Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Picture, Fitzrovia

What lucky, lucky people we are, us Londoners. We have our pick of bright, friendly restaurants, handy for the tube, where we can enjoy exciting food and interesting drinks and for it to cost less than a new pair of jeans. My only worry is that we're in danger of being a bit spoiled. Picture is, objectively, a fantastic place to spend your dinner money, comfortable and easy to enjoy, and serving the kind of acutely seasonally-aware dishes that make you proud to be British. I just hope that all this effort and skill isn't ignored amist the tidal wave of astonishing new places opening across the capital.

To be fair, there was no sign of them being ignored last night. It's a rare thing in fact, in these days of careful table management, to see, at one point, every single seat in the house taken - a lovely thing, however much the kitchen may have been cursing their misfortune. Front of house, though, never missed a beat, and their general amiableness and attention was just one of the things that made the meal so enjoyable.

Firstly, there was the house bread. Whipped butter is on its way to being a cliché now but is never not enjoyable, and the oven-fresh seeded rolls that came with it were faultless, breaking apart with a soft crunch and puff of steam.

Then, the house cocktails, the Bellini (a very reasonable £7) made with proper peach juice, and a gin, grapefruit and basil martini (£8.50) that was ice cold and also completely lovely. Restaurant cocktails are all about the "last mile" - can they get it to you without the egg white froth going flat and the frost leaving the sides of the glass? Picture can.

The tasting menu began with a chilled red pepper soup, a colourful gazpacho-ey thing that reminded we are still in the dying days of summer. I will happily eat factory-made gazpacho from one of those cartons in Spanish supermarkets, so when cold soup is done properly, as here, I have no complaints at all.

The best thing it's possible to do to broccoli (in my own cheerfully clueless opinion) is boil to soften it, then grill it to get a lovely smoky char. Here it came with some soft, citrussy goat's curd and a pleasant arrangement of late summer herbs and tomatoes. Toasted slivers of house bread added a bit of texture.

Pork! A great big slab of it, and if that wasn't enough, some sprigs of bitter endive and a genuinely surprising plum/summer berry sauce. The only thing I could have lived without was the bits of beetroot, but then that's probably just me; I'm not really a fan. It tastes like soil and gives you a hell of a shock in the bathroom if you're not expecting it.

Although my iPhoto didn't exactly help, the next sea bream course didn't look too dissimilar when it arrived - strangely poached-looking, rather devoid of colour and texture. But happily, all the beauty was in the tasting, a lovely flaky bit of perfectly seasoned fish and livened by fennel and a shocking green dill sauce.

By this point the sun had gone down, and what was once a space made bright by a large skylight had now gone all cozy and candlelit. Great if you're on a date, not so great if you're a food blogger attempting to take pictures of your food. So yes the above is aged hangar steak (we were told) with swiss chard, carrot and cumin. Lovely stuff, particularly the beef which was noticeably strong in flavour, but hangar steak is pretty chewy at the best of times, our fancy Laguiole knives hadn't been recently sharpened, and that coupled with the high rims on the bowl it was presented in made sawing up the pieces to eat quite a fierce challenge. Managed it though, in the end.

The best thing about the dessert wasn't the light chocolate mousse, or the lovely fresh blackberries, or even the shards of biscuit, but the "peanut butter cream" which like eating Sun-Pat put through a foam gun.

So. For just over £50/head with more than enough booze, there is very little you could pick fault with from the moment we stepped through the door to the moment we wobbled happily off into the night. And yet perhaps the most notable thing about Picture is that, in 2014, it has to fight to be noticed next to other twinkling stars of London cuisine like the Dairy, Toast, the Clove Club, and so on. If I'm going to be brutally honest, perhaps next to some of these star attractions it does have a bit of a battle on its hands. But I see no reason to assume the competition won't eventually bring benefits to all concerned, especially us lucky Londoners. Us lucky, lucky Londoners.


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Bee de Soto said...

Love your reviews - very accurate and considered. One thing I don't get with this one however is why say Picture is in Marylebone when it's not? Poor old Fitzrovia is often left off the map and in this case it really is in Fitzrovia. Consider your hand slapped for a geographical blunder.

Great work though - a passionate Fitzrovian.

Chris Pople said...

Bee: You're absolutely right, sorry about that. Have fixed it on the page, but I'm afraid the URL is stuck mocking my geographical ignorance for eternity...