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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

L' Autre Pied

The day: December 12th 2008, Lunch.
The place: 5-7 Blandford Street, Marylebone Village, London W1U 3DB
The venue: L’ Autre Pied
The food: French
The drinks: Nice, well priced and ranged selection, also in smaller sizes (glasses, 460ml pot).

(Note: Chef Marcus Eaves has moved to Pied a Terre since this review)
Let's check this sister operation of bi-starred Pied a Terre, with Chef Marcus Eaves in command of the kitchen, before the crazed praises of the critics, the powerful patrons and public relation machine behind it, and the inevitable Michelin star bring it into the price stratosphere.
As you can see, we come in pretty cynical and disenchanted - we have learned enough by now of how things work in the restaurant business. Will we come out equally disenchated? Let's see.
The interior is Arbutus style, minimalistic, stark, with unclothed tables (there are however pseudomats (rubber?) encased in the tables), and floral, modernist (apparently handmade) decorations on a glass partition and on the wall adding some curvy lines to the linear interior.
The menu offers several possibilities. There's Sunday menu affording a four course lunch at £34.50. A la carte choices for the starters are in the £9-14 range and for mains in the £16-20 range. The seven course tasting menu is at £52. But there is a temptingly well priced menu du jour (lunch) and pre-theater at £21 for three course. We take advantage of another very reasonable looking three course Sunday Lunch menu for £26.50 (it also includes a complimentary Bellini
on arrival).
When we order our courses we ask the Italian waiter to take our wine order too, and we’ll be punished by the sommelier/waiter who will just place the bottle on the table without making us try it – this is a first.
The bread arrives:
Served warm and with nice butter, but really they won't win a star for this.
For starters we had chosen:
- Caramelised onion veloute’, cannellini beans, smoked olive oil
- Lasagna of game, chanterelle mushrooms, chestnut foam

Man takes the first sip the veloute’ and Woman the first dig into the lasagna. They look at each other, and they instantly realize, without exchanging a word but just a delighted expression, that they agree: this is not an ordinary place. This instant recognition is a rare experience (so different, for example from the highly acclaimed and already starred One Lombard Street).
The layered flavours emanating so clearly from both dishes are striking. The veloute’ has a sweet acidic background, perfect thickness, balance, charme, with the cannelloni slightly ‘al dente’ (let’s say), and the olive oil, as always, making the dish soar.
The lasagna is ever so fine, packing concentrated, moist, soft, beautiful game. The dish is nicely presented on a slate tile (quite fashionable of late, but not very comfortable, though), the various components integrating very well in terms of texture and flavour.
We are looking forward to our mains:
- Aged (how much?) sirloin of Angus beef, caramelized cauliflower puree’, shallot fondant, roasting juices (£3 supplement)
- Roasted breast of pheasant, Savoy cabbage, Puy lentils, and red wine sauce

The beef has a reasonably deep flavour and a great texture. In our book this is cooked longer, and so is drier, than the 'rare' we had asked for. The roasting juices are nice and sharp, and can be soaked up by an admirable, floury side puree,

but the shallot fondant... the shallot fondant is an explosion of goodness from another world (the caramelised cauliflower puree was there, fine and beautiful and surely adding moisture and richness of flavour –Eaves likes caramelized stuff, obviously- but in a dish already so rewarding it did not register a deep impression on us).
The pheasant, too, while its meat was very pleasant on the palate, could have been cooked more sympathetically – it was slightly drier than the best samples we’ve had (recently here for example), and with some bitterness on the outside. We think there’s some scope for improvement in the cooking here. The sweet wine sauce was extremely apt, and so was the Savoy cabbage, with a tangy push coming from somewhere (citrus fruit?). The lentils, the baby onion and the beetroot created a full vegetable taste spectrum which we appreciated.
We are already happy, but here are are the desserts:
- Apple and blackberry crumble, bayleaf custard, blackberry sorbet
- Warm custard of Valrhona chocolate, Passion fruit icecream

The apple crumble is superb, the volatile bayleaf delicately permeating the whole dish and our nostrils and providing an unmistakable background character, integrating absolutely smoothly with the rest, the delightful pistachios, the sorbet, the crumble in a feast of assorted zingness and sweetness.
We were initially skeptical about the chocolate and passion fruit combination, but we were completely won over by the idea and the execution. The ‘custard’ is a sort of divinely airy liquid mousse (if this renders the idea) with apple bits. The ice cream is just as creamy as we like it (you know we are fussy about icecream), perfect and tangy, enriched by a crunchy help from the hazelnuts. With such delicate yet intense flavours, this dessert was frighteningly good.
A bottle of Syrah Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes Jean Luc Jamet 2006 at £29.60, the water at £3.50 (you won’t be frowned upon if you ask tap water), the £3.00 supplement for the beef, and the usual 12.5% service charge, brought the total to £96.30, truly great value for this level of cuisine.
The service was cheerful and friendly and chatty, though not yet at a level matching the food. The waiter described the dishes wrongly, somehow defeating the purpose of this usual litany you are subjected to in 'high-end' restaurants while the dish cools off. The sommelier or wine waiter was forever offended and distant. It being Sunday, however, the big manager wasn't there to keep a look on things.
We had a most impressive lunch. Marcus Eaves is clearly a young chef of superior talent who prepares interesting, expressive and controlled dishes. It's not bistro cusine, by a long strech, but rather a form of haute cusine firmly and pleasantly anchored on the ground: no foamy bullshit here. Not that everything was perfect: the cooking precision in both our mains left something to be desired, for example (to be fair, being Sunday the kitchen boss wasn’t there either – so things may be different on weekdays). But this is definitely cuisine that comfortably passes the one star level (and one day maybe even more) . So, we came in cycnical and we came out mollified. We are glad we went in the first year of its opening, and we suggest you hurry up, too!
(Added on 18 January 2009: of course we were right: L'AP has just got its Michelin star).


Anonymous said...

I tried this place in November (I think?) and enjoyed it too, so glad to hear you liked it.
Completely agree with your assessment that Marcus is a talented chef with a lot of potential.

I also liked that crumble.

I think I had the same waiter as you did; it was maybe his second day when I went and I guess is still getting to grips with the menu.

P.S. Nice photographs (no one will be holding their noses with these) :P

Frequent Traveler said...

The shallot fondant looked and sounded incredibly good !

Unknown said...

I had just finished making my wish list of restaurants to visit in 2009 and looks like I am going to have to add another...

Man-Woman said...

Nice to see you all here, and Happy 2009!

Foodsnob, glad we are in agreement on L'AP

Judging from your review of PATerre, which we haven't reviewed, maybe it's a case of the pupil surpassing the master...

Anonymous said...

I stumbled on your blog via Loving Annie's. Love your indepth reviews - I have read 1 Lombard, Autre Pied and Chapter One so far. I've incidentally been to both Autre Pied and Chapter One recently (the former thanks to Foodsnob). I was quite keen to try 1 Lombard but thanks to your review I think I will give it a miss. Keep up the good work and Happy new Year.


p/s I have added your link to my blog

Man-Woman said...

Hi genuiness,
glad you enjoyed our review, and very nice meeting you in ether!
browsing your blog now...

Anonymous said...

Well...I certainly preferred the meal I had here to PaT.
That said, my PaT review was possibly the most 'reacted against' of all my posts.
Maybe I was just unlucky!

Douglas Blyde said...

Happy New Year, E-D-M-W!

I am so glad that you had a better time here then my experience.

I came across their sommelier some months after the meal in a professional capacity. She recognised me from my image on my review and was swift to admonish me for writing such a scathing review.

In all honesty, though, I just found the cooking conceited and lacking any discernible charisma.

Well, we write what we experience, don't we?

Man-Woman said...

Happy New year to you Douglas!

Indeed, it's good to have different perspectives in the community of bloggers, focussing on different aspects, otherwise can you imagine what boring reading if all our reviews were replicas of each other!

all the best,


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