There are some cracking restaurants along Church Road in Hove, many of which I’ve had the pleasure of dining at over the years. From Nostos Grill in the East to Etch by Steven Edwards in the West, all the cuisines of the world seem to be represented and every budget is catered for.
Now, any local knows that the venue called Third Avenue has been through a few incarnations in the past – and I think it’s fair to say that this site hasn’t always lived up to expectations – so it was with some trepidation that I made my way to a review lunch.
Although it’s hard to truly get the ‘wow-factor’ in a small-ish space, whoever designed the restaurant has got it down to a tee. The front space is a cosy drinking area with a large central bar serving up cocktails and a pretty decent wine list, surrounded by tables of two or four. The middle transitional area benefits from a soaring ceiling adorned with a space doubling mirror. However the clear star of the show is the main dining room which is simply stunning in all its yellow, ochre and orange glory.
The aesthetic is luxurious fabrics, unashamedly bold but slightly off-palette walls and warm metal finishes, accompanied by discreet pooling of light and an eclectic collection of art prints ranging from Picasso to a huge pop-art Debbie Harry. Whilst being somewhat geographically hyperreal – you could be in Soho in London, Le Marais in Paris or Chelsea in New York – the interior design is a world away from what you’d expect in Sussex. It’s visually remarkable.
The menu made my tummy rumble and juices flow as each and every single dish reads as sheer unadulterated deliciousness. It always amazes me how many restaurants completely bugger up their menus by not writing coherently or laying them out properly on the page to lead the eye. Other than upselling on a bottle of wine or water, once you’ve got your diners at the table the menu card is a restaurateurs last opportunity to encourage spend so you’ve gotta work it baby and make those descriptions sing. Again, another big tick for Third Avenue; they should host a masterclass on this.
Third Avenue offers a ubiquitous brunch menu from 10am every day, with the ‘plates' taking over from noon until late in the evening. I’m a bit over the ‘plates’ concept as I increasingly think it allows restaurants to short change you on portion size however that’s most certainly not the case here where the plates are more akin to Spanish half portions so I’d say two plates make a whole meal. We chose grilled sardines, pig cheek braised in Pedro Ximenez Sherry, Levantine style stuffed aubergine and goats cheese with baked figs. I was lunching with my colleague Nathalie who demanded a side of Manchego cheese and truffle fries – that girl loves her chips!
I’ve sampled a similar pork dish a number of times this year so I have a pretty good reference point as to the success of Third Avenue’s dish. It was brilliant; a shining example of how slow cooking pig cheek creates tender, melt in the mouth meat made all the better with the rich caramelised sauce and charred leeks.
The sardines really rocked my world: crisp skin, perfectly flaky flesh and clearly fresh from the sea as they didn’t have that overly fishy taste that some oily fishes can develop when they hang around just a little too long. The base sauce of Mojo Rojo – a Canary Islands classic of garlic, salt, olive oil and coriander – provided a spicy hit balanced in texture and sweetness by seared kernels of corn.
The aubergine was perfectly prepared; soft, spicy and benefiting from a whole roasted tomato. Nat thought perhaps it lacked a bit of salt or garlic but as my mouth was already doing a little dance from the sardines and pork, I defer that statement to her. Our fourth dish, the figs and goats cheese, did exactly what it said on the tin: a classic dish done very, very well.
Price-wise, you’re looking at about £20 for two plates plus £6.50 for a 175ml house wine. Maybe throw in a side and that’s £30 per head which definitely represents value with all elements of the experience factored in.
I don’t score my reviews but Third Avenue is a clear nine and could easily be a ten. There were a few minor and easily rectifiable operational issues with slip-ups including overly warm house white wine, a lack of seasoning on one dish and – fatally for this reviewer at least – not as many local wines, beers and spirits as I’d expect to see on a menu at a venue of this calibre in Brighton. However in terms of ambiance, service and – most importantly – that impressive menu and accomplished cooking, Third Avenue absolutely smashed it out of the park.
Third Avenue, 70 Church Road, Hove BN3 2FP
01273 977 158 • www.thirdave.co.uk