I know that excellent restaurants are no longer impossible to find in London. Quite the opposite: Fine dining is now an essential element in the city’s social scene, and Michelin stars are scattered across London. Still, I was taken aback by just how much we enjoyed a small French restaurant called Pied à Terre on our recent trip to this world capital, and how it sets a very high standard for other restaurants (everywhere) to follow.
Without doubt, one big reason why we had such a wonderful time (a four-hour lunch!) was the company: my wife Jan’s witty cousin, David, and his charming wife, Christine. Jan hadn’t seen them in years, and I had never met them, and we all got along famously.
Still, the restaurant itself contributed immensely to the pleasure of this family reunion. Here’s a look at how it succeeds, and why it has earned two Michelin stars.
Ambience and location: Pied à Terre is in the city’s west end, at 34 Charlotte Street. It’s a small restaurant, tastefully decorated and elegant, but certainly not stuffy. We receive a welcome that’s warm and friendly; we’re seated promptly at a round table in a corner; and it’s clear from the number of staff that we’ll be well looked after.
Service: Throughout, the service was impeccable — friendly but never over-the-top. It seemed that at least half of the staff members were French, and we moved easily back and forth between English and French.
Value: For the regular lunch menu, a two-course meal (entrée plus plat principal) is a fairly hefty 60 pounds. However, the restaurant also offers a special two-course lunch menu at only 23.5 pounds; for each of the two courses, you can choose between two items on offer. All four of us chose that less-expensive option, and were very happy.
Transparent communications: This may seem like a strange feature in a restaurant, but that’s because it’s so rare. The menu at Pied à Terre was not only well written, easy to read, and easy to understand, but open — describing the restaurant’s charitable activities and outlining not only its policy on its service charges (12.5%) but how the money is divided up among the staff.
Portions: To my mind, there are few things less appetizing in a good restaurant than huge portions of food, hanging off the plates. At Pied à Terre, the portions are fairly small — and might even seem too small, if it weren’t for the fact that you receive a lot of extras. So we came away from the meal feeling well-fed but not stuffed.
The extras: Among the extra touches, of course, there was a wonderful choice of breads. But there was also a very good amuse bouche, a small extra dessert (served before the cheese course that Christine and I ordered), and an amazing display of mignardises (those tiny sweets that often finish a meal in a fine restaurant).
Now to the meal itself. We began with kirs, and ordered two bottles of wine for the lunch — a white and a red. And here’s a look at some of the food, starting with the amuse bouche — a selection of items including (at the left) a chorizo cream.
For the entrée or appetizer course, I had the tartare of mackerel. A modest serving, but cool and delicious.
For our main courses, all four of us ordered the duck breast. It was perfectly cooked, amazingly tender, and served with an attractive mix of roast vegetables.
After the entrée and plat principal, you can order a dessert or a selection of cheeses for an additional 6 pounds; both Christine and I chose the cheese. And this is how to do a cheese plate, folks — an attractive selection of flat breads that were actually delicious and just the right texture (not fall-apart-flaky, and not break-your-teeth crunchy); three nicely sized portions of cheese, at the right temperature (that is, not cold); and tasty accompaniments, like cherry preserves.
And at the end, those mignardises I mentioned earlier. Check out not only the display, but also Christine’s French manicure — how perfect is that?
And when it was all done, we climbed into the taxi that had been ordered for us, made our way back to the Savoy, and took the last place available in the hotel’s American Bar for a final farewell cocktail. Ah, bliss.