Pied à Terre
34 Charlotte Street
London W1T 2NH
Tel. 020 76361178
Food type: French
Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road
Andy McFadden has now taken over the kitchens of Pied a Terre for almost a year now. My meal back in January was very good and I was very keen to see what his cooking was like having had more time to settle into the kitchen and getting his team up to speed with his style of cooking. I so happen to be in London for another medical update course and decided to pop in for a ‘quick’ lunch. Julien and Matthieu were around today and as usual offered to organise some food for me to go with the wine I wanted to drink. The dining room was pretty packed during lunch which can only be a good sign given how many top Michelin starred restaurants around the area are struggling to attract customers in despite the cheap lunch menu.
I began the meal with a glass of Champagne Varnier-Fanniere and some canapés. I like Matthieu’s approach to the wine and champagnes list, eschewing the big name labels which are often very mediocre relative to their price, for smaller growers who produce more interesting stuff. Todays canapés were brand new. First a crab cracker with seaweed powder and taramasalata had excellent crab flavour and was a subtle nod to Heston’s crab biscuit. Andy had previously been toying with this element at L’Autre Pied so it is no surprise he has perfected the technique of making the perfect crab biscuit. The second nibble was a polenta croquette with a truffle cream. The polenta had been soft set so that the exterior was crisp but it kept a bit of its oozy with the truffle cream lifting what would otherwise be a very boring ingredient.
The first course was a seasonal tomato gazpacho dish which was perfect start for the warm day. This was not a traditional gazpacho – instead it came in the form of a granita which had lovely tomato flavour and had been infused with all the elements you would associate with a gazpacho. On the bottom were some fresh tomatoes which had been gently marinated and some pistachios to add texture and a little nutty, grassy note to the dish.
This was followed by a crab and turnip salad. Hidden underneath a thin disc of turnip were freshly picked white crab meat which had been lightly seasoned with herbs to bring out the best of the crab flavour. On top was a little Exmoor caviar, its saltiness a perfect accompaniment to the sweetness of the crab. The turnip provided a slightly bitter and peppery note which rounded off the dish very nicely.
We continued on the seafood theme with a squid linguini as described on the menu but more resembled a tagliatelle. Pierre Koffmann made this dish famous with his version at Tante Claire so it was interesting to see Andy’s interpretation of this dish. Indeed, speaking to Andy, he had been doing his version for a while at L’Autre Pied. Thin strips of squid had been gently poached in an aromatic stock and were perfectly timed – the squid was tender and the use of squid ink as a dressing logical. For me, the addition of the buckwheat, little golden seeds of crispiness, was completely genius as it provided texture as well as a nutty note that made the dish special.
One of Andy’s newer signature dishes was the native lobster with the tail gently cooked and tender. The crustacean was draped with a thin slice of lardo di colonnata which gave the lean protein a lovely rich mouthfeel. For texture, there was more of the crispy buckwheat and the whole dish was rounded off with a bisque sauce made from the shells. To enliven the dish, Andy adds a touch of Ras el hanout spice to gently perfume the crustacean without overpowering its natural sweetness. The claw meat was reserved for a salad on the side ensuring that no part of the lobster went to waste. This was truly a standout dish and deserving as its status of the chef’s signature dish.
The final seafood dish of the day was cod which had been cooked sous vide paired with a summery pea and broad bean salad. I am not the biggest fan of sous vide cooking, particularly with fish as it often results in a pappy texture. This is even more apparent with delicate fish such as cod where there fish naturally flakes apart when it is cooked. Here, the cod had been salted beforehand to firm it up so that when it is cooked sous vide, the cod still had some texture to it. I loved this approach to cooking the cod as you get the soft texture from the sous vide process without making it too pappy. The combination of peas, broad beans and bacon – a modern take on petit pois a la francaise was a sensible match for the cod, with a little puffed pork crackling added for texture.
Moving on to some meat courses, first up was an asiette of suckling pig from Richard Vaughn. Alongside the delicate poached loin and crispy confit belly was a home made sausage and chorizo (hiding underneath a slice of turnip). For me, the chorizo was a standout, soft, melt in the mouth, with a good hit of paprika. And who doesn’t like crispy belly which is always a crowd pleaser? I could happily eat a plate of the belly with a nice glass of Alsace Riesling. Despite all the rich elements on the plate, the turnip helped to keep things fresh on the palate.
The last savoury course of the day was lamb which was beautifully pink with a classic old school herb crust and a ratatouille garnish (which was in essence different purees of the elements of ratatouille). A little stuffed courgette flower filled with ricotta provides gentle creamy, slightly acidic relief to the gamey flavours on the plate.
After a small sampling of cheese, I tried a couple of desserts. First was a dessert of gariguette strawberries with a set lemon cream and almond tuile which was refreshing, light and summery. I loved the almond tuile with the caramel taken to the furthest point to highlight the nuttiness of the almond. The final dessert of the day was a reworking of the roast pineapple I had previously with the coconut replaced by a cucumber sorbet which is perfect for summer.
My second meal at Pied a Terre under Andy was even more impressive than the first time around. Dishes here now are more elaborate but without the feeling that they are overworked or overcomplicated. I think that the level of cooking here is very close to a 2* level. However, it really is a mystery how the minds of Michelin work so we will have to wait until the new guide is released in September to find out.