Friday, 15 April 2016

Pitt Cue Co.

There's really no need for yet another Pitt Cue review, it's been extensively admired since opening about a month ago. But as it happens, when something pushes your cynicism and prejudices aside, it deserves all the praise it can get.

This was the first of six days' leave I was oh-so-desperate for. You know, when it's the end of winter and you simply cannot face another dark and gloomy day, when it feels like forever since the Christmas holidays, and you're on the verge of emotional and physical exhaustion. I couldn't wait to start my staycation, had no firm plans, except relax, relax, and - oh yeah relax some more. But I was also determined to be out and about. Avoiding the trap of getting so comfortable sleeping in and mooching around the house that before you know it, the holiday's over. Nope, I'll be making the most of my leisure time, savouring each moment.

Dazed, I woke up. I had the morning to acclimatise to the lower gear, and a massage booked for the afternoon - perfect. Lunch, I'd decided, will be a spur of the moment thing, depending on where I am. Weather was drizzly, but I was eager to get out and explore. Even though my body felt like a thousand bricks, a touch of hay fever clouded my head, in a way, this all gave me the ability to just focus on the next step and be present in the moment, sort of slow everything down.

Fenchurch Street Station, the oldest rail station in London
Arriving at Fenchurch Street station by the C2C train, (aka the EssExpress), looking at the city awash with persistent rain, I knew adventurous exploration would be out of the question, and ran through the lunch options through my head - something nearby, something hearty, something tasty. I knew all about the Pitt Cue history, from humble van under the Hungerford bridge, to pop-up in Soho with queues snaking around the corner, and now a proper serious growed-up restaurant, on Devonshire Square across from Liverpool St station. Reviews I've read have all been excellent, and there was not too much menu faffing with branching out to new territories - they do meat, mainly pork, and they do it well. Chef and co-owner, Tom Adams, has a Mangalitza pig farm, he treats them lovingly and knows how to extricate maximum flavour from these delightful beasties.

However, the previous week, I had a disappointing dining experience at the unanimously hyped Marksman pub on Hackney Road. This prompted a somewhat surly distrusting attitude as I entered the Pitt Cue site, challenging it to dazzle or let me down. Dining alone always produces interesting reactions, and the waitress immediately tried to confine me to the bar stools, but being in my enfeebled state, it only took a short pleading 'could I have a table?' from me for her to deposit me at the nicest table in the room, on comfy sofas and next to the large, light windows. I was appeased.

Although I was now officially in holiday mode, it was not quite cocktail hour, even though the room was full of boozy city lunchers, but I did feel a drop of something in a hot drink would do me good. I asked for an Irish coffee, something I never ever normally entertain as an option, being so pedestrian a beverage. She consulted the barman and returned explaining that they don't know how to make it... but they'll try to create something for me. Huh. Surprising that at a bar with a sophisticated cocktail menu they find improvisation a challenge, and with such a well known oldie of a drink, but ok, perhaps the barman specialises in the particular concoctions available. Returning again, however, the waitress presented me with a small glass of foamy black coffee. "it might not be great, so we won't charge you for this", I was assured. To my delight this turned out to be a delicious, sweet drink, heady with whiskey.

Looking at the menu, and the tables around me, I already knew what I was going to order. A board laden with pink and glistening pork meat at a nearby table helped with the choice of a Mangalitza chop. A salad of fennel, apple and toasted hazelnuts would accompany it well, with crunch and liquorish sour-sweetness to offset the fatty richness. And the Pitt Cue mash, unreservedly praised by all, I had to try. 

Mangalitza chop

The meal was exactly as I had hoped. Wholesome, delicious and skilfully prepared, without excess experimentation - these flavours worked on a very deep and satisfying level. Crispy fennel and apple salad, dressed with a beautiful light vinaigrette, and the earthy shards of toasted hazelnuts, complementing the chop, which was served with a charred pickled onion. But it was the mash that knocked me out. The mash, that simple, childhood comfort food, was so good, I couldn't help but suppress a groan and an eye roll of pleasure with each forkful. Ok fine, so it was a marrow and mushroom mash. I mean, how could that combo not produce an incredible result. It's almost an unfair advantage right there. And as if that wasn't enough, it was served with a rich gravy, so thick and substantial, it didn't mix in with the mash to make it in any way soupy, and I was able to apportion the mouthfuls of mash with the drinkable liquid, enjoying the deep layers of flavour.

Mash, marrow and 'shroom, with the nectar that is the gravy

I had a glass of a light and tingly Loire Chenin Blanc which worked beautifully in contrast with the depth of the meal. And after a short break, feeling revived, and confident in the establishment's abilities, I opted for their Rhubarb + Custard, a deconstructed crumble, with excellent buttermilk ice cream and a stew of rhubarb served under shards of caramely crunchy crumble.

I sat looking out into the wet streets, blinking like a newborn pup, my face relaxed into a serene smile. I smiled at the staff, at the other diners, at the people outside. I paid my bill and thanked my server. I'll be back, I said. I have to share this with people. And leaving the restaurant, I rubbed my hands together, thinking: 'right, let's get this vacation started'.

Two weeks later, I returned with a hard-to-please foodie friend. She was impressed:

Partly devoured caramel chicken cunningly angled to hide gnawing. Plate was licked clean.

Lamb shoulder (shared) on a bed of sour cabbage and onion

First plating, still civilised

Sourdough and roe, ordered by accident, mais je ne regrette rien


  1. Delicious summary , here I thought I'm easy to please, but you're right when it comes to food I ain't !