21 Apr 2008

Worst Foot Forward

SUPPER AT L’Autre Pied was a schizophrenic experience. Occasional breakthroughs of culinary excellence punctuated an otherwise conceited catastrophe. Some of the dishes were ridiculous.
Weedily motifed, jade green backlit panels illuminate the bland room off Blandford Street. Billowing voiles evoking shopping catalogue shower curtains gauzily blur the opposing presence of the Marylebone ‘Giraffe’. Cochineal sofas nudge naked teaky tabletops, where some design fraud has permantently carved placemats. In our case, it would be ergonomically impossible to sit where prescribed.
It is overall reminiscent of Soho’s ‘Arbutus’ [REVIEW] in that tables are greedily close, a small bar is shoehorned for aesthetics rather than function, and more attention has been lavished on the lavatories then the dining room. Both venues pretend to be inexpensive too.
The young, loudly lauded Marcus Eaves is installed at the helm. This Ramsay scholar is Shane Osborn’s protégé, having cut his teeth at the two Michelin starred ‘Pied à Terre’.
More so then any other dining experience, I really got a sense of his personality spunkily blasting through onto the puréed, emulsioned, foamed and moussed plates. Great fare for denture adventurers...
Dining with a fellow gastro-sapien, we were determined to give the venue thorough review reconnaissance. Whilst sizing up the menu, we took in aperitifs of chilled, tear tasting Manzanilla and buxom, frisky NV Larmandier Champagne, a naturally inclined producer who harvests his pristine fruit according to the lunar cycle.
The bread, served with a thimble of bright Normandy butter, was bole coloured: tasty, but fibreglass wool in consistency. 125ML portions of '06 Anselmi accompanied, a dazzling, pert, greengage scented wine from Soave, but not labelled as such because of the majority of fellow producers lack of ambition for the region; and a fruity, papaw seed spiked Austrian. Grüner Veltliner is currently catwalk material, although this version lacked spiciness. (Hoher Rain, also '06). A bottle of ‘inert’ tasting sparkling water with a trade value of 59P was physically, guiltlessly aggressively poured, uncomfortably morphing into its new £3.50 value. The stemless glasses were good-looking, however.
We chose two further whites to escort three starters: a flaccid rather than wiry middled '05 Rully (Jacquesson) and a slightly closed, but interesting pithy, musky, but springly floral '06 Côtes du Rhone (Arnaud). We asked for all three dishes at once, but only two came at first. Despite the fact that it exacerbates my companion’s gout, we still ordered Pan Fried Foie Gras with Apricot and Vanilla Purée and Bay Leaf Foam. Gustatorily the collage worked, although aesthetically, the foam looked like a cuckoo wretched it. The sweetness of the apricot ‘sun’ and the vanilla ‘measles’ soothed the gamey goose but reeked of affectation (below).
A salad of Smoked Eel implicated Marinated ‘Young’ (preferable to geriatric) Vegetables and salacious, translucent Lardo di Colonnato. Intriguingly the eel had been turned into something in texture tofu and in taste, smoked mozzarella. I thought this was odd, although my companion felt tasteful affection towards it. The Cornish Crab, which arrived as an intermediate course, along with a whimpering apology, also brought with it yet another Purée, this time Avocado, and a Tzatziki (gentrified cucumber yoghurt) Mousse, with a Lime and Coriander Nage (I.E. poached). Being served in splendid isolation rather than camouflaged between the other starters as intended, we were forced to concentrate our entire attentions towards this outstandingly disappointing, deflated mess. The palate police report that there was hardly any crab involved in the incident. And the presence of more foam made me sympathetic for the slathering cuckoo in the kitchen.
We replaced our twee cutlery and wiped the dirty mess from our mouths with horrid tea towel napkins.
The wine list by the bottle is divided into two areas: plebeian and privileged. Both sections carry ungregarious mark-ups. The apparently absent sommelier appears to welcome the presence of organically inclined bins.
We brought our own bottles, stomaching corkage. L-P normally charges £50 per bottle. Whilst this is an undoubtedly brave, feverish levy, it is by no means the worst example of taxation on taste which restaurateurs are so fond of.
We both decided that Slow Cooked Breast of Veal with (wait for it) Puréed Potato, Caramelised Sweetbread and Hazelnut ‘Jus’ looked good for the main feature. A deeply inelegant, packed plateful transpired, lustily over-salted, eagerly lacquered, and partitioned with a surprise appearance of crisp broccoli. My companion valued the sweetbreads, and I thought the veal was brilliantly cooked, although the saline intrusion was overwhelming.
Our '98 Gevrey-Chambertin ‘Lavaux St. Jacques’ by Denis Mortet [MORE about this producer] aided with crisp, cleansing acidity. Whilst it might be tempting to dustily treasure rather than taste such a bottle, produced by the gifted, meticulous Burgundy craftsmen who took his life in '06, it was much more interesting to liberate the subtly focussed liquid. It was dark, masculine and savoury, with dry molasses, forest floor and a little organic farmyard too.
The best culinary component of the meal followed, which ironically required little intervention from Chef. A humble round of Saint-Marcellin, a soft cheese from the Alpes worked in eloquent unison with brittle, malty charcoal biscuits and Wild Celery and Truffle Salad. The waiter insisted that this was made from goats milk, although it felt more like a cow had caused it.
We intervalled with an outstanding, classic Claret, Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande '85. Beguiling, ‘old school’ according to my companion, feminine, haunting, with eyeliner pencil and a delicious, seeping ripeness just beneath the savoury, privet crispness. Refreshing and smoothly sculpted. It resembled the Edwardian supermodel '82 [REVIEW].
Blood Orange Mille-feuille ('thousand sheets', below) with Lemon Curd Ice Cream, which arrived muddled by all sorts of other sprinkles and rough purées, provided the epicentre of an argument with the Maitre’d. Lubricated by the fine wine treats, I albeit politely joked that what looked like a brushed chocolate smile should be turned to greet the eater rather than form the hair to the ‘face’. He then launched into an uninspiring tirade about how such a rotation would upset the sacrosanct rule that ice cream should be attacked from the right. Everyone who is anyone would know that… Bastard.
My companion left most of his Rhubarb, Pistachio and Almond Crumble with Rhubarb Sorbet and Cardamom Ice Cream. Frankly, a flavour pile-up.
Small glasses of sweet, summertime shivery '04 Jurançon, Magendia (‘the best’) from Clos Lapeyre and dense, toasted nut, apricot and marmalade Sauternes from (Who’s the) Clos Dady (also '04) rinsed the mire. These were tail-gated by a Moscato grappa and Guyana rum, both of which were barely potable. I am familiar with the various expressions of Grappa, generally feeling reassured when I see a single varietal expression, and I have tried rums too strong to freeze [PROOF]. These jagged antiseptic concoctions should however have been prefaced with the warning ‘harmful if swallowed’. I have a solution for the remaining stock: contribute it towards the government’s winter fuel allowance for the elderly, in the process helping ease the burden of A. Darling’s latest tax perversion.
L’Autre Pied has been open long enough to improve its act: refine the menu, rendering dishes concise and pretty rather than experimentally messy. Countless critics have, and continue to patiently itemise the faults with its formula. So many wasted words. One describes the fare as 'fiddly cobblers'. I bet the team of Chefs leave service close to collapse. Another captures the overall confusion as an 'identity crisis'. There is no clear identity. Personally, having spent a small fortune, what I craved was the rinse of a frozen margarita from the Giraffe opposite… At least there would be some atmosphere.
L'Autre Pied - 5-7 Blandford Street. W1U 3DB - T. 020 7486 9696
After the meal, I dreamt my companion had become wedged in a waterslide(?)
What are we meant to feel about John Prescott’s until now silent battle with bulimia?

L'Autre Pied on Urbanspoon