When I first started writing about restaurants, the whole concept of posting food photographs on Instagram irritated me beyond belief. I’d rant obstinately about the whole concept until the sloshed, fondled Wagyu cows came home.
Most jobs, however, make it completely necessary to leave certain beliefs at the door. Hate it or love it, social media sites are the future. Instagram in particular has become so food-focused that (as a food writer) it’s impossible to avoid getting involved. And with the whole world sharing pictures from Full English breakfasts to gussied up fine dining shots with only half of the plate in shot – why should I be missing out?
One thing that still bothers me, nonetheless, is inane hashtags. Most grating of all is ‘#foodgasm’ (just above #foodporn). No, it’s not even a bona fide word, but that’s not the point. It’s just thrown around so much that it’s now a nonsensical term to describe food that’s as appealing as a pint of hemlock. So what actually quantifies a ‘#foodgasm’? A Big Mac is an impish (read: disturbingly sating) treat, but isn’t ‘foodgasmic’. The Frog’s cheese doughnuts, on the other hand, are a worthy candidate for justification of such ridiculousness, as are the salted duck egg custard buns at A Wong. The Berlingots at La Dame De Pic, too, will leave you wishing you’d brought a spare pair of pants.
Opened in January, La Dame de Pic is the first UK restaurant from three Michelin-starred Anne-Sophie Pic, situated in the swanky new Four Season’s Hotel. A peculiar location for a high-end restaurant, on a quiet square behind Tower Hill tube station, but word has begun to spread over the past three months – mainly thanks to Instagram – and, on visiting, it’s hardly surprising. During the evening of our visit, alongside the a la carte and five-course tasting menu, a special Goût de France dinner is available. Celebrating the merits of French cuisine, the event takes place on the first day of Spring and witnesses over 2000 chefs across five continents serving specially curated dinners, simultaneously. When visiting a French gastro-temple such as La Dame de Pic, two things are as good as guaranteed: you’ll be offered the chance to indulge in a number of small, prettily presented dishes that seem little more substantial than a range of canapés, yet are decadent enough to feed a family of four, and that all of this will be reflected in the bill.
The food on offer here is by no means cheap, but the tasting menu is a must for any keen foodie in hope of keeping up appearances. What’s more, the food is mostly very good. The five-course Goût de France menu, for instance, is priced at £125 per person with matching wines and a glass of Ayala Brut Nature Champagne to begin. As well as the food, the whole atmosphere of the restaurant adds to the overall experience. Service is helpful and friendly, but without being intrusive (against all odds), while the starched table linen and handbag stools do add an air of stuffiness, yet the low lighting and plush armchair seating does lend an air of comfort.
An amuse-bouche comprises a mound of Cornish crab meat topped with discs of crunchy celeriac, atop a bed of clementine jelly. The dish lacks no culinary skill, but the flavour isn’t particularly exciting, either. The crab is a fine, palate cleansing pre-starter, but it’s the coffee infused butter served with the bread that’s most striking. The implement of coffee does seem bizarre (and it isn’t the meal’s only outlandish use of coffee), but the ground beans have a pleasant bitter-sweetness that works particularly well alongside relentlessly whipped butter and heavily salted sourdough.
The Berlingots are, by far, the best thing tasted at La Dame de Pic. Perfectly executed parcels of thin pasta the colour of nori are filled with soft, lightly smoked Pélardon cheese then garnished with wild mushrooms with earthy flavours that complement the cheese, topped with a foam of Tonka bean and Voatsiperifery pepper – a rare, zesty spice from Madagascar. Unlike nearly every other foam used in London restaurants, this tastes exactly as promised. As is the essence of delivering outstanding food at this level, all elements of the dish work in harmony instead of competing to overpower one another on the palate.
Hereford beef, again, showcases the chef’s evident obsession with coffee as an ingredient. A hunk of topside is roasted with Monts Amaro coffee and cinnamon leaves, lending some more bitter-sweetness. The beef is cooked properly, while a puree of celeriac with brown butter complements the beef, yet the addition of gin is an atrocity – no matter how innovative. A pigeon dish from the a la carte menu is a far better choice. Artistically presented to resemble a pigeon in flight, the dish showcases two slivers of breast just on the right side of being undercooked (as preferred), joined by a bouillon of Combawa citrus. The cooking of the breast is fine, paired with the broth and some prevalent liquorice from the smoking of the bird, though it’s the confit leg that’s so delicious it demands to be taken in hand so that every last piece of meat can be devoured.
On paper, a pre-dessert of brie and vanilla seems risky but, with subtlety, fairly simple to execute well. Alas, the two flavours are virtually absent, instead forcing a powerful whack of unexpected coffee upon us, completely knocking the balance and rendering the dish unpleasant. The obsessively Instagrammed white millefeuille, however, manages to rescue the end of the meal. The presentation of the cuboid dessert with four blobs of Voatsiperifery pepper foam looks clinically clean. Like Joey Essex’s teeth, the plate and its content is so white, it seems optically synthetic. When broken into, however, layers of puff pastry with jasmine jelly and vanilla cream are redolent of the French classic, but refined in such a way that can be expected from the chef’s signature dessert.
The food served here is meticulously crafted with a level of precision seldom found thought the city, but it’s largely very expensive. Although the food isn’t necessarily the best available nearby within this price bracket, a true sense of occasion can be guaranteed with an evening visit. And with these credentials and this setting – it’s just a matter of time before La Dame de Pic will become one of London’s destination restaurants for the summer.
La Dame de Pic can be found at Four Seasons Hotel, 10 Trinity Square, London, EC3N 4AJ.