Over the years my tastes and habits, when it comes to food – have changed so much I don’t think I’d recognise myself if I could rewind seven years or so back. I was never a fussy eater, but I knew what I liked and more often than not, the simpler, quality led cooking would capture my heart. But then tasting menus, blow-torched mackerel and freeze-dried everything covered our plates. It meant for two things. Firstly London becoming one of the best places in the world for food, but also those simpler, original restaurants which created London started to close down. So when I heard about Petit Pois, tucked away on Hoxton Square I snapped up the opportunity to visit. A french bistro style restaurant with charm, simple and quality led cooking – which always starts with a glass of bubbly, or two.
We didn’t visit Petit Pois for a rampage of eating through its entire menu, but instead on a Sunday to divulge in the restaurants latest offering – a beef bourguignon pie. I’ve loved beef bourguignon for as long as I can remember and over the years, I quite liked to think I’ve perfected it. The greatest French cookery book (in English) is in my opinion that of Julia Child’s – The Art of French Cooking. A British women who moved to France and wanted to teach the English how to cook real French food, with the instructions written in English. People probably thought she was mad at the time, not speaking even a word of the language. I can tell you now that her version of this classic, which took me two whole days to prepare, complete with shallots simmered in bouquet garni for hours on end was one of my most successful dinner parties. But then Petit Pois had to come alone and rain all over my parade. Not only did they create a version better than mine, but stuff it all into a golden glazed flaky pie. They serve it with a heavenly selection of accompaniments too. Those carrots and butter coated broccoli florets were fantastic, smothered in garlic and chilli.
The pie arrives at the table, piping hot with steam pouring out of the sides and centre as you dig in. Inside it’s a mixture of quality beef, sourced from Nathan Mills at The Butchery – which has been slow cooked in smooth red wine and mixed with bacon lardons, shallots, juicy chestnut mushrooms, garlic and thyme. It had that lovely herby bouquet garni essence I love so much and the depth of flavour it carried was incredible. Just the right consistently to the sauce too, clinging to the pastry as we spooned it out but not saturating everything – meaning you still get that flaky crispness in the mouth. As pie goes this is probably the best you’ll ever eat.
If all that wasn’t already good enough, more sides came in the way of duck fat roast potatoes and creamed spinach. Both were yet again absolutely faultless. That spinach, was as rich as you could ever have imagined, full of calories. But better still were those roast potatoes. They looked like something from a TV advert, the kind you always wish your own would like, but never do. Golden, crisped to utter perfection and with a slight lingering taste of the fat they had been cooked in. I’d come back just for these roasties alone.
The dessert served as part of this Sunday menu is what has actually made Petit Pois most famous for. While it should be that pie, it’s surprisingly something much more humble than that – chocolate mousse. A whole bowl of it arrives at the table, dusted with cocoa powder and staked with a large spoon. The stuff of dreams. It wasn’t until I spent some time in the Loire Valley that I realised the simple chocolate mousse could be so much more than simple, and Petit Pois makes you realise once again just why. Rich, smooth, creamy, decadent – it has it all.
We had a lovely time at Petit Pois and while we didn’t quite spend hours tucking into its perfectly formed menu, this Sunday introduction was a reason to return. It has a real sense of traditional France, but with that London precision to everything. The only downside of this discovery on Hoxton Square, is that the British Sunday roast will never be the same again, because why would you want dry pork when you can have all of this for just £25 per person. It’s an absolutely bargain.