Piquet’s concept is an Entente Culinaire—a mix of British ingredients and French cooking methods. It often feels like every single combination and permutation has been done, but Piquet proves that wrong, and it really feels fresh. From the entrance you know you’re in for a treat. Upstairs a dark, sophisticated cocktail bar. Downstairs, a beautiful medieval lion print wallpaper, red lamps with a Chinese feel, dark wood panelling, a proper view into the kitchens. Even the embellishments on the coat hooks are appealing—and the coat hooks themselves are a rarity nowadays.
Service cannot always be perfect, and it is usually satisfactory if it is simply unobtrusive. When you go to a restaurant you want to enjoy a meal with a friend. So long as waiters don’t ignore you or over-bother you then you have a pretty good time. But time and again there is spectacular service which takes a meal from excellent to a sort of wonderful that gives you a warm glow for hours. Piquet’s service is more like the latter: your tablecloth will always be folded by the time you get back from the toilet; your bread will be replenished almost immediately if you so desire; your chair will be pulled out for you; and this will all be done in a perfect, subtle way. Best of all, your waiter will give you very specific and definite recommendations, no ‘everything is good’ fence-sitting here.
As with practically everything, Piquet takes a traditional approach, with traditional aperitifs, wine for your main, and dessert wine and port to finish off—a welcome refuge from cocktails’ omnipresence. We drank champagne on arrival (they have two options by glass at around £10), and tawny port with our dessert. For the main their excellent sommelier recommended us a white that went surprisingly well with our rather diverse food options.
The menu is in appearance similar to those of other high quality French brasseries you see around London (and for that matter in Paris). There are starters and mains and sides and then there are two different set menus. One is the lunch/early evening menu, and is surely one of the very best deals in London, given the quality of the food at Piquet: £19.50 for three courses, changing daily, and including options easily as tempting as on the main section. Another is the chef’s ‘market menu’: £45 for five courses. We ate from the main sections, where starters range quite widely from £6.50 to £14.50 and mains are £16 to £26. Everything was tremendous.
We tasted a wide swathe of the menu, and there is lots to recommend. In fact, everything is so good that we will almost certainly be back again and again, especially if we can get there early enough for the set menu, which really is an astonishing steal.
We were brought an amuse bouche of salmon tartare with dill on thin crunchy toast. It was creamy and slippery and mushy, all in good ways. Though high quality salmon doesn’t need much of a counterweight to balance out its fairly delicate flavour, the light creaminess and the dill certainly made for a well-rounded flavour.The waiter recommended the scallops above everything else. Actually we went for the pressed suckling pig with prune, black pudding and celeriac, which turned out to be a visionary choice. Sometimes the tried and true combinations are the best and here was a perfect example. Though suckling pig is, understandably, substantially less unctuous than its more mature brethren it nevertheless combines perfectly with the decadent thick sweetness of prune. The celeriac was lightly creamy and the black pudding was dense, earthy and slightly crumbly. You get a generous slab of pig for your money, almost a main’s worth in some places, though I’m sure we could have eaten much more.The snails were not nearly as traditional, eschewing the typical method of hiding the arthropods with garlic. Garlic was there, but this time it was a type of mushroom that stood out as the accompaniment with the snails, shallots, toast, and purée.
The venison loin we ate at Piquet was so tender that the waitress bragged we could cut it with our forks. We didn’t actually try but only the tiniest amount of force was necessary with the regular table knives we had. It was well-seasoned and came with the most astonishing, genius accompaniment: shallots, elderberries and chestnuts. The roasted chestnuts came apart chunkily in your mouth, the elderberries gave a very slight tangy feel, and the shallots added their layered mushy sweetness.The steamed monkfish with tongue was perhaps even better, as weird as it might sound. It was a take on surf and turf, although an unconventional one, and it was as good as it was simple. Thin tender slices of deeply-flavoured but not overly earthy ox tongue layered on meaty, substantial monkfish, itself on top of surprisingly flavoursome savoy cabbage with port butter sauce. The combination was truly novel and risky and came off impressively.
Once again it was satisfying, when confronted with the dessert menu, to be told that one dish was by far the best. The sommelier promised that not only was the pear and red wine tatin (£14 for two) the best dish on the menu but the best dessert in London—a big boast but not far off true. It came as a whole tart on a silver tray, and the waitress cut it in two to serve. The outer pastry was chewy, crispy, and flaky by parts, with a sort of deep-fried golden brown outside and the dark purple pear was gooey and jelly-like when you cut into it. It came with cinnamon ice cream, also scooped and served at the table, which performed its balancing function admirably well.
Overall, Piquet is one of the most lovely dining experiences in London. The food is excellent: simple, brave combinations that perfectly achieve what they try to do; incredibly high quality ingredients; careful cooking. The service, atmosphere and experience are even better, truly impeccable. Allan Pickett must be praised for really adding something worthwhile to a restaurant scene that seemingly has been seen and done.
92-94 Newman Street London, UK, +44 20 3826 4500