Not so long ago, I read this incredibly laudatory review by a famous restaurant critic of a new restaurant near…Tottenham Court Road? What a funny area for a smart new place.
But then, Charlotte Street is just around the corner, and he raved about their food, the ‘adult' atmosphere, the friendliness, and the accomplished service of Piquet. So of course I wanted to investigate, and boy, was the great man right.
When you enter, there is an instant whiff of the not-so-great Ivy, the Ivy of old, which could have stayed so grand and famous. Here it felt is more traditional European, with an instant feel-good atmosphere. Maybe it was the Parisian influence? Deco and sensuous, chanson music in the background — I felt instantly at home.
Piquet has a General Manger named Alain Morice, a proper Maître d’Hôtes, referred to as a Maître D' in the good old days. He is an accomplished manager of the rooms, not a someone who hangs around reception when you come in, or a misplaced dragon who checks out your bank details whilst posing the inevitable question with an eyebrow raised in disdain ("Have you booked?") before leading you to a table...maybe. No, Alain is a consummate professional who enjoys welcoming you, talks to you as if he’d known you all his life and is genuinely interested in your welfare — and interest that shows in offering you a drink right away.
The cocktail list is fun, but we wanted a simple Negroni — not that you get that done well everywhere. Here it was perfect: ice-cold, straight up, and heaven after a hard day. He explains the way the restaurant works — upstairs are some tables and stools along the bar with many shiny bottles. The bar menu has small plates — perfect for trying out the chef and if you are in a hurry.
The chef is Mr. Allan Pickett (yes, we smiled, too), and is a bit like Hyacinth Bouquet in reverse. The charm of this, and the inherent modesty, translate into the whole place. That Alan worked for quite a few of the Michelin greats, like Roux and Galvin, is not advertised, but immediately clear in the food they serve. It is exquisite, but not flash or precious, tasty but does not parade its credentials. There is precise attention to seasonal sourcing, but you won’t have to read long paragraphs about it’s provenance. This is truly a restaurant for adults, people who don’t have to chase after the newest pop-up or fad, who know what they like and they like good quality. You are allowed to sit comfortably, with music at a level that is enjoyable and allows you to actually speak to your fellow diner. Bliss!
The decor is fun — at long last last someone has dared to do something new but still comfortable! Ryco’s Quentin Reynolds managed to get a balance that lets you relax. Comfy chairs downstairs in the restaurant with enough space to breathe, with groovy benches and funky glass-doors that reminded me of the Ivy upstairs.
Sadly we had only time for the Fir Room experience upstairs, not even time to hang in the snug, so we enjoyed the little plates that packed a punch. Flavours were judged perfectly: cod cheeks, pork croquettes, salmon with blinis. Deep flavours that can only be found with correct cooking and superb ingredients, with just enough show.
We shall be back very soon to indulge at leisure in the downstairs restaurant. And with lunchtime menus starting at £16.50 this could easily become a favourite hang-out for all sorts of occasions.