Two by two in Charlotte St

PIED A TERRE; 34 Charlotte Street, London W1P 1HJ. Tel: 0171 636 1178. Mon-Fri 12.15- 2.15pm and Mon-Sat 7.15-10.45pm. Three-course set lunch pounds 22. Set dinner, three courses pounds 29.50, seven courses pounds 46. Credit cards accepted

For The Past couple of years we've led a twilight existence as the "companions" of Helen Fielding, confined to "commenting" and "quipping" in her reviews. But at last, Sharon and I were to go it alone. Dauntingly, our venue was to be Pied a Terre, one of London's swankiest restaurants, whose chef Tom Aikens had just become, at 26, the youngest ever recipient of two Michelin stars. Despite the high-profile Mich-elin business, I had no problem in booking a table for a Friday night at two days' notice, although we were told sternly that we'd have to get there at 7pm and leave no later than 9.30pm.

The sheet metal doors were rather intimidating, but once inside we were greeted warmly and seated at the back of the dining room, from where we were promised we'd be able to "see everyone". The decor didn't offer much visual excitement, being fashionably understated and monochrome. The room has been criticised for its lack of atmosphere mainly because it has no windows, but two similarly windowless restaurants nearby, Elena's L'Etoile and Chez Gerard, are renowned for their atmosphere, so it's a mystery why Pied a Terre seems much boxier.

As we settled in, Sharon immediately started knocking over glasses and scattering knives, like a gangster's moll who has been asked to create a diversion. On our first excursion as Helen's dining companions, we'd gone to a restaurant in the Cotswolds and I had provided a spectacular climax by vomiting into an ashtray at the table. Sharon, who was under strict instructions to provide similar colour this time, arrived wearing an expensive new hairpiece, which sat on top of her head like a frisky doughnut.

As usual, we ordered Campari and soda and, while we scanned the menu, were brought four canapes. The menu was in English, but the complicated dishes had their roots in France. There are two set menus, but we chose from the main menu, which offered a choice of eight starters and eight main courses at a fixed price of pounds 32.50. Pied a Terre prides itself on being the cheapest two-starred restaurant in London. With its exotic litany of snails and partridges, quail and hare, the menu read like the passenger list from Noah's Ark, climaxing in the frightening-sounding "braised pigs head and tongue with steamed trotter, celery puree, wild mushrooms, deep-fried brains and ears".

Our orders were taken by the manager, whose relaxed attitude was a world away from the clenched-buttock snootiness often shown by staff at award- winning restaurants. When Sharon took it on herself to make a bleating noise to indicate that she wanted lamb as a main course, he didn't recoil in horror, but joined in delightedly, even making a popping-mouth face to accompany my order of monkfish.

While we waited for our starters, a further surprise dish arrived of pungent red mullet in saffron sauce. The starters proper were so complex and artfully-worked that it was difficult to identify what was what, particularly as each dish seemed to be packed with mystery ingredients not mentioned on the menu. My pan-fried langoustine with truffled potato salad came with a full supporting cast, which I reeled off like a panicking contestant on The Generation Game - "artichoke heart, asparagus tip, radish, no, sorry, turnip..." as they sped past my gullet. Sharon's roasted scallops with apple and ginger puree, fennel and chive sauce was such a hit that she was still trying to suck the sauce off individual bits of chive when the waiter came to take her plate. We wondered whether starters featured purees because Tom Aikens is so young that Heinz baby food is still one of his influences.

The restaurant was starting to fill up and we managed to eavesdrop on a ruddy plutocrat's attempts to impress his glamorous young foreign companion. We marvelled as she dead-batted his every attempt to charm, turning her nose up at the menu - she was a vegetarian - and the wine list - she only likes sweet sherry. Seemingly oblivious to her surliness, he battled on, trying to force her to speculate whether he was a pussy cat or a tiger, neither of which, surprisingly, featured on the menu.

The main courses were as spectacularly beautiful as the starters. My monkfish was plump and moist, and came on top of parsley mash, with braised salsify and brandade. The only discordant note in the smoky mix of tastes came from chunks of over-sharp artichoke. Sharon's lamb fillet sat inside a Stonehenge formation of confit turnip and roast garlic, and was topped with the alarming addition of fried lamb's tongues. She nibbled cautiously on them, then hid them under garlic husks. We agreed that it was grown-up cooking, everything sensationally dark and autumnal-tasting - the food equivalent of Alan Rickman.

Our puddings ordered, we were startled by the arrival of a pre-pudding, a vanilla cream of intense richness which left us both feeling a bit full. When Sharon's chocolate assortment came, it was arranged on a giant white plate, half of which had been dipped into molten chocolate to create a sensual ebony-and-ivory backdrop to the assorted souffles, ice-creams, tarts, mousses and parfaits. My own banana-themed cluster encompassed cheesecake, tartlet, and brulee, and my hopes began to rise that the evening might yet end in a Cotswold-style incident.

It was now well past our 9.30pm deadline, but there was no attempt to rush us out. On the contrary, we were brought two stainless-steel slabs laden with scores of petit fours, which we could do no more than look at. As we rounded off with coffee and limeflower tea, we pondered whether it would be possible, in view of the unexpected courses, to have a free four-course dinner just by coming in. As it was, our bill came to pounds 139, including wine at pounds 31 but excluding service. Despite every encouragement, Sharon's hairpiece - and her dinner - stayed put, so after drinking a final toast to our missing mentor Helen, we stepped back into the shadows.

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
    RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

    RuPaul interview

    The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
    Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

    Secrets of comedy couples

    What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
    Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

    Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

    While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
    The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

    The best swimwear for men

    From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
    Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

    Mark Hix goes summer foraging

     A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
    Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

    With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

    Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
    Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

    Aaron Ramsey interview

    Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
    Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

    Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

    As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
    The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

    Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

    Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
    A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

    A Very British Coup, part two

    New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms