Maybe if you don’t know London all that well the offer of a site for your new restaurant opposite the Tower of London would seem, in terms of location, like hitting the jackpot. Almost the gift of the crown jewels.
Pictures of the columned façade of the building originally designed for the Port of London Authority’s headquarters must look as imposing as the National Gallery or — minus the rotunda — the British Museum. How is a French woman — who a couple of years ago abruptly pulled out of a plan to open a branch of her Paris and Monaco restaurants on Madison Avenue NYC — to know that Tower Hill is not exactly where le tout Londres gathers?
Anne-Sophie Pic, third-generation chef of Maison Pic in Valence, south-eastern France, who restored its Michelin three-star “glory” and in 2011 was named World’s Best Female Chef by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, has opened a branch of her Paris offshoot La Dame de Pic (near The Louvre) in London’s new Four Seasons Hotel.
The surroundings are astounding, the route to the 80-seater restaurant a magical stroll along grey marble floors beside tall white walls washed with light, creating seemingly evanescent bas-reliefs. The table we are given, laid with round black rubber table mats, is a bit of a spell-breaker but I suspect that with the cheapest à la carte main course being £32 for mackerel, this is not economy-driven but mistakenly perceived as edgy. We are in London after all, not that far from Hoxton… Riedel glassware and silver cutlery strive to compensate but snowy tablecloths would have made the whole effect come together so much better.
A meal at this level of ambition starts with little ”extras” (costs factored in), the best of which is a deeply benevolent cup of consommé. A foamy purée of cauliflower with a topping of grated grilled Mimolette (aka French Edam) is also gratifying, with its feet firmly planted in the earth of nourishment.
Other items such as a “leaf” of Jerusalem artichoke made by using a thickening agent, a dehydrator and a leaf-shaped stamp and a liquid-filled spherical shell blending the flavours of anise and yuzu just leave us feeling (El) Bulli-ed. More original are unexpectedly engaging, slightly spooky cashew and curry marshmallows.
Ingredients involved in the main courses scrupulously name-checked might send you scurrying to Google or more usefully souschef.co.uk for items such as voatsiperifery (pepper from Madagascar), sobacha (buckwheat tea), mikan (a Japanese tangerine-like fruit), nepita (a herb from the Corsican maquis), combawa (kaffir lime).
Themes and memes emerge which include a predilection for the flavours of peppers, pine, citrus and anise. Exhilarating as this sounds the dishes we try, with the exception of the delectable first-course Scottish langoustine — its bouillon infused with pine tree buds and geranium — are curiously muted and consequently disappointing.
Royal sea bream (dorade?) bears scant evidence of its marinade, which allegedly includes Tasmanian pepper and Meyer lemon and the Amabuki sake ice-cream and Petrossian caviar garnish make it seem like a woman self-consciously wearing labels rather than one just dressed well.
Venison and foie gras fill skilfully made pithiviers (puff pastry pies) but grainy, livery foie gras dominates and although from the outside they are a thing of beauty they do not thrill as much as those made by Calum Franklin at The Holborn Dining Room. A bowl of perfectly dressed salad which I share to accompany Challans chicken marinated in sake with hispi cabbage and razor clams, Gilou lemon and sauce suprême turns out to be the most enjoyably French aspect of the meal.
I have seen pictures of the white millefeuille online and am determined that will be dessert. It’s an admirably pure architectural construct containing pastry, jasmine jelly and Tahitian vanilla cream that could easily lose the blobs of foam surrounding it.
Pic makes an appearance. She has such beautiful eyes. Staff are warm and welcoming, the star being sommelier Jan Konetzki. His recommendations include a revelatory Birichino Grenache Vieilles Vignes from Besson Vineyard in the Santa Cruz mountains of California (but sold by the glass at only slightly less than retail bottle price) and St Péray-les-Pins, a mixture of marsanne and roussane grown not far from Valence.
I must admit that Michelin three-star chefs from France and Spain coming into London hotels — Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, Elena Arzak at The Halkin, Eneko Atxa at One Aldwych, Eric Frechon at Céleste at The Lanesborough — are not my natural go-to for a good time, but I am curious to return for the £39 three-course lunch at the Queen of Spades. Simplification — and less money laid out — might polish the experience.
Four Seasons Hotel, 10 Trinity Square, EC3 (020 3297 9200, ladamedepiclondon.co.uk). Lunch daily noon-2.30pm. Dinner Mon-Sat 6.30pm-10.30pm. Five-course tasting menu £95. Three-course lunch menu £39. A la carte, a meal for two with wine, about £250 including 12.5 per cent service.
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