June 2004

No lentils. No rice. No compromise

When Pied a Terre creates an eight course vegetarian tasting menu with wine, you know it's going to be a treat with no shortcuts. Forget student food, welcome to the grown up world of vegetarianism

Pied a Terre is something of a London institution. Based in Charlotte Street since 1991, here is where the moneyed media go to lunch on very fine French food and film stars can often be spotted (dimly) behind the frosted glass of the semi-private area at the front. The restaurant is under the control of the double act of Shane Osborn and David Moore - Shane the head chef and David the front of house manager. David has recently handed over Sommelier duties, but his remarkable wine knowledge means that he still has a great deal of input into the wine choices, particularly when it comes to the tasting menus.

We talked to Shane and David about their new departure within the restaurant, a purely vegetarian tasting menu. While most restaurants have something on the menu suitable for vegetarians, the idea of offering veggies an eight course tasting menu with wines for each course, is something really rather unique for a restaurant of this quality. And very welcome.

Sitting upstairs in the private dining area after a typically booked out lunchtime, with Channel 4 political pundits dawdling downstairs over their coffee, I asked Shane and David about the thinking behind the vegetarian menu which, having sampled, I can say is as good as anything produced for the carnivores of Charlotte Street.

It seems the idea of a vegetarian meal was something they had been discussing for a while. 'We did it before,' explains David, 'but it didn't really kick off and I think that was simply because we weren't letting people out there know about it.' Shaun agrees and offers a further interesting thought. 'If people are paying something like £45 a head, then they wont go for the vegetarian option through some nagging sense that they wont be getting their money's worth. ' He shakes his head sadly. 'And yet vegetables in point of fact are not cheap, certainly not at the standard we demand here. We spend more money on vegetables here each day than we do on fish and meat.'

Shane is also very aware of people with food intolerances and he himself is not too keen on large, heavy meals and so creating the menu was very much a labour he enjoyed. Like everything Pied a Terre does it was born from a keen desire to give customers high quality dining that would also be as healthy as possible.

So I asked them to take me through the menu, explaining both the food and the wine choices. Shane the food, and David the wine.

Chilled Gazpacho Consommé with Aubergine Caviar and Frozen Black Olive Oil


Normally Gazpacho is a red puree but we wanted to make something really light, especially with summer coming up. This clear gazpacho has got the most intense flavour so we serve it in a very small portion. It really 'bites' you! A full on flavour that wakes you up. The black olive oil is frozen when it hits the gazpacho, but by the time it gets to the table it's already melting and permeating the soup. The aubergine is roasted in the oven, and its not one of those terrible great Dutch things, it's a proper Italian aubergine beautifully purple and tasty.


The wine for this is the Gruner Verliner 2002. We're big on Austrian wines; this is an indigenous Austrian wine with a big classic style to it. If there was one wine that you'd want to drink right through the meal this would be it. It's got the acidity, the structure, the firmness and the elegance. It's a good place to start. Austrian wine is a little bit frowned on over here, but the fact is in England we simply don't see the best, Eighty percent goes to the home market in Austria and Germany. The good ones, like this, are stunning and we're delighted to bring to an international stage.

Avocado Ceviche with Crème Fraiche


Okay so what's a ceviche? Well normally a fish dish mostly found in South America. This is my vegetarian take on it. The richness of the avocado and the crème fraiche we find marry together beautifully. It's quite light too, a nice fresh start to the meal. I don't personally like avocados by themselves and so I like this a lot. Avocados are a tricky fruit, you can't take them in and out of the fridge or they get those black spots. Luckily we have very good suppliers and so the avocados we use are always just right.


We serve a New Zealand Chardonnay 2002 with this. It's called EC2 because the grower worked there before heading off to New Zealand and making very nice lean and dry almost Chablis style Chardonnay. This is a great wine and its leanness cuts through the richness of the dish, it has a nice acidic backbone. A very good partnership

Fresh asparagus and Morels, celeriac and parmesan veloute


This is English asparagus at its very best. My suppliers call me and ask how much I want for the next day and then go out and cut it to order. There's no middleman. It's quite beautiful. The morels are French and give the dish an excellent texture. I'd like to use English wild mushrooms but they really are hard to come by, we just don't have the expert wild pickers you find in every village and town across Europe. Celeriac? Yes, it's a big and often off putting vegetable, but peel off the knobbly skin and the snow white flesh is fantastic. It's one of my favourite vegetables. It makes wonderful soups and it's a great base to do lots of different things.


Chateauneuf du Pape 2002.Great grape varieties here. Asparagus is famously hard to find a wine match for and most people don't even bother trying. A sommelier will usually lead you toward a Gewürztraminer, which is the usual choice as it has the right structure and is a big styled wine. But this is different, and not the red wine you may have been expecting. It's a nice surprise for our diners. You might say it's almost a curiosity. You can buy it yourself, though, it wont be an easy find but it's so worth it.

Sauté Spatzle, New Season garlic, Baby broad beans and Hazelnut emulsion


Spatzle? It's German pasta you make and hold it on a tray over boiling water and then hit it with a palette knife so that it goes into the water in all different shapes. I wanted to do a pasta dish for this menu, but one that was different from the norm. I really like Spatzle's texture, we sauté it in beurre noisette so it's crunchy on the outside but soft inside and a bit chewy. The new season garlic is just great. For now the broad beans are from France but the English crop will be here soon. Baby broad beans are just so different from those monsters you see in the supermarkets which are really shocking. These hardly need any cooking.


Shiraz 2002, Shaw and Smith is the first red wine on this tasting menu. Lovely and its depth of flavours go well with the spetzle and we serve it just that tiny bit chilled too. I took to chilling Shiraz last year after Shane and I had sat out in the garden in a very hot spell and we decided to chill a couple of bottles. Of course it's not that cold, just cellar temperature, which is about twelve degrees or so below room temperature. In fact not so long ago a lot of the older wines would be drunk cooler than they are now. The tannins seem to soften. Not cold, just cooler. Just pour yours into a chilled decanter and that will bring it down to a nice temperature.

Tarte Fine of caramelised endive with roasted pear, red onion marmalade and walnut oil


I love this combination of flavours, the endive is bitter and peppery and we use a bit of sugar when we caramelise it and the red onion marmalade is almost a chutney so that's sweet and sour too and that cuts against the rich, buttery puff pastry. A slightly more substantial dish for this stage of the meal.


Nero d'avola 2002I have to say that this was chosen by Mathieu our excellent sommelier. He's much more versed in Italian wines than I am. It's a great choice.

The cheese course


The Lavoche bread we serve with our selection of eight cheeses, is an unleavened bread, no yeast, and it's rolled out using a pasta machine so that it's so fine you can almost see through it. It's then baked on sheets and we do three different flavours - cumin, rock salt and poppy seed. I find bread too filling at the end of a meal and I like the crunch of this. It doesn't take away from the flavour of the cheese; it simply falls apart in the mouth, unlike water biscuits. We have our own design of cheese trolley, which keeps the aroma in, and not wafting around the restaurant. These are great cheeses but you don't want that aroma around you when you're still on your first course. We wanted a small selection, no more than eight cheeses, each one in tiptop condition every time. Some restaurants just overdo the selection. You can't keep them all perfect when you have that many. I've been to top restaurants and asked for a certain cheese and been told 'oh that isn't really ready to eat yet. ' Well, what's the point of putting it out on the ******** board then! All of ours are in brilliant condition and that's the way it should be.


With the cheese we serve a wine according to the choice you make - goat's cheese deserves a nice Sauvignon Blanc, for example. Or many people are happy to carry on drinking the Nero d'Avola.

Apple Sorbet and Goats cheese Mousse with Apple Jelly


I love goat's cheese and I wanted to do something a little bit different and yet you can't beat the classic mix of cheese, apple and grapes. So this is an unusual take on a tried and tested combination. We use seaweed gelatine for the jelly by the way; this is totally vegetarian with no short cuts or omissions. I should point out that all our stocks for this menu are pure vegetarian, we don't dip into the meat section! Some of our vegetable nages take over two days to create. We make proper stocks; we make sure we do it right!

Bitter sweet chocolate tart with stout ice cream


Well that's probably my signature dessert and has been for a while. It's just kept at room temperature, it doesn't go into the fridge, instead we make a fresh one for every service. It's timed come out the oven at 7:30 for the evening and 12:30 for lunchtime so it's always at the perfect temperature to serve. The ice cream is made with double chocolate stout and we use caramelised macadamia nuts too.

Pedro Ximenez Sherry

David and Shaun both fought to enthuse over this

Amazing stuff, almost like cough mixture! You certainly wouldn't want to drink a lot of it. But it goes so amazingly well with the tart and the ice cream, it's just great.

So there you have it perhaps the best, perhaps the only, fine dining vegetarian menu in London. If you know someone special who is not a meat eater, make their week if not their month by booking into Pied a Terre. You don't have to eat the vegetarian menu yourself, of course, but it would be a shame not to. One thing's for sure, you'll never make Nut Roast jokes again.