This was the first meal I have eaten at Pied a Terre since Shane Osborn moved on and handed over the reins to Marcus Eaves. The dinner started with a series of appealing nibbles: deep fried cheese balls were comforting, scallop escabeche pleasant, salted cod mousse with poppy seed crisps well balanced and foie gras panna cotta with grape jelly a nice mix of richness and acidity (8/10). The a la carte offered two courses for £60, plus desserts at £15, with coffee and petit fours £5.
The wine list has choices at all levels and from a wide range of countries: Harewood Riesling 2009 was £37 for a wine that will set you back around £12 in the shops, Ata Rangi Celebre 2007 at £60 compared to a retail price of around £17, and Etienne Sauzet les Perrieres 2002 at £178 for a wine you can find in a shop for £60. At the high end of the list mark-ups are lower: Chateau Latour 2009 at £1,377 was only a bit more than the retail price of £1,087. Breads are made from scratch here and a bacon brioche and in particular a nut bread with excellent crust were of a high standard (8/10).
My starter of quail was the dish of the night. The breast was roasted, and served alongside confit of quail as well as “quail Kiev”, with a shallot and Douglas fir puree and a hazelnut vinaigrette, garnished with mushrooms and a few micro-leaves. The quail was accurately cooked and the vinaigrette cut nicely through the inherent richness of the quail (8/10). Also good was a salad of crab with guacamole and Chanterais melon soup. The crab was very fresh and the guacamole well-judged, a classic combination of flavours (comfortably 7/10). Scallops with baby artichokes, gremolata, Iberico ham and lemon verbena jus had quite good scallops, well-timed and with excellent artichokes, while the verbena flavour was mercifully subdued (7/10). Wild sea bass was of good quality but suffered from significant over-salting (6/10 at best), something that an expert friend at a nearby table also noted in a separate dish. I had lobster of the non-chewy variety, with chorizo and white beans providing nice contrast of textures and flavours (comfortably 7/10).
Pre-dessert of yoghurt mousse was served with a layer of peach puree and almond foam, technically well-made but somewhat lacking in peach flavour (6/10). My millefeuille of blackberries and pear had slightly hard pastry but the main problem was the surprising lack of taste of the fruits, which should have been the main attraction but whose flavour was very muted (5/10). Slightly better was Acacia honey parfait with macerated cherries, sable biscuits and cherry sorbet, which had a good biscuit but again was let down by ordinary cherries (6/10).
Petit fours were extensive and of good quality, and the coffee (a proprietary blend) was excellent. The bill came to £160 a head with a nice bottle of Trimbach Cuvee Frederich Emile 1996 (£112 for a wine that retails at £56) between two. Service was good despite the regular maître d’ being on holiday this evening. I enjoyed the meal tonight but felt that there were one or two slips that should not really be occurring at this level e.g. the over-salting of some dishes, the lack of selection of really high quality, ripe fruit for the desserts. Hence this felt to me like a 7/10 meal overall rather than a consistent 8/10 standard, though some dishes were at the higher level.
The notes below are from earlier meals, when chef Shane Osborn was at the helm; he left Pied a Terre on May 20th 2011 to go travelling, and when I last saw him was cooking at St Betty in Hong Kong.
The fire that closed the restaurant for a year has allowed a cosier refurbishment of the small dining room, with banquette seating along both walls and better lighting. Sadly the makeover has not included replacement of the chairs, which must be the most uncomfortable anywhere in London. Fortunately this is compensated by the natural charm of David Moore as co-owner, and Matthieu as maitre d'.
Below are brief notes from a meal in March 2010.
Tonight a starter of pan-fried foie gras, fig and port puree, salad of pomegranate with dried fig and toasted almonds was well executed, though for me there was not enough acidity in the dish (6/10). Better was marinated kingfish with red pepper and lime caviar dressing, avocado crème fraiche and sesame filo, which was nicely balanced (8/10). For the main course, my black leg chicken was very nicely cooked, with a rich Madeira sauce and excellent tarte fine made with new season morels that had lovely taste (8/10). Also good was sea bass with fennel confit, carrot, lobster and lemongrass vinaigrette. A dessert of lime mousse with rum and vanilla jelly and caramel ice cream worked well, garnished with peppermint and chocolate crumbs; this dish was complicated but the elements were in good balance (7/10).
The notes below are from a meal in August 2009.
Bread here is made from scratch and consisted of a selection of rolls: plain, poppy seed, Guinness, bacon & onion brioche and walnut and pecan slices. I particularly enjoyed the last two of these, the walnut and pecan bread having excellent texture and balance (8/10). A plate of nibbles consisted of a little sandwich of foie gras mousse between poppy seed tuiles (good flavour), gazpacho foam with tomato and mozzarella topped with flecks of black olives (refreshing), and Parmesan gnocchi with mushroom (soft texture and rich taste); around 8/10 for these.
I began with tuna tartare with a salad of green beans and anchovies, Pommery mustard mayonnaise and crisp baby capers. This was a well-designed dish, the mustard and capers lifting the tuna, the salad providing balance (8/10). My companion’s smoked breast of quail with confit of the quail legs, with bacon and maple syrup puree, pomegranate seeds, foie gras and parsley cress also worked well. A little intermediate dish of Cornish mackerel with horseradish cream was another good use of the spiciness of the horseradish to work against the inherent oiliness of the mackerel (7/10).
A main course of turbot was timed well (pan-fried), served with a chicken and crab boudin, linguini, and a grapefruit emulsion, along with a few pieces of seasonal English asparagus and chervil. This again showed good balance, the acidity of the grapefruit working with the richness of the boudin, the fish and the greenery nicely complimentary (7/10). Fish here is now supplied from Jefferson Seafoods. A pre-dessert of coconut foam with pineapple consommé and passion fruit mousse was a refreshing lead in to the main event (7/10).
Of the two desserts tried, I enjoyed a seasonal Alphonso mango and ginger bread terrine that had a nice hint of ginger, served with a lychee sorbet, nutmeg mousse and honey jelly, and a few pieces of mango as garnish (7/10). However I preferred a delicious hazelnut mousse with milk chocolate streusel (a crumb topping of butter, flour and sugar), served with roasted lemon puree, brown sugar biscuits and creme fraiche. The keys to the success of this dish were the very distinct flavour of the nuts, the acidity of the lemon adding freshness, and the texture contrast of the crumb. This was a very strong 8/10, pushing 9/10 dish for me. Petit fours are always generous here, and a highlight today was a very good apple and calvados jelly. It was nice to see a lot of new things on the menu, a sign that the kitchen is not resting on its laurels.
What follows are notes from a November 2008 meal.
We had the £24.50 set lunch, which is terrific value. Nibbles were a mushroom beignet which had just a hint of greasiness (7/10), foie gras sliver (8/10) and broccoli mousse, which for me could have brought our more flavour – perhaps the seasoning was a little tentative (6/10). My starter was pickled Cornish mackerel, eel and nori jelly, dill purée with fennel and carrot salad. This prettily presented dish had a clever central concept with the eel and nori jelly, offering an unusual texture contrast to the pickled mackerel, while the salad of fennel and carrot gave a welcome earthy note to the dish (8/10).
An intermediate course of scallops on crushed peas with lemon grass veloute was very successful: the scallops were beautifully cooked and tasted particularly good; peas are a classic accompaniment to scallops, while the lemon grass added a hint of freshness which was a good foil to the natural sweetness of the scallops. A well executed, well composed dish (8/10). For main course, bream was very nicely pan-fried, served with sea purslane, lobster and potato emulsion and shellfish bisque. The purslane herb gave a salty and slightly aromatic taste while the lobster added some richness, again a well constructed combination (8/10).
For dessert I had chestnut mousse wrapped in chocolate pancake, chocolate sabayon, Tonka and butterscotch ice cream with little pearls of Pedro Ximenez jelly. This was enjoyable, and in particular the jelly was a clever touch, but I always find desserts slightly the weakest link at Pied a Terre. Partly the ingredient combinations sometimes seem to be a bit odd, but in this case it was more the intensity of flavour that was, for me, lacking slightly; still very nice, but not quite to the standard of the savour dishes (7/10). For me the star of the petit fours was a carefully made mandarin jelly, but a salted caramel was also good, as were various tuiles (8/10). Service was extremely good as usual under the watchful eye of Mathieu Germond.
Here are notes from a most meal in November 2007.
The menu offers three courses at £62.00. The wine list arrives as two separate books (one for white, one for red), each around a dozen or so pages. Growers are carefully selected and the list has high quality choices from the New World as well as the old. There are five wines of each colour by the glass, including one of just £5 a glass of either colour (e.g. 2004 Navarra Rivallana Bodegas Ondarre Crianza, though this is hardly a true bargain as the wine sells for £5.96 a bottle retail), though mostly the glasses are nearer £10 each. Australia is well represented with selections ranging from Shaw and Smith 2004 Shiraz at £48 (£13.61 a bottle retail price) up to Grange Hermitage 1985 at a hefty £600 for a wine that can be purchased retail for £108. France is covered best in the classic areas, with few bargains on the list and indeed little under £100 in some areas, though mark-ups can be less fierce at the top end e.g. Latour 1996 at £677 (retail price around £400). White wines have high quality growers throughout the countries, and have wide coverage e.g. Germany has fine examples like the JJ Prum 1997 for £62 (retail £18.25) Within Italy there are careful choices such as both Pinot Grigio 2005 from Jermann at £44 (retail price £13.36) and Vintage Tunina at a similarly steep £79 (retail price under £24). From California the wonderful and rare wines of Kistler are listed, though at £196 for a 1998 Sonoma Coast wine that retails at less than £40 (if you could get it in the UK) this is hardy tempting. Burgundy similarly has fine growers and here mark-ups are less excessive e.g. Etienne Sauzet Chevalier Montrachet 1995 at £350 (retail price around £160).
Amuse-bouches consisted of a sliver of foie gras pate sandwiched between thin savoury tuiles (this could have more intense foie gras flavour but was otherwise good), mozzarella wrapped inside Serrano ham, an aubergine "caviar" with courgette and basil cream with clean tastes and excellent warm gnocchi or mozzarella and Parmesan (8/10 overall).
Tuna was served as three pieces, each wrapped in Parma ham (I’m not sure what this really added to the dish) and each topped with a soft boiled quail egg. These were resting on a bed of picked mouli, surrounded by a ring of good green beans and a parsley purée. The tuna itself was high grade blue fin tuna from the Maldives, whose season goes on until around July, just barely seared and with excellent taste and texture. The broad bean and parsley had less clean flavours than one might hope, though overall the dish was a success (8/10).
Seviche of scallops was tender, marinated with carrot and lime and served with avocado purée, with some excellent baby carrots and tender pea shoots, with a delicate Parmesan crisp as garnish (8/10). John Dory was served as a fillet, pan-fried, served with roast shallots, a "sausage" of scallop (just a sausage shape of scallop) a foam of Vichysoisse and a green tomato fondue. The John Dory itself was cooked longer than ideal, while the foam lacked much depth of flavour (6/10).
Better was black leg chicken sourced from Langues in France, cooked through very nicely as a breast and served with young English asparagus, reasonable peas, broad beans that were too large to be truly tender, garlic puree with smooth texture and simple cooking juices, as well as a few good potato gnocchi. The vegetables were not of the highest standard that you can find in France, say, but the chicken was timed perfectly and had good flavour (8/10).
This was a sensible sized board, with cheeses in very good condition. They had pruned cheeses that were less than optimal rather than trying to retain too many choices, which is such a common mistake in the UK. The cheeses were now from Premiere Cheese, and were mostly a little off the beaten track of France other than an excellent Roquefort. Maroilles is a strong rind-washed cheese from Pas de Calais and was in prime condition tonight, as was the creamy Corsican Brocciu. 8/10 for the cheeses. I had excellent walnut and raisin bread with these.
A pre dessert of black treacle mousse with a port reduction had good texture, topped with sunflower seeds, but the treacle flavour could have come through more strongly (7/10). The lack of clean flavours in the dessert was amplified in a cherry parfait which really had not enough cherry flavour despite a smooth texture, served with an odd mix of an excellent mandarin sorbet and a chocolate "soil", basically hard chocolate crumbs and an entirely superfluous lemon "pearls" which was just a lemon candyfloss that tasted hardly at all of lemon. This was only 6/10. There are only two associations, with "soil" that I am aware of, and neither of them conjure up something that you want to put in your mouth.
Much better was a strongly flavoured bitter sweet chocolate tart, which had silky dark chocolate served with a macadamia nut cream and a stout ice cream. This was very well made, used high quality chocolate and tasted of what it was supposed to (8/10). Coffee itself, both filter and espresso was fine, with dark, rich coffee flavour (8/10). A selection of petit fours included a few crisp tuiles, white chocolates flavoured with pepper for no good reason I can see (though at least not too strongly), a praline tartelette, a guava jelly that was too dry and firm, marshmallow with mandarin curd and rosemary, and a good, moist cinnamon financier (7/10).
Below are notes from an earlier (better) 2006 meal, by way of comparison.
Amuse guele set the tone of ambition: a wafer thin potato crisp sandwich, in which is a puree of sole. A Spanish influence shows in a two-layer gelee, the bottom layer ham, the top layer a remarkably delicate pea puree. Also a delicate quails egg coated in batter, and a little gnocchi (9/10). Breads, which so often set the tone for a restaurant, are home made and excellent: rolls of either baguette, white, brown, tomato, onion, olive, walnut, each different style of the highest quality. The wine list is lengthy and spans the world, while specialising in Burgundy. Stanford Chardonnay is good at £56, or the ever-reliable Chateau Musar at £38. There are also some wines around £20-25, and a pairing of wines by the glass to every dish in the menu is available – a nice touch which yet few restaurants have this excellent offering. There is a tasting menu also.
Shane Osborne’s cooking style is a little simpler than his predecessor Tom Aikens (admittedly, that is not hard). Four tails of langoustines were timed to perfection, served with some very ripe cherry tomatoes and a little millefeuille of tomato, a matching vinaigrette and some garlic puree (8/10). Stella’s red mullet was less successful, pan-fried with an olive potato puree, with a green olive and vanilla emulsion. The fish was timed well enough, but I am unsure as to the wisdom of the combination of flavours, though the execution was good. This had some excellent mashed potato and a little salsify on the side (6/10).
A bonus dish of warm foie gras was served in a bowl of remarkably intense jus with peas (9/10). For main course, monkfish was of the rare, non-chewy variety that is not often seen in restaurants in England. It had excellent flavour and texture, served on a fine leek risotto, with a leek puree and rosemary sauce. The rosemary went very well with the fish, the flavours in fine balance (8/10). I had venison fillet with a juniper boudin, served a confit of venison wrapped in green cabbage, with some celeriac puree (8/10). Cheeses are a treat here, supplied by the top merchant in Strasbourg. The waiter here (from Poitiers) actually understands cheese, which so rarely happens in London restaurants. The goat’s cheeses were in excellent condition, as was Longue and Vacherin, while the Munster was lovely (as one would hope from an Alsace supplier). Comte was the main hard cheese on offer, and there was a very impressive soft cheese washed in walnut oil, that really tasted of walnuts. This is one of the best cheese boards in the UK (9/10).
A pre-dessert was a little rhubarb custard (8/10). Desserts are a high point here. My wife had a frangipani of walnut (usually this is of almonds) with some extremely delicate, wafer thin biscuits and some stunning ginger ice cream. The frangipani was very moist, but was rather lacking in walnut flavour; the rest of the components were top class (7/10). I had a quartet of chocolate, an excellent soufflé, a silky chocolate tart, some lovely ice cream and a sort of inverted chocolate cornet containing chestnut puree. This was of a very high standard (9/10).
There is a wide selection of petits fours, including a metal "tree" of excellent tuiles, moist pineapple jellies and a range of other delicacies. Coffee was also of very high quality (9/10), with a decent portion for the espresso. With an excellent Californian Chardonnay, a glass of red wine and a glass of costly but divine Austrian Eiswein, this meal still came to £220 for two including service. Of course this is not cheap, but I believe it represents excellent value for money for cooking at this level. Shane Osborne, originally from Perth and who previously cooked at L’Oranger and the Square prior to being sous chef here, is a worthy successor to the two previous chefs, both of whom also earned two Michelin stars. Shane’s style is simpler than the talented but mercurial Tom Aikens, and none the worse for that.