Pied à Terre is the two star restaurant run by David Moore and Chef Shane Osborn. It also happens to be the big brother of l’Autre Pied, where I recently enjoyed Marcus Eaves’ talented cooking (himself formerly sous chef here). Moore has also been in the limelight lately having played sidekick to Raymond Blanc on BBC2’s The Restaurant. Actually, one episode was even set here, with contestants spending a service or two as members of the FOH. But the less said about that, the better.
Richard Neat was the first man to work Pied à Terre’s stoves, winning initial Michelin honours straightaway and doubling them in 1996. However, immediately and abruptly after this achievement, Neat decided he had had enough and quit, moving to France. In his stead stepped in Tom Aikens, who had been sous chef there since 1993. He retained both stars, but was infamously dismissed in 1999 after an incident involving him, one commis chef, a hot knife and a much-argued-over measure of intent. That year, Pied à Terre lost one star. Aikens’ own sous chef, Shane Osborn, was then given his turn at the helm. Allowed time to settle in and steady the ship, he regained the second star in 2003 and has kept it ever since.
Aussie Osborn, born in Perth, where he developed, through his mother’s simple home cooking, a love of food, left his local shores for Europe in 1990, aged twenty. He landed first in Courchevel, France at Michel Rochedy’s Le Chabichou (2*), before moving to Sweden for two years, staying until he ‘became bored’. Then came London, where he briefly worked under Wareing at l’Oranger (1*) before landing a junior sous chef role with Howard at the Square (2*). Two years on, he finally made it to Pied à Terre as Aikens’ sous chef. Since his appointment as head chef, the restaurant has gone from strength to strength, winning back that lost star, overcoming the fire that wrecked it and even spawning baby brother (don’t ask me how that works) l’Autre Pied in 2007. However, it has been a difficult journey, not made any easier by either him and Moore having to re-mortgage their own homes to rebuild the business, or by Osborn’s acute allergies to many everyday ingredients. Aubergines, lemons, limes, mushrooms, red wine, fish (especially cod and plaice) all cause Osborn anaphylactic shocks. Therefore, Roger Ohlffon, senior sous, has to do the tasting and there is always an adrenaline pen on hand with the sous chefs each instructed in its use. This condition has been put down to the unhealthy, hard working lifestyle he followed, spending seventeen hours a day in the kitchen, six days a week, ‘surviving on coffee and cigarettes until 11.30, then a couple of bread rolls for lunch and a risotto or croque monsieur when [he] got home at 1 am’. This cost of success – and it has been some success with Osborn the first Australian to gain Michelin status and the sole to ever hold two stars – has left him with some unforgiving principles: ‘I became a chef to cook, not to appear on some crappy TV show,’ he divulged in an interview, ‘I can’t understand how Ramsay finds time to get into his kitchens. As for Novelli, he probably only visits his kitchens once a month and then only because there’s a mirror in there.’ He believes that ‘if you want two or three stars you should be in the kitchen every day. Your customers expect it,’ – music to every diner’s ears indeed. Even for all this hardship and trouble, he could still never consider giving up the life of a chef, ‘I plan to be here till I croak.’
Pied à Terre first opened on Charlotte Street in 1991. Since then, the road has filled with restaurants offering every cuisine – Italian, Spanish, Indian, Irish, Filipino, Thai, etc – to the advertising and media business that have fled Soho and its high rents. Nestled in a discreet townhouse amidst this multitude, behind black-panelled and large glass façade is hidden a double Michelin-starred sanctuary to haute cuisine. Within the window is a stained glass, George Papadopoulos showpiece showcasing shattered glass splinters splashed with red and cream. The interior has been completely renovated only recently, after a fire in November 2004, caused by the faulty wiring of an ice machine on the third floor, that led to such destruction that the restaurant was forced to close for eleven months while the entire building was restructured and refitted. It is still a narrow and long space, but it now boasts a second-floor private dining room (for 12), a first-floor, black and classy bar, basement kitchen and two ground-floor dining areas (one by the window fitting 12 and the main one opposite, 30). This focal space features, on one side, a creamy leather couch lining the whole wall below a big brown suede canvas; tables along here are square two-seaters. On the other, there is a burgundy-grey banquette beneath a full-width mirror; guests sit around four large circular tables there. Seating consists of box-bottomed, rosewood armchairs designed by Mateo Grassi; the carpet, a mossy weave. Artwork of Hamilton, Blake, Hodgkin and Clare Chapman can be found hanging whilst ceramics have been crafted by Jane Blackman.
Tables are laid with Bernaudaud crockery, Villeroy & Boch crockery and signature cover plates painted with a pinkish-purple African daisy. It is a small room, with diners close together; thus, soft furnishings have been chosen to absorb noise whilst a closed skylight and mirror installed to give the illusion of greater space. It is also rather gloomy within, brightened only by recessed halogen spotlights. The décor has an almost bohemian melancholy to it and there is no discernable sense of luxury.
For dinner, I was given a four-seater to myself – a mixed blessing as the two two-person tables concealed by thick white napery did not meet at the same height. A mini-mountain of jumbo-sized, bright green, Sicilian olives had already been awaiting my arrival and the menus were readily proffered for my perusal. I immediately sought the serveur’s suggestions, and discussing the dishes, I pointed out that I was particularly eager to try the turbot, the duck, the rabbit too…supplements to the ten-course tasting are £8 each, a veritable bargain, meaning I could have my wicked way with the menu. Before finally confirming my order, I was offered a tour of the premises, starting with the kitchens. Here I shared a few words with Shane Osborn, who was friendly, hospitable and talkative. I was shown around, though there was actually little left to show as the cooking area is so very small – after seeing this, I am inclined to take Tom Aikens’ side; several timesI felt that had I not gotten out the way, sharpish, I may have been accidentally tapped by a hot palette knife myself.
Chef Osborn, having heard which items I was interested in, suggested putting something together for me. I accepted and left, seeing the bar and private dining room above, before retaking my seat.
Amuses Bouche: Mushroom Beignet; Shelled Clam; Foie Gras in Filo Pastry; and Broccoli Mousse. A frosted-glass platform carrying four colourful and disparate presents was presented. Immediately, I was reminded of Paris and the array of assorted goodies one gets there instead of this capital’s customary soup cadeaux.
The first morsel, a mushroom beignet wrapped in beetroot julienne and filled with green pea velouté was crunchy and juicy; then a shelled clam, sealed with red pepper, avocado and green olive gazpacho jelly, came creamy, salty and sweet. Foie gras parfait, smooth and rich, sandwiched between two crackly poppy seed pastry feuilles, was the best of the bunch. The last, a little bowl of broccoli mousse, stilton powder, toasted pumpkin seeds and pumpkin oil, had marked yet meek individual flavours.
Les Pains: Poppy Seed Roll; White Roll; Guinness & Star Anise; Walnut & Pecan; Tomato Bun; and Bacon & Onion Bun. One is offered either salted or unsalted butter, both by Pamplie, which is handmade by ten people in Charantes-Poitou; it has a very strong lactic and almost nutty taste to it that took some time to get used to. Freshly baked bread was offered oven-hot throughout the meal: poppy and white rolls had good crunch, but were at times quite dry within; sliced Guinness and star anise had crispy coat and was mildly bittersweet; walnut and pecan was good, with moist crumb and firm crust; whilst the soft, flavourful rolled buns, thickly lined with tomato paste, were excellent. Bacon and onion was available, but went untested.
Entrée 1: Raw Tuna, Globe Artichoke and Walnut Salad, Soft Poached Quail Egg, Walnut Mayonnaise, Baby Rocket, Pickled Grelot Onions. A thin sashimi square of tuna, laid with slivers of marinated artichoke and a thin tranche of its fried fond, walnut pieces, baby rocket, rings of pickled onion and centrally positioned, poached quail egg half, was bounded top and bottom with lines of walnut mayonnaise. The tuna was mild and moist; the flesh’s freshness evident from its cardinal redness. The lemon seasoning of the nutty artichoke and vinegar from the wee, wild Grelots gave the fish some zing. Peppery rocket and light mayonnaise brought bitter touches, whilst the soft-poached egg, even more creaminess.
Entrée 2: Pan-Fried Scallops, Crushed Peas, Shallot Fondue, Lemon Grass Velouté, Chicken Crumb. Two Scottish scallops, separated with slow-cooked shallot slices and powdered with chicken crumbs, but both bathing in lemon grass velouté, sat atop a pedestal of crushed peas, garnished with wood sorrel. The pan-fried molluscs were soft and creamy, though without any customary and craved-for caramelisation. Their sweetness was supplemented by that of the peas and shallots, whilst the sharp sorrel and vibrant velouté, lemony and gingery, enlivened everything. Later, I started to consider that the scallops’ lack of crispy coating was calculated to complement the melting shallots and mushy peas.
Entrée 3: Roast Teal, Red Cabbage, Parsnip, Trompette de Mort. Today’s special was a starter of roasted teal breast, resting upon a bed of braised red cabbage and strewn with black trompettes, plated with parsnip purée and moutarde de Meaux sauce; two parsnip tuiles, apple slices and baby rocket decorated the dish. The wild duck was well-cooked leaving it deep garnet, like it should be. Its savour, smoky and liverish, however, was too strong for the accompanying ingredients and almost too powerful to be palatable. The sweetness of the crunchy cabbage, parsnip and apple was welcome, but insufficient succour; neither was the nutlike, grainy mustard, matching with the mushrooms, able to compete with it. The remaining elements were all rather good, balancing each other’s nutty, sweet, earthy flavours pleasingly, but they were simply overwhelmed by the bird.
Entrée 3: Roasted Veal Sweetbread with Gherkin Velouté, Jerusalem Artichoke Purée, Autumn Truffle, Shallot and Madeira Sauce. Sweetbread, on a cushion of curly kale and capped with a crisp of Jerusalem artichoke and slices of truffle, all sitting within a circular tuile-ring of potato topped with more truffle, was sprinkled with diced artichoke, drizzled with Madeira and shallot jus and served with gherkin velouté and artichoke purée. The pan-roasted gland, coated thinly with perky gherkin powder, was meaty and creamy; the cabbage-like kale leaves, earthy autumn truffle, crispy artichoke and brittle potato band provided a plethora of textures and tastes to set off the sweetbread. The sticky Madeira sauce, nuttiness of the artichoke bits and gherkin emulsion widened the savour spectrum further with sharp, sugary richness. Here, the might of the many components was still concentrated, but much better controlled; the focal sweetbread was neither suppressive nor submissive.
Plat Principal 1: Poached Monkfish in a Caraway Crust, Watercress Compote, Sauteed Cauliflower, Oyster and Red Wine Sauce. Fillet of monkfish, encrusted with caraway seeds and seated upon watercress compote, came alongside oyster tempura layered with sautéed cauliflower; roast baby onion under chervil leaf, red wine jus, purée of watercress and of cauliflower accompanied. On one side, succulent, but rather bland monkfish, slow cooked sous vide, caked in tangy-sweet caraway was placed upon moist yet firm compote of leaf and stalk; on the other, crispy, mildly mineral oyster was set beneath brittle Brassica florets. Creamy cauliflower purée, caramelised onion and aniseed chervil counteracted stronger, peppery puréed watercress and intense red wine. The oyster, cauliflower and cress had deep pungency and earthy taste, whilst the thick, steak-like fish, sadly no taste at all.
Plat Principal 2: Rabbit Saddle Wrapped in Autumn Truffle and Parsnip, Boudin of Confit Leg and Smoked Celery Emulsion. Rabbit, three ways – two baby ballotines of roasted saddle bound within black truffle then parsnip; boudin blanc made of potato tuile-coil crammed with confit leg; and crisps of skin – was teamed with rabbit offal, thin radish slices, parsnip purée and segment, wood sorrel and more truffle with a mizzle of celery emulsion and truffle jus. Taking the initial step of slicing open one of the little wraps unleashed unexpected and magically deep truffle musk. A bite of the meaty, soft robed rabbit brought with it delicate gaminess, nutty sweetness and strong mushroom. The confit tasted better, maybe: smooth, savoury rich leg was scrumptious, its intricate, super-crispy casing a perfect partner. Celeriac emulsion had good body and harmonised with the parsnip well; rabbit kidney and liver melted in the mouth; the skin was smoky; whilst the radish and sorrel supplied the softest pepper.
Le Fromage: Truffle Vacherin. An unanticipated and, dare I say it, unwanted cheese course came next: Vacherin Mont D’Or, mixed through with truffles was served with both walnut and poppy seed seasoned crisps. Made with raw Montbéliard cow’s milk in Franche-Comté, by the Alps, this seasonal cheese was almost liquid with strong nuttiness; something which the truffle, though weak, was able to pick up. The walnut and poppy tuiles, sweeter and smokier respectively, were its decent accessories. It was an altogether alright, but I could not help thinking it was not worth giving up a dessert for…
Pre-dessert: Apple Mousse, Rhubarb Velouté, Yoghurt Crumble, Ginger Syrup. Almost foamy acidic apple mousse, sprinkled with crunchy yogurt crumbs, floated in pink velouté of tart rhubarb and sharp, citrusy ginger coulis. The fruits and spice worked well together, warming and tingling the taste buds, which the sourness of the crumble then cooled.
Dessert 1: Chestnut Mousse Wrapped in Chocolate Pancake, Chocolate Sabayon, Pedro Ximenez gelée, Tonka Bean Ice Cream. Coco pancake cylinder, chock-full of chestnut mousse, and a quenelle of caramel and tonka bean ice cream, implanted with chocolate tuile, was dished with cocoa crumbs, roasted chestnuts chips, gobbets of Pedro Ximenez gelée, spherules of choc sabayon and circles of chocolaty sauce. The delicate pancake held sugary, earthy mousse which went well with the nicely mild, but honeyed and dark sherry jelly and the cool, sweet ice cream. Valrhona 66% Caraïbe was a good chocolate choice, adding a mellower, woody, almond and roasted coffee flavour. Crispy tuile and crunchy crumbs were a pleasant textural change.
Dessert 2: Bitter Sweet Chocolate Tart, Stout Ice Cream and Macadamia Nut Cream. A beautiful block of bittersweet chocolate came with a scoop of stout ice cream set with coco tuile, splash of macadamia foam and roasted nut halves on a smearing of choc sauce. The Valrhona 64% Manjari made for a deep, dense mousse that tasted delicious. Nutty, light foam was sapid, whilst the Young’s Chocolate Stout, Pacojet-ed (using a frozen mixing method) into ice cream, was smooth, smoky and bitter. The nuts – native to Australia, like the chef – added bite and buttery richness. The full flavour of the chocolate and its sheer dark intensity turned this into an accomplished signature dessert.
Petit Fours: Café et Petit Fours. A cornucopia of cakes, titbits and bonnes bouches was brought over; fifteen pieces on three plates and a wood-wire ‘toast rack’ (mind you, I promise no one will ever be chastised for giving me too many sweets). For the sake of posterity, I will have to list them all: lemon caramel with coconut; hazelnut meringue; pistachio and pine nut salted caramel chocolate box; banana caramel-foam gingerbread-crumb cup; pink praline tart; Scotch whisky chocolate truffle; mandarin jelly; chocolate fudge with passion fruit crumbs; fairy cake with Chantilly; and orange, coconut and chocolate crisps. Highlights included the sugary, crumbly meringue, salty chocolate box and smooth fudge; the lowlight was the three types of tuile that all tasted the same. Espresso was good and, delightfully, free refills were offered.
Let me start, ominously, with what I did like. The staff were good: each was friendly, helpful and never did they keep me waiting for food, bread, water or bill; Julien, my principal serveur was charming and informative (although I did catch him studying his cue cards a couple of times); and the hostess, Jacqueline, all kindness and consideration. The restaurant was terrifically flexible in letting me order whatever I wanted, substituting and supplementing happily. There was also the generosity and effort that went into the amuses and petit fours. One cannot help but also be amazed and appreciative of the skill, concentration and simply time that went into preparing these difficult, complex plates. Take, for instance, those deep-fried potato tuile-coils – tiny string-like spud shavings affixed to each other and curled into a circle before being cooked and carefully positioned. Having seen the kitchen, so small and cramped, I am even more impressed by the intensity of the labour employed.
Now then, my first grievance: my menu. You may have noticed the dishes I singled out when reading the menu were rather different to those that were served. Where was the turbot? Where was the foie gras – yes, the same one Campion claims ‘a straight-sets winner’ and Coren had double helpings of? Where was the duck? Where was the warning that cheese was coming? I thought I had made it rather obvious what I liked the look of and that I was in the mood to sample a fat selection of different dishes. Where was the turbot? O, I mentioned that already, haven’t I? Well, to be honest, I would not have cared half as much about what I had if I had had that blasted turbot too. But, in all fairness, this was not entirely their fault; I allowed the chef to ‘put something together’ and I accepted that it be a surprise.
This leads to my second grumble: the food. Had I been wowed by what I got, I would never have complained about what I missed. Admittedly, there were bright spots – sweetbreads, rabbit, desserts, maybe even the scallops – but these were squeezed in between too many forgettables or basically not-agreeables – tuna; teal; monkfish; cheese, pre-dessert. Only a couple of moments from the meal will remain in my memory: the slicing open of the rabbit ballotine and letting loose of that lovely, heady scent of truffle; and the density of the chocolate tart – thick tarts are so hard to find. Maybe, as dinner wore on, I started to appreciate the food more, but only after really trying. I had to teach myself the secret to enjoying these dishes; trying the individual elements on the plate was boring, unexciting and even flavourless, but when eaten altogether, then the food was lifted to another, higher level. It seemed that each item had a use – taste, temperature or texture and usually only one of these – which only came through in combination with the other bits. This is an admirable intention and, of course, the best dishes always deliver a sum greater than their parts, but this is also the most challenging sort of cooking (for both chef and consumer). My major issues were with having to spend the whole evening ever-loading full forks or spilling-over spoons with as many ingredients as possible and then doing my best Graham-Wallace-sucking-his-cutlery imitation in the hope of being able to like the food. And on top of that, the intermittent ‘highs’ were simply not high enough.
Lastly, and again I hate to bring this up, but it is becoming all too frequent, instead of the £8.50 I was told additional courses would cost, they charged me an extra £13.50 for the second dessert.
I guess the chief point is that I came here, a two star restaurant, not for essential sustenance, but for pure pleasure; a little pampering and food that will have me oohing and aahing. Instead, hedonistic gratification became hard graft (well, allow me some poetic license). At this level, I just want expect a more consistently enjoyable and considerably more memorable dinner.
This was, in one word, underwhelming. Based on this experience, anyone getting terribly excited over Pied à Terre, would do well keeping their feet firmly on the ground.
34 Charlotte Street, Soho W1T 2NH
tel: 020 7636 1178
nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road