordering. But Arran has made this traditional fare ready to delight diners with its smaller size, crispy crust, cheesy, warm centre. A simple everyday food but neatly done to a beautiful result.
Oscietra Caviar Toast was another appetiser, looking simple but brimming with thoughtful ideas. The toast was draped with a layer of sous vide mayonnaise sauce, which differed from the usual raw egg yolk in terms of aroma and richness. Oscietra caviar was mixed with red onion and fine shallots for a harmonious accentuation of the saltiness of the eggs, a special method not often used in small restaurants. It is chef Arran’s meticulous attention to detail which has brought forward this true delight.
oscietra Caviar Toast
Brittany Sardine with Pipernade
The beef in Steak Tartare is hand-minced and the egg yolk is processed rather than served raw by many other Bistros, a procedure that many restaurants are reluctant to do more of.
Dodine de Canard is also perfectly done. This is a time-consuming dish where the whole duck is deboned and stuffed with foie gras, duck giblets, pork and pistachios, stitched back and steamed at 60℃ for four hours. Then the duck is set and settled for 24 hours before being sliced and garnished with blackberries cooked in crème de cassis (black currant liquor) and red wine vinegar. Arran’s approach to this classic French pate dish lifts oiliness while giving exact, chic colours to each fine slice.
Whole Duck with Preserved Blackberries
Salmon en Brioche with Chive Beurre Blanc: The salmon is wrapped in a layer of mousse made with pureed chicken breast, spinach and seaweed, and rolled in brioche, then baked in the oven and left to warm through the residual heat, perfectly ready on the outside while not fully cooked on the inside.ooj Paired with well-balanced chive beurre blanc, the dish turns out excellent blend of umami and savouriness.Delicious and decadent.
Salmon en Brioche with Chive Beurre Blanc
The Sopressini is a special kind of pasta that’s folded in the shape of an open purse, or borsa vuota in Italian. The sauce is made with Parmesan cheese, shallots, red wine vinegar, milk and cream, and the folds in this pasta help perfectly capture the sauce, giving it an airy and juicy mouthfeel. The pasta is boiled al dente and finally topped off with a blanket of fresh white truffle shavings primed for a lavish treatment.
Sopressini with Parmesan Sauce and Fresh White Truffle
The intensely flavoured Triple Yellow Chicken is a testament to Arran’s experience in Hong Kong and Shenzhen and his understanding of Cantonese people’s obsession with the rich, vigorous flavours of the ingredients. The chicken used is from Huizhou and is marinated for 6 hours and sun-dried for 2 days before being steamed, roasted and left to set.
Triple Yellow Chicken
The must-try dessert here is the Amaretto Crêpe Soufflé, flavoured with almond sauce and amaretto, heated in a pan, lightly toasted in the oven and served with Chantilly cream. The crêpe is folded and fluffed to perfection; a precise creation to savour.
Amaretto Crêpe Soufflé
Yoghurt Mousse with Mandarin Granita
On a side note, the freshly baked buttery French Madeleines showcase delicate mouthfeel and beautifully textured sponge, a satisfaction I have longed for a long time. If you can’t finish them all, they are still delicious if you pack them home to enjoy another day.
Arran’s dishes are daintily layered and not as salty as traditional bistro fare. He steers away from heavy-handed seasoning and whiffs airiness into his dishes by bringing out the original flavours of the ingredients. Fresh Ikura Tart with Tomato Geleé is seasoned with citrus aromas, similar to a Japanese chef’s approach to Western cuisine. The meticulous attitude, the precise flavouring, the graceful style, all coming together in Arran’s traditional country cooking. The presentation is simple because complexity is in the preparation.
L’Avenue is a place that professional gourmets will love, who are tired of spending hours on a meal, but unwilling to give in to their long-established taste buds. The food is precise, meticulous, the ingredients exquisite, and the wine service excellent, well deserving one star from Michelin in terms of menu design and structure.
A stalwart of the Shenzhen fine dining scene, L’Avenue is a consistently reliable place for great food and bistronomy aesthetic. Perhaps describing it as Parisian is a bit misleading, it has rather led the modern renaissance with style and character.
No matter it’s special occasion or nicer-than-normal evening whim, L’Avenue is a restaurant worth visiting several times a month, then again, even in Shanghai it would be among the handful top.
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