C., double0hilly, and I have met up for a reunion and good food. Our attempts at booking a restaurant for Friday night have proven that the London fine dining scene is alive and well. We end up at a place which still has room two days in advance, one I've been interested in trying. L'Autre Pied is the marginally less formal sibling of Pied-à-Terre*: fewer linens and harder walls being the most visible differences.
We have the tasting menu with accompanying wines, preferring lots of small samples to burdening any one or two dishes with the success of the whole meal. The sommelier doesn't bat an eye when I request whites in lieu of the scheduled reds, but doesn't think to add them to the list of what we drank at the end. The matches are intelligent, appropriate, well-thought out. A few of the wines are superb, but none of the pairings blow us away.
We begin with an amuse-bouche, delicate little pieces of plump smoked salmon balanced by a fluff of horseradish cream and bright, crunchy toasted sesame seeds. The Jerusalem artichoke and hazelnut velouté with mushroom vinaigrette was a highlight, a smooth soup poured over a miniature landscape of piles, cubes, and dabs of creamed foie gras. Its balance between delicacy and richness makes sense of the wine. The wine itself, Furmint (Tornai Winery, Somlo 2007) is one I would like to try again, specifically because it left me wordless to describe it. No fruits, no flowers, and a limited range of minerals I couldn't pinpoint.
Foie gras appeared again as the centerpiece of our next dish, beautifully seared to caramelized sweetness, with tender bits of baby artichokes, and a variety of forms of gently tart pineapple for contrast: cubed, sorbet, puréed. The parallel between kinds of artichoke-like flavors and meat between the dishes was intriguing, but the dish itself was let down by the foie gras; for all its fine cooking, it was rather watery and not as full-flavored as we'd been hoping. The wine it was paired with was a delight for me more than the rest of the table: Muskat Ottonel, Auslese, Tschida, Burgenland. (My default wine weakness is a good sweet one.)
The Gruner Veltliner which accompanied the plaice was the least interesting wine of the meal; the girolles and truffles which came with the fish were the dish's highlight. The plaice was perfectly well-mannered, but just not as exciting as some of the other dishes. Baby spinach was a useful addition; too often I have tasting menus which don't consider the benefits of vegetables. C., not a fish eater, had a whole array of vegetables as his replacement. The following dish was stronger: I really liked the Cornish lamb, a roll of sticky rich softness to unwind into the thyme jus and to nibble with tender baby carrots.
I do love a cheese course, and this tasting menu included one before our dessert courses, a range of five of them, mostly French, but with a final lively cheddar, served with water biscuits. Here is another example of the awkwardness of relying on the restaurant to provide one with the details of what one ate: I cannot tell you any more about the cheeses' identities than this. I could describe the soft, smooth delicacy of one or the robust spiciness of another, but it would not pin them down.
The pre-dessert already escapes me: something small, light, and forgettable clearly. Dessert was a mixed finish, an ambiguous light pairing of pain d'epices foam with banana ice cream, and a glorious, warm, flavorsome, tender hazelnut madeleine. (Wine: Moscatel, Ariyanas, Bodega Bentonmiz, Malaga DO)
Service was excellent and friendly, and they had no hesitations about dealing with any of our limitations. The quality of the food is good, occasionally excellent, occasionally minorly confused, but nothing was worse than decent. The atmosphere was convivial, the echoing of sound against hard walls enlivening without ever leading us to struggle to hear each other, although sometimes I needed to ask a waiter to repeat him or herself to hear them. In theory, they request the table back after two hours, but since we'd booked for eight pm, there was no problem loitering over our meal for at least three hours. I'd be happy to go back, but I'd be even happier to have my curiousity assuaged, and try one of those places which were already fully booked up days in advance.
* I ate there in 2007 with mirrorshard but don't seem to have written it up, any more than I've written up all the good meals with strange_complex. At the time of not-writing, I'm busy treasuring good memories. Later, I've just forgotten too many details.