There’s something appealing about sticking to your principles. Pieds Nus – ‘barefoot’ in French – certainly does. It has a more coherent belief system than most world leaders. Their philosophy proposes that ingredients, spared from the intensity of high-temperature cooking, should be at the very heart of each dish. Each plate is a combination of one or two main characters, combined in such a way as to draw out the most intense flavours they have to offer. The menu consists of an elite crop of 12 dishes. And no dish costs in excess of £12.50.
Every aspect of Pieds Nus has the noble feel of an artist making art for art’s sake – there are no frills, no gilded tablecloths, and the dining room is so small that you can smell the food on your neighbour’s plate. It is, after all, only a temporary pop-up, a thought-experiment of the celebrated restauranter David Moore to see if this sort of thing could be pulled off.
All the surrounding props come second to the food and the service, both of which are impeccable – the waiting staff are not only knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the food they serve, but our waiter also seems to have a sixth sense for knowing exactly what we need next. This isn’t one of those nonsense diners with their menus full of marketing copy and stock photos of smiling children. Pieds Nus aims higher.
Each dish gives you the impression of perfectionism, as if it only made the menu after beating off competition from a host of pretenders. What remains is a literate, composed and coherent alliance of plates which are diverse in their own way and yet give the impression of togetherness and symphony. Starters are appropriately bare, but in each bite you can detect the hand of an expert, whether it’s in the satisfying crunch of the flatbread or of the deceptively delicate texture of the Paleta Iberica D.O.P.
The ‘main’ courses are all sharing plates. Slow-cooked duck egg hides in a mound of potato paste with shaved truffle on top: it’s an almighty kick of umami, simultaneously substantial and runny, but intensely salty. It’s erased from my palate by a fantastic interpretation of ceviche, which might just be the pick of a very good bunch. Scallops are bathed in fennel seed oil and cool cucumber, balancing out the bite of citrus which so often overpowers ceviche. Intelligent composition gives it a breezy lightness, delicate and sweet, a rejuvenation of the senses.
Seared yellow fin tuna, covered in pepper and fragments of black olives, is a colourful riot of flavours. There’s rose veal tartare with celeriac and bone marrow and truffle, rich and powerful; Gressingham duck breast with buttery turnips and quince, and spiced lamb neck, cooked at precisely 82.2 degrees, with aubergine and cous cous. The contrast between the interior and the exterior of the lamb is striking: there’s a sharp, flaky crunch on the outside, with a delicate stewed softness inside. I’ll have to cook at 82.2 more often.
Desserts are not quite inventive as you’d imagine, but are nonetheless very well executed. While the Banana Financier does not show up with a scientific calculator to hand, our plate did feature a clique of fluffy banana cakes surrounded by discs of banana floating in syrup. Pieds Nus’ version of New York cheesecake is a revelation, though – it has the consistency of actual cheese, as if it were topped with brie. Partnered with an authentic and fresh blackberry ice-cream, it’s proof that even the most predictable of puddings can feel wholly new and original – especially when you stick to your principles.
19 Blandford Street
Tel: 020 7486 3353