It’s not very often my husband and I go out together these days, mainly out of reluctance to take too much advantage of family or let a complete stranger look after our little darling (just yet). So when we got the rare opportunity last week, we grabbed it with both hands. Trouble is, we were genuinely puzzled as to where to go. Now, as you can imagine when an opportunity like this is rare you don’t want to stuff it up and so we scoured through endless reviews from several critics to intriguing foodie-bloggers and even the great unwashed (remind me never to go on TripAdvisor again!).
We went from deciding on Kai – a michelin starred chinese, which is rarely talked about except as we found out, to say bad things. To Hibiscus – where we shared a fantastic dinner some years back and which we heard has recently had a face lift. Then back to Kai, and then as if in a flash of genius, hubby remembered a cracking work dinner he had been to some time back in L’Autre Pied. I was unsure but despite my long restaurant wish list, couldn’t counteract with anything more romantic-looking. Besides, we’d dined at it’s big sister Pied e’ Terre exactly three years before. I have fond memories of that night; deeply indulgent and intoxicating, involving an exquisite tasting menu and a seemingly never-ending wine flight.
Upon entering L’Autre Pied, on a rather cold and blustery day, I noticed that it wasn’t too dissimilar to its big sister. For instance, black walls form the backdrop to a darkly lit and intimate room but there were subtle differences, such as invisible table linen, which told you this was a more chilled affair. Thankfully this laid back approach did not extend to the food and by course no.2 of our tasting menu we quickly saw why it was awarded and has retained its star.
Hubby went for the vegetarian tasting menu whilst I, being a pescetarian, had the best of both worlds. Swapping only one meat dish – the Sika deer – in what was predominantly a pescetarian’s dream. Interestingly, the signature and vegetarian tasting menu’s are almost identical in ingredients except the fish element, which was nice to see as it meant we could discuss our dishes and compare notes. More importantly, it also indicated to me that the establishment had a deep respect for its food and its diners, rather than providing some second rate slop as an veggie alternative. A tell tale sign of good things to come.
And indeed there were good things in store. Several in fact. A ceviche of scallops combined with crunchy black quinoa, a dollop of creme fraiche and a vibrant accompaniment of radishes, fennel and dill blew my tastebuds with a refreshing yet sharp citrus dressing to boot.
A dish of squid linguini was cooked to perfection so that I wasn’t chewing at it for hours and complemented with an unusual yet somehow delicious medley of smoked anchovies (which I’ve always avoided like the plague, so well done you chef), pine nuts and dried grapes.
Grilled mackerel, a dish I keenly awaited and which did not disappoint, melted in the mouth. Each morsel dipped in apple tapioca (which was thankfully rather subtle), crunchy hazelnuts and a light miso.
Onto the Megrim sole, a lesser known flat fish to the more commonly encountered dover or lemon sole. The fish was marinaded and served alongside freshly steamed purple sprouting broccoli with the metallic richness of iron, and a swipe of cauliflower and soybean puree. Hubby’s alternative dish was a little different here, offering up instead a soft poached hens egg, mushroom beignet, cep marmalade and hay veloute. A dish he quite happily consumed, enjoying the subtle smokiness of the veloute. Unfortunately we’d only noticed that the beignet was missing when reviewing the menus post the dish. Whether this was a kitchen error or the menu was incorrect, we do not know. Either way it would have been a nice addition but certainly not crucial.
At this point I was beginning to fill up, having been absent from the tasting menu game for some time. However, I loosened up my belt (quite literally) and got on with it. My soul demanded it and my taste buds yearned for more. So on we went to the last of the ‘mains’ – the glazed aubergine with sambal (a spicy chilli-based sauce), black olives, pine nuts and rosemary. Here is my only criticism. The aubergine cooked three ways; glazed and roasted, fried as crisps, pulverised into a baba ganoush style puree, worked well with the franco-philed sambal (so that it only had a mild heat). The black olives however were too salty and overpowering and did little for, if not take away from, the dish. A small yet important error in what was so far a pretty decent meal.
Five courses down, sigh. We were moving into sweeter territory but first the cheese board. I don’t know about you but I never really get excited by the cheese board. Don’t get me wrong. I love cheese. I’d happily eat it in large chunks whilst loafing on the sofa but I’m more of a Cheddar or red Leicester girl. Or, if I’m pushing the boat out, Comte. So I was most surprised to find we’d made a pretty decent dent into our selection. All four had disappeared and we were left with a stinking bishop we were anxiously hoping would be taken away before the foul-smelling waft killed us.
A pre dessert of apple cream and banana custard with pistachios reminded me of the purees I make for our baby (‘Ah so this is what it tastes like!). It didn’t quite excite but it wasn’t particularly offensive either, so I wolfed it down nonetheless. The final dish of our menu – pineapple carpaccio with coconut and lime – was something we were keen to taste, having just had one a week before, at Bread Street Kitchen. One almost wonders whether a little culinary plagiarism had taken place between these two but the finished dish here was quite different to that offered by Gordon’s establishment. At L’Autre Pied, the carpaccio was much more sharper in its lime treatment but this was excellently balanced by the coconut sorbet and by the different textures of the yoghurt; in its original state, as a mousse, an in an almost marshmallow like sphere.
One amuse bouche, seven courses, one pre dessert, one bottle of wine, two full bellies and a lot of grinning later, our evening at L’Autre Pied came to an end and I have to say I really liked it. Its understated in its look and feel but the attention to detail as far as the food is concerned is superb (the photos don’t do it justice, did I mention its dark lit in there).
Staff are truly welcoming and our waitress on the night took great care of us throughout. The sommelier too, actually asked and listened to our requirements, rather than arrogantly ignoring and shamelessly upselling. So it was rather to my surprise that I read this review by the critical couple. I can only think that the restaurant has upped it game over the last few years and I’d have no doubt in recommending you get your foodie behind there soon-ish, to discover just how good it is.