Saturday, 1 March 2014

Pieds Nus

I once had a fairly disappointing dinner experience at L'Autre Pied, but never got round to taking myself off their mailing list, which was how I wound up clicking through one of their emails on a slow afternoon and seeing an offer for four courses at their pop-up sister restaurant Pieds Nus for £20. It seemed like a good deal, the restaurant's due to close on the 11th of March at its current location and reviews had been quite overwhelmingly positive, so I called up E & MC to check if they were free to join me. E had something else on but MC was game, so the two of us ended up having a girls' day out on a sunny Saturday afternoon. 

Working on the concept that great food is there to be shared, most of our dishes for the afternoon came on communal plates, starting with the Bacon and Onion Brioche and Milk Loaf, served with a silky pat of salted butter. For me, the joy of shared dishes mostly brings to mind the thrill of grabbing the last chicken wing on the plate from under BB's nose, and how good that stolen morsel always tastes, which I don't think was what the Pieds Nus team was going for. That part of my psyche was thoroughly suppressed, so lunch remained a pleasantly civilized affair within the quaint restaurant space. As we divvied up the tiny loaves, we discussed the minimalist-industrialist interior design trend (Probably won't be around in another ten years), bread as a vehicle for the consumption of butter (Yum.) and how the practically perfect bacon brioche could be further improved (Add more bacon. Duh.)

Pieds Nus means barefoot in French, and there are small frames of footprints hung up on the wall to further hit home the theme beyond the stripped-back but still cheerful decor. Food-wise, the emphasis is placed on simplicity and letting ingredients speak for themselves, but it's obvious that a great deal of thought has gone into the way flavour combinations work, resulting in surprisingly rich dishes. Our offer came with a fixed menu, so we didn't have to do any choosing. The first courses proper came in a rather unattractive pile of what looked like sawdust, but turned out to be finely grated Belper Knolle, a hard Swiss cheese that's infused with garlic and salt before being rolled in black pepper. At the base was potato, likewise finely grated and resembling grains of rice. 

Hidden beneath the cheese was a slow cooked duck yolk, which when pierced oozed out menacingly across the plate. Thankfully, this first dish came in individual portions, so I had time to play a little with my food. MC went straight into mixing everything up as we'd been instructed to, but I needed a while to get used to the idea of consuming the egg yolk. 22 years of avoiding the stuff, and within a two week period runny yolks had popped up twice. I suppose it was a sign that it was time to be less fussy about what I refuse to eat. Unlike the egg yolk at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon that was fairly light on the palate, this still-warm duck yolk was much stronger, but still pleasant. Once all the potato bits and cheese had been folded in, the overall mixture was quite an alarming shade of almost-neon yellow, but taste-wise it worked. You can discern hints of black pepper thanks to the Belper Knolle, and I've come to develop an almost-appreciation for egg yolks. 

The less-is-more philosophy towards cooking continued with our second dish of minimally-cooked food, a small plate of seared yellow fin tuna tartar with black olives and more potato underneath for us to split between ourselves.  The tuna was our favourite dish of the afternoon, with a really good balance of flavours. The bits of herbs sprinkled over the top added a very nice clean bite to the tuna for instance, and although the bed of potato seemed odd at first, it meshed well with the rest of the ingredients. 

The main course was pork belly, slow cooked at 98 degrees for 12 hours, served with sweet roast parsnips, a very mild mustard, just a hint of chutney and even more of the potatoes. The skin was a tad hard, but the rest of the belly was fairly moist and soft. It was a small cube of pork belly each, and looking back the servings were really small, but by some miracle we managed to walk out of there sated. Big eaters may require snacks afterwards though. I ended up swirling the potato through the remaining meat juices, which was an inspired move. 

Dessert was a highly deconstructed sticky New York cheesecake with a burnt top, accompanied by gloriously sour rhubarb pieces, a yogurt sauce and what apparently was rhubarb ice-cream but tasted like plain milk. For best results, you had to get a bit of everything in one bite, including the little circle of crumbled biscuits underneath the ice cream for a sweet-sour New York cheesecake on steroids experience, but we mostly went the route of eating the deconstructed pieces individually. We finished all the rhubarb (It really was very addictive) early on, and the yogurt sauce and ice-cream went too until it was just the burnt, squishy, cheesy bits left, which reminded me of cream cheese taiyaki (Japanese grilled cakes).

As the meal went on, the small restaurant space filled up and the whole placed buzzed with conversation, but the volume remained comfortably excited, not once veering into too-loud territory for all that the tables were effectively a foot from each other. The waitress never came round with the wine list we'd asked for after our main dish was cleared, so MC gave up on ordering a dessert wine and we instead walked the short distance to The Marylebone after lunch for their Saturday 2 for 1 cocktail special and had a couple of drinks there instead. An afternoon well-spent. 

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