Nicky Richmond finds happiness in Fitzrovia at Piquet.
I might as well just give in to my inner OAP. I’m quite happy to fantasize about a post-work visit to The Richmond or The Marksman or even to Peckham Rye but unless the tube is going to deposit me practically at the mouth of the restaurant, I’m not going to be schlepping across the plains of E5 or SE15 after dark, to eat in a loud food destination, surrounded by people who assume I’ve walked into the wrong place because I am still in my work gear. Not when I can go up the road to the comfort of Piquet.
Piquet is the baby of Mr Allan Pickett, (geddit?) formerly of Plateau restaurant, in that other destination of despair, Canary Wharf, meaning I didn’t go there either.
I’m very glad he’s now rocked up on my very doorstep, at what was the – shall-we-say – arse end of Oxford Street, surrounded by new developments in what is a rapidly transforming area.
The advent of Crossrail just a hop, skip and jump away has meant the spectacular regeneration of that dodgy/dingy section of the self-proclaimed most famous shopping street and this feels like a savvy move, dragging the food-cred of Fitzrovia further south, forming a little triangle with The Newman Street Tavern and The Newman Arms. Thankfully, there is no Newman in the name; enough already.
The view from the street is very much French bistro and there is a dark, intimate, narrow space on the top floor which, it turns out, is not the restaurant. The bar is a bit empty and unloved and I worry about the fact that the space isn’t being used properly.
We go downstairs to a more brightly-lit and welcoming room which is double the size, as it extends under the adjoining property.The property lawyer in me is thinking about split reversions and two landlords but that’s because I haven’t had a drink yet and I’m still in work mode. It’s a curse.
There is no natural light yet it doesn’t feel oppressive and it reminds me of those rooms in Las Vegas with no natural light or clocks; you have no idea what time it is outside and forget yourself. I do wonder what that will be like in the height of summer but no matter, we have a whole winter to get through yet.
The menu is clear and varied. There is a great value set lunch and dinner offering, available 12 noon to 3pm and 5:30pm to 6:45pm at £16.50 for two courses and £19.50 for three. Obviously we don’t order that, but nor do we go for the tasting menu at £45 for five courses, £75 with matching wine. We do however choose a pleasant and reasonable white Rhône at £28 because we need to get me off the lease trail, pronto.
I am with the lovely D, who lives, breathes, writes about and shares food. This is a relief for a food obsessive. As D rightly says, we can discuss ten different types of salt and find that a fascinating subject.
We agree that we will create our own tasting menu by splitting each course in half and sharing. This is one of my favourite things to do in a restaurant and reduces my FOMO considerably. If you are regular reader you will be able to guess the attitude of C to such shenanigans, C, who, seeing my plaintive stare at his Fischer’s strudel ate the last spoonful with an “it’s for your own good”. I may accidentally delete the Sky channel which streams his beloved Canadian hockey, for his own good, naturally.
D and I struggle to narrow the menu down but I go for heritage beetroot and goat’s cheese mousse, black figs and hazelnut salad. To adopt another’s epithet, this is admittedly not groundbreaking, and we could make it at home, but it wouldn’t be as elegant as this version.
Arranged in layers of perfect discs, with a sharp/sweet dressing, sweet figs, it delivers lighter than air cylinders of the ethereal mousse, wrapped in filo pastry and toasted hazelnuts scattered throughout. This had as much resemblance to your average gastropub beetroot and goat’s cheese offering as a Patty and Bun burger has to a Maccy D.
D’s pressed suckling pig, prunes, black pudding and cauliflower purée was a plateful of joy. A perfect rectangle of pig, and cake-like black pudding of a softness and crumbliness which surprised me, I can see why D might have wanted to hold onto this. A deal is a deal though and D is right proper. That whole sweet, salty, rich thing was going on with the crispy crackle skin, soft skeins of meat and sweet prunes dragged through the to-die-for cauliflower purée with Madeira gravy slopped over the top. Perfect.
Cauliflower, yeasted and smoky, also made an appearance in the next dish, the seared sea trout, chanterelles, salsify and the almost-as-over-as-pine-nuts curly kale. I think we have reached peak kale, as evidenced by the Daily Fail backlash, citing “experts” who warn it can cause bloating, thyroid and even heart problems. The article is the usual DM hysteroid nonsense, combining pseudo-science with scaremongering. Poor kale. Gwynnie’s support means you’re done for as a serious food.
Despite this, I very much enjoyed my kale and the perfectly cooked trout sitting on it, pretty as a picture with its purple florets of cauliflower and golden chanterelles. D’s crispy-coated roast veal sweetbreads with Romaine lettuce and pommes purée were the texture of chicken breasts and tasted not unlike. Unadvertised truffle appeared on the heavenly potato, complemented by the braised mushrooms. I do like surprises. I also liked the crunch of the blanched Romaine and what might seem a challenging choice was simply comfort food on a plate.
I’d missed out on the Tarte Tatin the last time I came, spying it as I was leaving. I learn from my mistakes and fortunately my partner-in-food crime felt equally in need, so we didn’t hesitate for a moment. Pear Tarte Tatin (advertised as “to share”) is a thing of beauty and it must be ordered. I could lie and say that I couldn’t eat the whole thing, but you know better, although sharing does bring one an elegant sufficiency, but then again, elegant sufficiency isn’t really my thing.
Home made chocolate truffles with coffee were entirely unnecessary but it would have been rude not to. I’d have eaten more had they offered. Out of politeness, obviously.
Judgment. A restaurant for those of us who wish to hear ourselves speak and who want to eat classically prepared food, with a nod to the mod in stylish surroundings. Dare I say a restaurant for those adults who do not always wish to eat something pickled or foraged or powdered.
Mr P is your saviour, oh seeker of classic cookery, sending out from his open kitchen platefuls of well- prepared food with enough interest and technique-smarts to keep even your hard-to-please foodie happy and that’s no mean feat. We have a new man in Newman Street and his name is Pickett. Or Piquet. Take your Pick.
Scores on the doors
Value for money 9/10
Best for: Grown ups
Worst for: SAD sufferers