Anne-Sophie Pic is one of the very few French female chefs to hold three Michelin stars. We are therefore very lucky that she has chosen London to be the home of her first venture outside of France. La Dame de Pic is located in the newly opened Four Seasons Hotel near Tower Hill. Formerly the Port of London Authority HQ, it is an imposing, impressive building – neo-classical on the outside, modern on the inside. To get to the restaurant, you walk through the reception area and Rotunda bar, which on a quiet weekday lunchtime felt like a set from a Stanley Kubrick film: it had signs of humanity (a grand piano, a stocked bar) but no people. Mercifully, there was more life in the restaurant.
Both the restaurant and the hotel still have that new smell – a smell not unlike driving a new car out of the forecourt for the first time. Perhaps Christian Dior has found a way of bottling it into a room spray: Eau de Voiture Nouvelle… Or maybe (more likely) it’s due to all the terracotta leather, used for both the seating and the aprons worn by the staff.
Anne-Sophie Pic’s cooking is stylish and accomplished with occasional flourishes of genuine originality
The design of the restaurant is based on the Paris original with earthy tones set against plain white walls and brass features. There are alcove areas allowing for little pockets of privacy. The windows are covered by opaque blinds which allow the restaurant to be bathed in plenty of natural light whilst obscuring the actual view (probably because there isn’t one). This doesn’t bother me though – I tend to find any restaurant that has a view as its USP isn’t so great when it comes to food (cf Galvin at Windows or any restaurant in The Shard).
Overall, it’s a pleasant space, but not perfect. I’m not sure that the French pop music in the background fits the high-end vibe of the restaurant. I also found it a touch too warm and the experience was marred further by the sound of drilling and banging in the background (maybe they were fixing the air con, who knows?). Also, the hand dryer in the loos had already broken. It was surprising to find so many minor faults in somewhere so new.
Looking around there seemed to be a dichotomy of diners: perhaps unsurprising because of the location, they were generally either tourists from the Tower of London looking for something more special than the nearby Pizza Express, or City types enjoying their last boozy lunches before they’re banned. Conversations around me ranged from shoes to river tours to reinsurance.
As for the food itself, Anne-Sophie Pic’s cooking is stylish and accomplished with occasional flourishes of genuine originality. Her personality shines through and betrays a slight obsession with coffee, matcha tea and tonka beans. Everything – literally everything – is graced with this touch, including tea in the mackerel starter, a coffee custard with the ile flottante and even coffee in the butter!
Her overarching style is still rooted in a classic French approach though (and self-taught at that). A starter of confit potatoes, mackerel and samphire was beautifully presented but there was much more potato than mackerel. It struck me as a little strange to rely on the humble potato as the backbone of the dish: part of me thought it was daring to use an ingredient so prosaic; the cynical part of me thought it was just to fill you up whilst the more expensive ingredients are down-played. A main of Challans chicken had a very French jus with it (reduced since the Battle of Waterloo, with plentiful knobs of Normandy butter therein). For cooking at this level and at these prices I expect a bit more than bog-standard French sauces. It was, however, made more memorable with droplets of grapefruit puree – otherwise I would’ve dismissed this as a bit average. The Ile flottante with the aforementioned coffee custard was delightful – a light, pleasurable way to round it all off.
Conversations around me ranged from shoes to river tours to reinsurance
The service is both very good and friendly. The knowledgeable and young maitre d’ enthused about the ubiquity of coffee in the menu when I queried it and he also offered to provide matching wines by the glass for each course – something that isn’t advertised on the menu (a tick in the discretion box right there). The wines were indeed perfectly matched: the Riesling with my mackerel starter cut through the inherent oiliness; the Napa Valley Granache for my chicken main was a pleasant surprise in a French restaurant.
The value seemed fair on the whole, though not always universally applied (the lunchtime set menu is already pushing it at £39; but on the a la carte, starters start at £19). Overall it’s a good place with a lot of promise but you might want to go there sooner rather than later – this will surely get the attention of Michelin soon and if it is garlanded in stars the prices will go up even more.
Four Seasons Hotel
10 Trinity Square
by J A Smith