Sister restaurant to London's two-Michelin-starred Pied à Terre, L'Autre Pied opened last November with Marcus Eaves at the helm. Tom Vaughan reports
There aren't many 26-year-olds who've been given the responsibility of their own London fine-dining restaurant. In fact, before Marcus Eaves opened L'Autre Pied, it was only Brett Graham, protégé of Phil Howard at the Ledbury, who springs to mind as handling a London kitchen at such a tender age.
Even after four years effectively running the Pied à Terre kitchen as sous chef while Shane Osborn handed down some responsibility, Eaves admits that a site of his own was just a pipe dream. Every now and then Osborn would query what Eaves might do with his own restaurant, and the answer was one of concern that he might very quickly run out of ideas. That didn't stop Osborn driving him home after service last autumn, pulling up outside 5 Blandford Street in London's Marylebone, and asking him if he liked his new restaurant.
Within five weeks they'd turned the site around from run-of-the-mill to fine-dining restaurant, spending most of the money on a new kitchen. Pithily renamed L'Autre Pied, the restaurant is a joint project between Eaves, Osborn and Pied à Terre co-owner David Moore.
The insides are a hotchpotch of white walls and dark-green delicately motif-ed partitions and backlit glass panels. The tables were the one expenditure out front - the rest was kept from the preceding restaurant - and are heavy and dark with intricate wrought-iron legs. The restaurant forgoes the formality of tablecloths and seats 51.
How does Eaves describe his style of cooking? "It's definitely modern, that's for sure," he says. "Some people say modern French, some people say modern English, but the description I prefer most is modern electric." You mean modern eclectic? "Yeah, that - modern eclectic. I thought modern electric sounded weird."
One dish he considers a signature is mosaic of beetroot, soured cream, balsamic jelly and red-veined sorrel (£9.25) and is one he has been working on for a while. The beetroot is cooked in half-vegetable and half-chicken stock with a bouquet garni. The liquid is then reduced and used to set the beetroot in a terrine. With the sour cream, a tuile of beetroot and sugar, and the red-veined sorrel, it's a light, springy dish that needs the sharpness of the balsamic to give it that extra dimension.
The pan-fried foie gras, apricot and vanilla purée with bay leaf foam (£14.95) is particularly popular, coming with a sweet and sour sauce - "like you'd dip your chicken nuggets in", says Eaves - wilted pak choi, toasted sesame seeds and a bay leaf froth.
The reason for large number of dishes with nuts on is the small size of the kitchen team - flucatuating between six and nine at present. "We haven't got time to make tuiles and biscuits, so I like using nuts as a means of getting texture into dishes," says Eaves.
Roast breast of guinea fowl, white asparagus, caramelised cèpes, confit lemon and toasted pine nuts (£18.95) is a case in point. Without the nuts, the softness of the cèpes and the braised white asparagus would complement the guinea fowl too fondly and not give the dish an extra edge that the crunch of pine nuts adds.
The highlight of the desserts is rhubarb, pistachio and almond crumble with rhubarb sorbet and cardamom ice-cream (£7.50). It's layered intricately in a cocktail glass and is much more complex than you might think, rounding off the initial flavours of rhubarb and pistachio with an almost spicy finish from the cardamom.
Eaves is by no means running out of ideas, but one concern of his is not to become, in his own words, "Pied à Terre's mini-me". But with an average spend of only £60 - half of what it is at Pied à Terre - the site is always going to be the more accessible of the two. And it is still early doors in Eaves's progress. "We're changing, changing, changing the whole time," he says. "The standard of food has been going up since we started. We're a young team, and we're going to keep on improving."
Also on the menu
Away from the stove
"I went to the Greenhouse recently," says Eaves. "The standard of the produce they are buying is amazing. The piece of turbot I had was as thick as halibut. There can't be many places in London you'll get a piece of fish as good as that."
L'Autre Pied, 5-7 Blandford Street, Marylebone, London W1U 3DB. Tel: 020 7486 9696. Website: www.lautrepied.co.uk