Jan Moir Are You Ready To Order
By the time I get to L’Autre Pied, S is already sitting at the bar eating foie gras and drinking champagne. Get him. He’s not the sort of date to fret if one is late, or pound the pavements outside in a bid to kill time. He just gets on with it. Sometimes I wonder if he even notices I am there at all, but perhaps that’s harsh. ‘Hello,’ he says, as I arrive. ‘Could you put my coat in that cupboard over there.’
His nice portion of foie gras is perfectly seared, with the requisite carapace of crisp texture, and is served with a foam cap of Granny Smith apples, plus an onion and apple rubble underneath. It is both clever and good, which are never things you could say about him. After he has polished this off, we go to our table, where he plans on eating even more food, and not speaking very much. I hang up his coat with a sigh.
L’Autre Pied is situated in the heart of Marylebone. It is brought to you by the people behind Pied á Terre, the Michelin two star restaurant where chef Shane Osborn has cooked to a dedicated clientele for eight years. It has long been a quiet corner of excellence in London, where the wine pairing is notable and the service is gentle and courteous.
At L’Autre Pied, the surroundings are more casual, the prices are lower and the dishes are simpler. It is like a foundation course in gourmandising; a taste taster before you graduate to the more formal culinary skills of the mothership and beyond.
In essence, this is a small, neighbourhood place, with a friendly bar and three eating areas. The tables are dark wood, with no cloths, and the dominating décor feature is attractive wallpaper with what looks like a lilies and chilies pattern. The print is echoed in an illuminated glass screen and there are other tasteful touches, including a pretty Arts & Crafts ice bucket, low lighting and a thoughtful selection of flatware. The table layout of the restaurant is a little awkward but you know what? Just go with it. Think of it as kind of gourmet café and you will be fine, wherever you sit.
For dinner, we have very good ballotine of Cornish mackerel with pickled vegetables; and another dish featuring a foamy veloute of lentils poured into the dimple of a large bowl, with a soft poached egg lurking in the depths and a hint of bacon somewhere in the mix. A main course of steamed and roasted hare is excellent; the steaming opens the fibres of the meat and cooks it to a delicate pinkness, before the two roundels are wrapped in bacon and then roasted. Served with two purees - one of root vegetable, the other an intense essence of caramelised garlic- and a shower of fragrant leaves, this is a dish that combines texture and autumnal flavour to a delicious degree. Another main course of slow cooked pig’s head and braised cheeks is an equally intense preparation of rich piggy flavours, painted with some Chinese-style spicing at some stage of the process.
The man responsible for these dishes is Marcus Eaves, one of Osborn's brightest proteges. Eaves looks like the kind of pale youth who might be considering joining a boy band when he finishes his exams. A gap year in Thailand? Who knows, dude. Yet the reality of his life is very different. This 26 year old has worked himself to the bone for ten years; a decade of commitment to the coal face of cooking that now finds him in charge of L'Autre Pied. Already he is turning out assured dishes such as roast breast of mallard with turnip and vanilla puree; cod cheeks with oxtail beignets; haunch of venison with autumn squash, orange and port sauce. For pudding, plums are sliced razor thin and baked into a crisp tart fine; moist, buttery financiers are served with a froth of hazelnut foam and a spoon or two of coffee sorbet. It’s all so accomplished and skilled, as if Eaves had been born to the job. In a way, he has. A former winner of the Gordon Ramsay scholar award, Eaves is also the son of a chef and has been joined in the kitchen by his brother Jason, who was previously sous chef at Cheltenham’s Le Champignon Sauvage.
Pied a Terre have come up with an interesting diffusion concept here; a marriage of finely tuned dishes - such as roast partridge with game broth and lemon thyme; or gilt head bream with salsify puree - served in informal, brasserie-type surroundings by friendly staff. No tablecloths, no stuffiness, no pressure to have a monster gourmand experience or an entire three course meal. If all you want is a plate of foie gras and a glass of sweet wine at the bar, then go right ahead and be their guest. Main courses cost around £16 which, for the quality of cooking and the precision of the dishes on offer, is a steal.
Eaves trained with Claude Bosi at Hibiscus in Ludlow, amongst others, before rejoining Osborn and his brigade two years ago. The influences of his mentors are clear, but his talent is prodigious and his culinary instincts bold. When a restaurant has just opened, I turn a kind, blind eye to longeurs in service or waits for dishes. None of that was necessary here. Everything came out promptly and nearly perfectly. Perhaps the foie gras was a whisker over cooked, maybe the tarte fine could have been whipped out the oven a few moments earlier, but these are minor quibbles. Whisper it; I thought Eaves confident, excellent mackerel starter dish was almost better than Bosi’s. And his steamed and roasted hare, an alluring autumnal main course, is one of the best dishes currently to be had in London. You can't beat the hard graft of proper craft. It shows on every plate in this quirkily charming, bespoke new restaurant.
- L’Autre Pied Restaurant, 5-7 Blandford Street, London W1. Tel: 020 7486 9696. Dinner for two, excluding drinks, £60