Like you, I eat out whenever I can. I’ve eaten shawarma at a kebab house suspected of using dog meat. I’ve had barbecued sea bass at a dusky seaside in Rhodes. I once haggled for a free ‘Chicken Tikka’ panini from Upper Crust in Victoria Coach Station. If I find myself somewhere that offers food, whether it’s a motorway services Shell Garage or the complimentary yet somehow reluctant ‘would-you-like-something-to-eat’ at a friend’s house, I usually take it.
But none of these experiences prepared me for ‘eating out’ at Pied à Terre. It’s the best restaurant on Charlotte St, which is a bit like being the most accomplished liar in Westminster. The competition is extremely fierce.
This puts Pied à Terre, recently refurbished and with a Michelin star to its name, high in the running for best restaurant in London. The magnificent 10-course tasting menu with wine is over £170. But it’s not as inaccessible as it might first seem: there’s a two-course lunch menu for £27.50. From the first mouthful, you know you’re in the hands of the masters. Your sense of taste is gracefully led through a procession of vivid flavour arrangements, with every need and whim already anticipated.
Drinking here is not only the necessary compliment to the savouriness of dinner; it becomes something transformative. Wine is served preceding its partnered dish, but anonymously; sip it, see what you think, and then try it with the food. Only after you’ve finished the dish will the sommelier arrive at your table to let you in on the secret.
Sound intrusive? In lesser hands, it would be. All three of our waiters are excellent company: warm, conversational and thoughtful. We’re tempted to invite them to sit down and join us for the meal. Their knowledge adds something special to the meal, without making you feel ignorant. About half way through and I’m already looking out for the next sommelier-interlude. The service is world-class.
Judged solely on its diversity, the winelist here is imperious. They’ve got some serious firepower. A Müller-Thurgau 1984, from the Mosel valley region in Germany, stands out. With a domineering, glowing acidity balancing out the oiliness of the fish, it lingers long on the tongue with the determination of good honey. Honourable mention goes to the crisp, aromatic Torrontes Mendoza of Argentina.
It’s almost tempting to position Pied à Terre closer to the theatre, than to other restaurants. There’s an element of disguise at play within each dish. Ingredients appear in unexpected forms; a foamy mushroom and truffle soup unlike you’ve ever tasted, delicate moments of fish bathed in veloutés and juses and sauces. Flavours arise in symphony, making it difficult to discern what’s happening beyond a strong sense of enjoyment. Marcus Eaves, the Michelin-starred head chef, deploys these dishes like a virtuoso conducting an orchestra.
Each dish gleefully detonates its particular, finely tuned flavour without flashiness or excess. Nothing is left to chance. Halibut with tarragon, lemon and carrot is a revitalising riot of fresh, zingy flavours. Roasted leg and breast of partridge with sweetcorn and truffle carries a molten heat and a swaggering, sophisticated gamey punch. Scallop ceviche with avocado creme fraiche, red pepper and ice-wine vinaigrette is a free-flowing rally of breezy but decisive flavours, a reminder that this is a kitchen wholly in command of its craft.
On and on it goes – we arrive at seven o’clock, and we’re not out before 11pm – a choreography of flavours, dinner and drink conducted in what was once your mouth. It’s a testament to the imagination and skill of the team here that nothing here feels too familiar, tired or predictable. Without relying on gimmicks, David Moore’s team have crafted a dining experience that will thrive in the memory long after the last dirty burger chain has died out.
Pied à Terre
34 Charlotte Street
Tel: 020 7636 1178