Picture this. Two Michelin Star experienced Head Chefs open their first solo gig, more casual, collars loosened, cooking the kind of food that they’d like to eat. The menu kicks along at an exhilarating pace, dashing between influences, taking in smoked eel and pickled vegetables; crisp pork cheek and BBQ sauce; rabbit shoulder and mushroom ravioli; lebanese fried chicken; spiced lamb meatloaf; rare beef salad; crispy squid. Then breathe. Add a charming, experienced and enthusiastic manager as part of the package. Place in a building on Great Portland Street that you could easily pass by dozens of times without noticing. Shake it all together until a restaurant emerges: the result is a slow burner of an opening that surprises from the kick-off.
Colin Kelly and Alan Christie met while heading up the kitchens at Wild Honey and Arbutus respectively, the Michelin starred outposts from serial restaurateurs Will Smith and Anthony Demetre, while manager Tom Slegg also worked for the group — some very decent pedigree to be taking into a London restaurant arena that is becoming fiercer and more competitive at a quite dizzying pace.
There’s an artlessness (whether by design or by circumstance) to the design and feel of Picture, something the owners have referred to as “light industrial”. New wave restaurant design? Inspired by Kratftwerk? Possibly. A dining bar made with reclaimed parquet flooring dominates the first half of the room, jutting out towards the doors. This feels like anti-design, an antidote to 2am head scratching by restaurant design consultants.
Gratis mini-sourdough baguettes (no charge, just ask, the menu sweetly states) is a hospitable start. We wade into the menu over two visits:
LAMB BITES (£4) — The essence of a Sunday roast captured in a morsel. Roasted lamb shoulder fashioned into bite sized crumbed bites, making a fiercely good bar snack. Garlic aïoli for dipping sends this rocketing into the top corner. 1-0.
SPICED LAMB MEATLOAF (£7) — Echoes of the mince found in a Turkish Adana kebab, this meatloaf is its brother from another mother. Flavoured with the magical crimson flakes of sumac, coriander, cumin, the pressed lamb is singing with flavours of a Turkish accent. Then a ‘woah’ moment as sweet white peach slips into the mix…and what’s this, a diaphanous crunch of fried curry leaf? Something nefarious is going on here, as it sounds like it all shouldn’t work — it’s pulled off with aplomb and a flicked middle finger to the doubters (me).
LEBANESE FRIED CHICKEN (£8) — Another nod to the Middle East, a fine ’00′ flour coating keeps these light and crisp, seasoned with fenugreek, cumin, ginger, garlic and paprika. A smear of yoghurt here, the sweet pop of pomegranate seed there, juicy meat against the crunch of well seasoned skin. Fried chicken may be flying high and closer to the sun than ever before in London, but with artful examples like this there will be no Icarus moment soon: a dish to return for.
LAMB BREAST CHOPS (£6) — Rubbed with harissa and finished with a dusting of toasted breadcrumbs and hazelnuts. Pick up and gnaw like a neanderthal, the way they should be eaten.
RABBIT SHOULDER AND MUSHROOM RAVIOLI (£8) — Impeccable pasta parcels holding roughly hewn rabbit shoulder, a tangle of wild mushrooms in the mix.
SLOW POACHED EGG, MUSHROOM MARMALADE (£6) Deeply flavoured egg dish with a savoury marmalade base of onions and mushroom lurking beneath, shaved fresh mushrooms, a satisfying honk of earthy fungus, oozy egg spilling its contents into the ensemble.
LINCOLNSHIRE SMOKED EEL, PICKLED VEGETABLES (£7) — A dish evoking memories of their previous roles, Arbutus and Wild Honey have done much to raise the profile of smoked eel over the years. Cute multicoloured heritage carrots stretching their spindly tendrils off the edge of the plate, heritage beetroots, slab of glistening smoked eel.
CRISP PORK CHEEK, BBQ SAUCE, RAW SALAD (£7) — A slab of pork jowl cooked to quivering tenderness, a couple of salty shards of crackling, fused with the current white-hot trend for all things BBQ, the sweet and tangy sauce a fine foil. Dude food with an education.
SOUSED SILVER DARLINGS (£7) — The ‘darlings’ in question refer to the herring, soused in a zippy vinegar marinade with a touch of welcome sweetness, crisp gem lettuce and silver skinned onions. Rogue bits of blackened crunch add some dark intrigue, until we ask and find out what they are: smoked eel scratchings. Lordy. How about some of these as a bar snack, please?
There are a couple of larger dishes at the £13-15 mark, but these somehow get lost and ignored in a mournful looking box to the right of the menu; all the real fun seems to be happening in the sprawling and unstructured list of dishes on the left.
The wine list follows on from the trailblazing standard originally set at Arbutus, opening the entire list up by the glass and carafe, a tight list of eleven reds and eleven whites. This allows you to pile in with a glass of one of the most lauded vineyards in Barolo, a ‘Serralunga’ 2008 from Rivetto at £20, or a southern French Cabernet/Merlot blend from Duc de Chappelle at £4.50. The list is 100% from Ellis of Richmond, with the best thing we taste being a sparkling Torrontes, ‘Deseado’ from Familia Schroeder in Patagonia, Argentina. Its zippy floral character coped well with a refreshing dessert of coconut rice and alphonso mango (£4), and a great raspberry and almond tart (£4).
Showing a deftness and sleight of hand in the kitchen that belies the simple menu descriptions, an archetypal ‘under promise and over deliver’ style of execution emerges. Bold dishes hopping with flavour, a room that hasn’t been designed within an inch of its life, and no overt artifice: just a place serving good food with a confident swagger.
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