"endless examples of beautiful presentation and of delicious flavours"Review Rating: Reviewed by All In London
After a rather stressful start to our evening with a cab driver who seemed to be on his first outing to central London and managed to upset most indigenous cabbies greatly (judging by the volume of horns which provided the soundtrack for our journey), we were relieved to finally arrive at the Michelin-starred Pied a Terre. The outside gave a warm and inviting impression, and we were very glad to step inside.
Because of our adventurous cab journey which involved various detours, we were 20 minutes late; however the friendly staff that greeted us on our arrival made us feel immediately at ease and relaxed, and made no issue of the time. The friendly manner was accentuated in my mind by the waiters’ uniform which were characterised by their rustic, granddad collar-style shirts. These gave a more relaxed and informal look than the usual suits that one may expect in this type of restaurant.
We were led into the main dining area which struck me as being in complete contrast to the rustic and earthy waiters' uniforms. I found it stark and rather corporate; as though someone had put it together rather haphazardly inspired by an 80s nightclub, complete with very odd, deflated balloons hanging from a panel in the ceiling (you have to see it to believe it!). The bright pink floral motif on the plates at each setting didn't work against the black, white and burgundy colours used elsewhere. I have no doubt the truth is that designers spent weeks coming up with the restaurant’s interiors as part of the rebuild of the restaurant after a disastrous fire in 2004, but this effort was sadly wasted on me.
The components of the long sofa bench that run down the side of the restaurant were so in tune with each other that each section counter-balances the actions of the next perfectly i.e. every time the diner to my left or right moved up or down, I would involuntarily do the reverse. This was amusing to begin with, but moderately irritating by the end. However having dealt with the interiors, this is now pretty much where any criticism ends and, let’s face it, there are worse things in the life of a top-class restaurant than a misjudged deflated balloon or two.
Moving on to the more important matters of the food, the bread and butter at a restaurant can often set the standard of expectations for what is to come; warm bread cooked to perfection is what landed on my plate; the treacle bread, which sounds like it would have been more at home on the puddings menu, was in fact so delicate there was just a hint of sweetness, but it was delightful.
A nice touch, which alluded to the “warm yet professional welcome” they refer to on their website, was being asked whether there was anything on the tasting menu (which is what we’d gone for to make the most of the occasion) that we didn’t like. There is a certain arrogance when a Chef decides that he will offer nine different dishes of his/her choosing and expect you to like everything that is given. A similarly ‘down to earth’ touch was to ask whether we would like tap water, still or sparking, a question which was repeated after each bottle was emptied such that we felt very comfortable ordering tap water later during the meal.
The tasting menu consisted of nine courses each; we chose the champagne tasting to accompany ours – a real treat! Picking out the highlights; the first course on the vegetarian tasting menu of Sautée of Spatzle with Cep Purée, Shaved Belper Knolle, Wild Mushrooms and Mushroom Foam was delicious; so light, yet so full of flavour. The crunchiness of the Spatzle (though not authentic in my experience of southern Germany) was a beautiful contrast to the smoothness of the other textures. My companion, with the standard tasting menu, picked out the Marinated Scottish Scallops with Toasted Hazelnuts, Caramelised Celeriac and Confit Buddha Lemon as a highlight; the flavours and combination worked perfectly together even though there was a misplaced fear that hazelnuts, celeriac and lemon as three strong flavours individually, would clash when put together and each try to knock out the next.
A real highlight for both of us and a triumph in Chef’s judgement came with the first of two puddings; the Pumpkin Panna Cotta with Confit Clementines and Orange Consommé. After having already worked our way diligently through six courses, discovering new flavours and delighting in the artistry of the presentation along the way, our palates were a muddle of lingering, flavours, textures and memories of a very ripe and strong cheeseboard! The panna cotta with the refreshing clementine and orange cut through this and totally cleansed and refreshed the taste buds. It was so beautifully light and had a perfect balance of flavours which were delicious in their own right, but also prepared us for the next sweet course to come.
I could give endless examples of the beautiful presentation and of delicious flavours here, and in the food there were very few points for improvement. The service was more down to earth than I have experienced in other restaurants of a similar standard, as befits the restaurant’s name; perhaps not quite as slick, but to me that’s not necessarily a point of criticism. This stunning food is just let down significantly in my view, by the corporate and outdated setting in which it is served.
All In London reviewed Pied A Terre on Mon 28 Nov 2011