Pied à Terre is like a shy celebrity: it boasts an impressive reputation but the restaurant itself shies away from the limelight to focus purely on crafting perfect food.
Pied à Terre’s main aesthetic ethos seems to be understatement and discretion. The grey sign outside certainly doesn't give away many clues that this is an award-winning restaurant: in fact, you may not even notice it, lost in the sea of other establishments shouting for attention in Charlotte Street. Likewise, nothing shouts particularly loudly indoors: the décor resembles more a quiet whisper.
There is a bar upstairs and a private function area on the second floor, but the heart of the restaurant are the two rooms just past the entrance. Both feature simple, if still very attractive, fittings, as well as discreet, unobtrusive artwork covering the walls. It's a demure décor - as it should be where food takes centre stage.
You'll probably be conscious of being in a sophisticated, very high-end establishment from the very start. The atmosphere is ever so slightly forced and you might wonder who feels truly comfortable in what's a pretty rarefied environment. The staff gravitate around the tables much more than normal and you may find the experience slightly suffocating, but if this is embarrassingly noticeable when the restaurant is still empty (you will automatically whisper since any conversations seem too banal to allow to reverberate across the room), things improve greatly when the space fills up with people and their chatter.
Exquisite and impeccably presented, the cuisine is so ‘haute’ that it feels like trespassing the threshold of comprehension for us mere mortals: maybe this is indeed food for the gods. The menu is concise, with a handful of options for starters and mains (£60 or £95 for the tasting menu) and about half on the (very admirable) vegetarian menu.
The pan-fried Scottish scallops with baby artichokes, gremolata, Iberico ham and lemon verbena jus gras merges magisterially unexpected ingredients into a classic, while the unassuming salad of raw and pickled winter vegetables and toasted sunflower seeds avoids feeling like a simple addition thanks to the superbly light artichoke mousse and fragrant, but discreet, carrot oil. The poached quail eggs with crushed Jerseys, summer truffles, smoked peas and broad beans is divine - topped with delicious mini chips and shavings of truffle, the dish is rich and diverse, leaving a rounded aftertaste. The pan-fried fillet of halibut with sweet garlic puree, crayfish and summer savoury emulsion sounds simple, but this straightforward dish is taken to a new level of quality, boasting some remarkable flavours that really excite the palate.
Desserts (£15) are traditional, but elaborate. The pre-dessert amuse-bouche of rice pudding, apricot compote and coconut cream is deliciously light, as is the apricot and honey parfait with sable biscuit. Definitely make sure you order the tea with petit four (£5) - the finger-size sweets are served in a functional glass sculpture but are a stunning way to end your dinner - and a genuine sensory delight.
The wine selection is predictably good, with a sommelier on duty to guide you through the exhaustive list. Whites and reds start from an affordable £28 for a bottle of Californian Sangiovese escalating to more than £200 for the French Meursault, 1er cru Charmes. Rarer options (such as the Hungarian Tokaji) find space alongside classics from the new and old world in a list that looks at quality as well as pedigree. Wines are also available by the glass (£5.50-£12.50), although wine flights (one glass is selected for each dish of the tasting menu, £58-£90 or £70 for Champagnes) have already been arranged if you are stuck for choice, or just downright lazy.
The Last Word
The food at Pied à Terre makes the surroundings blur out of focus: a feat which only the best restaurants can manage. When nothing else is left to entertain and distract, you can only concentrate on what’s on your plate, which happens to be some of the very best food in London.