The culinary flotsam washing ashore these days can make one wistful for an ebb tide. Swarthy Turks oversalting steak, Mexican/Korean/Japanese/Italian fusion (pic’n’mix any two from four), unwelcome Trumploads of burger meat. But occasionally, riding the crest so to speak, in surfs a champ.
Bienvenue Anne-Sophie Pic, now ashore by the Thames in the City. Her family’s culinary history is so intense there’s demi-glace coursing through her veins. She’s third generation restaurateur and chef (untrained) with sufficient Michelin Stars to light the Eiffel Tower. Amongst her many trade accolades, try World’s Best Female Chef for starters.
A sunset dinner here, on the terrace overlooking the glistening waters of Lake Geneva towards Evian, is not something to forget in a hurry
While I haven’t been to the 125 year-old family restaurant in Valence, South East France, where she was born and brought up, a second gaff bearing her name, tucked discreetly inside the ultra-luxe Beau-Rivage Palace Hotel in Lausanne, is a memorable experience, and so it should be. A quick glance online at the current menu reveals no main course on the à la carte under €100. The top set menu is €350. A sunset dinner here, on the terrace overlooking the glistening waters of Lake Geneva towards Evian, is not something to forget in a hurry. Or possibly ever.
But fear not Londoners. La Dame de Pic London is the bistro version of Anne-Sophie’s culinary art and has already been road tested in Paris. The prices will not terrify accountants of the suited and booted variety who dine here. If you’re paying your own bill, that’s a different matter. The entry level set lunch is £39 but full al a carte is unlikely to be under £100. If nothing else, your followers on Instagram will love you forever for the imagery, although possibly they might hate you just a little bit too, for being there without them.
La Dame de Pic London opened up inside, and on the same day as, the new Four Seasons Hotel in the City. Commuters and tourists swarming in and out of Tower Hill Underground will recognise the building as the former HQ of the London Port Authority, a massive Grade II listed behemoth, with tower and rotunda to ensure you understand how important this place is. Now the Corinthian pillars and marbled hallways have a different function: to welcome guests to its 100 suites and spa. Off a rather striking circular lobby lounge is what appears at first glance to be a steakhouse, dark wood booths and alcoves with wipe clean tabletops. Only a couple of wall mounted white bas-relief peonies soften the blow.
In the City food is almost universally butch. Here it’s more prone to teasing and tickling, weighed down with provenance but seductive with femininity. Now feminine is a dangerous word to use in these circumstances. It sounds sexist. There are many world class female chefs working in London (Helen Darroze, Clare Smyth, Angela Hartnett et al) whose Michelin starred cuisine has no connection with gender. In fact, I’ve never even thought of femininity in the kitchen before, but lunch at La Dame de Pic London is so delicate, fragrant, and light, without sacrificing complexity or boldness, “feminine” seems apt.
A bright foreplay of amuses bouches did its job, exciting the palate with sharpness and intensely pure tastes, one minute anise and yuzu, the next cauliflower puree, mimolette and rosemary. Oh, and pine –a good branch or two of pine. This first stage climaxed with a deeply warming, flavoursome consommé infused with bergamot alongside a nutty sourdough with a coffee butter. We wanted more of everything. We were insatiable.
Then came the first showstopper
Then came the first showstopper, a crab confection. As you know there is a world of a difference between freshly picked crabmeat and even most fishmonger stuff. This was the former, set in a perfumed dill panna cotta, steamed in sobacha buckwheat tea, and prettily presented under a lacework arrangement of translucent, crunchy celeriac petals. The whole thing was sat in a pool of barely set, subtle orange jelly. We’re in the midst of the wonderfully moreish blood orange season right now, but Anne-Sophie had brought with her Corsican clementines and Japanese Mikan. My beloved blood oranges would have been too intense, too strong.
Most importantly, it didn’t fall apart under attack from cutlery as these things often do, remaining sweet, sharp, crabby, luscious and in edible chunks. I couldn’t fit my face in the bowl to lick the final smears but would have run my finger around it had good manners not prevailed.
A second showstopper was Brittany pigeon, smoked with licorice. Presented rare, carved side up and scattered artfully across the plate, its bright red flesh was Miro rather than bloody, and harmonised with even fierier red discs of salsify, presumably dyed with beetroot, and some earthy mini-logs of turnip. The barely-there liquid in which it all sat was a tingling citrus bouillon of “Combawa”. Having no idea what that was we asked. Turns out to be kaffir lime. As an aside, the legs were roasted and served on pine branches; perches in a previous life.
The Instagram hit is a daring dessert, a bright white cube surrounded by four white fluffy clouds of nothing, set on a white plate. Inside it’s a millefeuille of pastry, jasmine jelly and vanilla ice cream (the vanilla is from Tahiti) which is pitch perfect. The architecture of the cube is impressive. It photographs beautifully.
The part of Pic’s palette we sampled was light and citrusy, sprinkled with unusually clean flavours of curiosity, plus a proficient use of pine. It’s delicate and assured, a celebration of a singularly French craft. Don’t go if you want big, bold and macho. Do go if you want to be seduced. C
La Dame de Pic London, The Four Seasons Hotel at Ten Trinity Square, London EC3N 4AJ
+44 020-3297 9200; ladamedepiclondon.co.uk