I’ve had Picture nagging at me from my ‘to visit’ list ever since I first came across it, I think on Lizzie’s blog, almost a year ago. It’s a restaurant that I don’t think has ever really reached deserved peak consciousness, falling instead into a gentle undercurrent of awareness. It’s why I’ve not previously felt the urgency to visit, not like you do with the latest hotspots, that aggressively screech for attention, brazenly splashing social media with *that* signature dish like cheap perfume. I’m ashamed to say, like many more no doubt, that it’s due to the hiring of a PR that I finally find myself with no choice but to visit.
I’m just around the corner on a Saturday, post Workshop espresso masterclass, with a gurgling espresso ravaged stomach and in need of something quick and substantial to calm it down. It’s late afternoon, I’m alone and hoping for bar dining, but a cursory peer into Picture reveals a slightly cold and unwelcoming sight; an empty steel bar and a distant flurry of activity past this at the back. I do however clock a ridiculously reasonable set lunch menu and make a mental note to return with a friend, or indeed just a smidge earlier than I am at that moment, if it’s to be a solo visit. In the meantime I smother my growling stomach with ramen at Tonkotsu.
Before I have a chance to return of my own accord, their PR sends an invite. Well ok, yes, actually I would very much like to visit, thank you; promptly a friend and I are booked in for dinner.
On a Thursday evening, I arrive before my friend, am sat at the bar and greeted warmly by manager Tom who gives me a bit of their background; he, together with the head chefs of Arbitus and Wild Honey had decided to open their own place. They didn’t want to make a song and a dance about it, they just wanted to have their own restaurant, cooking their own thing, and hence that original decision not to hire a PR. Fitzrovia it turns out, is much cheaper than Soho where they originally had sights, the name is chosen simply to fit with the area than for any other highfalutin subliminal reason. Located a fair way up on Great Portland Street, they weren’t getting the passing footfall they’d hoped for and without a PR, they missing much needed awareness, and so the decision was made. I’ve consequently seen a steady stream of my Twitter feed visit now and I hope it makes the difference for them, as I really warmed to Picture and the team behind it.
The evening of our reservation arrives and I come riding in strong on a lunch of Campari and sodas, it seems prudent to order an off menu Negroni to round things off. The barman is a kind looking man with a twinkle in his eye whom I watch with great pleasure pouring, not your la-di-da and reserved wine measures, but great glugging glassfuls, generously splashing in as much as possible. My friend, when she arrives orders a champagne cocktail laced with lemon and mint adorned with a purple flower, it tastes sweetly of fresh lemonade.
I hadn’t realised the restaurant was quite so small, little more than a long corridoor, the first half dominated by this slick looking bar that, to me, feels incongruous to the second half of the room as it has a far warmer, more rustic and trattoria vibe, replete with back wall mural and dappled paintwork. The menu is divided into a la carte on one side with a tasting menu on the other. We decide to leave ourselves in the hands of the kitchen, pretty much always a wise move, and at £35 for six courses seems to be very good value too.
Expectations are raised with a platter of bread and butter; two, very cute, individual baguettes, warm and crusty, are served with whipped butter. We choose a red wine that is on the cheaper end of the list that has a heavy aroma but is surprisingly sprightly and juicy on the palate.
We start proper with a Squash Velouté, I never order soup (boring) but this is a tiny bowl that smells of autumn, tastes of fennel and cumin seeds and has a luxurious texture that is velvety and mousse-like.
Our next course arrives swiftly after; Grilled, tender stem broccoli sits on top of goats curd, finely diced plum tomatoes, capers and a hearty dose of dill, little croutons add necessary texture and interest.
Next up is the triumph of the night; shoulder of lamb is so soft and full of flavour we guess it’s been sous vide-ed, devoid entirely of stringyness, it falls apart at the slightest prod. Chunks of meruez sausage boost richness and add spice, coco beans and tomato make a jus and puree. An astonishing simple and yet vibrant plate of food.
Three perfect parcels of ravioli with Italian greens and ricotta, really benefit from the warming spice and flavour of chilli.
28 Day Dry Aged Beef served in two, well cooked, chunks with curly kale, sweet potato puree and salsify suffers only from it’s position after that lamb dish, lacking quite the requisite punch of flavours that we’ve only just experienced. Not a negative, more of a comment on how good the former was.
Dessert is a heavenly combination of chocolate mousse, diced and caramelised banana with a peanut cream. Combined, the elements remind me of the artificial greatness of foamy banana sweets. I can’t resist hunting down the original sweets a few days later, the idea lodged firmly in my head.
We make pigs of ourselves by ordering a cheese plate to share, having decided, our waiter leaves the choice up to us, to take this after dessert. Oatcakes and three cheeses from La Fromagerie are swiftly polished off, you can tell we’re having a good time as I’ve given up taking photos at this point.
You know my only gripe? It’s with those big, statement-y plates that have become so popular but really grate on me and dwarf food. I’m pretty sure this is a personal quirk though as everyone else seems to like them…
Picture is the sort of place that feels like it would benefit from a different location, as a neighbourhood restaurant on the edges of town it would really have the chance to sparkle, as it is, it feels a bit strangled by the cluttered network of other dining options in the surrounding areas. Above all though I get a real sense of integrity, a warmth and honesty that behaves like MSG to the tastebuds and emanates from the staff. I note that they have a BYO Monday, which seems like the perfect excuse to instigate another wine evening with friends, it’s the sort of place you can imagine laughing and chatting for hours over a few bottles.
Picture is less slick in feel than you might expect from it’s front, though the service is exemplary, and all the better for it in my opinion.