Small plates near BBC Broadcasting House
Grabbing a reasonably quick but good quality sit-down meal in London can be tricky. Whether you want to treat yourself during your lunch break or need to catch a show or the last train home, it’s often necessary to resort to pre/post-theatre set menus or cheap and nasty chains. Picture shows that doesn’t have to be the case though. On both of my quiet weekday visits I was in and out in an hour, with dishes coming out in quick succession. If the kitchen can maintain that level of performance when the place is packed out, then they deserve kudos just for that.
Service was enthusiastic and friendly, while the dining room is sparsely furnished and filled with handsome wooden tables and what look like reclaimed chairs. The front opens out onto the pavement, although the smoggy bustle of Great Portland Street doesn’t create the best atmosphere for alfresco summer dining.
I had high hopes for Picture as it was founded by refugees from the Arbutus group of restaurants. The food comes in tapas-sized portions designed for sharing and has an eclectic style, with influences from North Africa, South East Asia and more.
First things first
My first visit started off with a bang. Poached eggs with mushrooms may sound dull, but the warm, soft, rich and runny egg melded beautifully with the firm mushrooms on a thin crisp wafer. Even better were the bed of mushrooms sitting underneath. These squidgy, silky and mildly salty mushrooms were lip-smackingly good when mixed in with a bit of yolk.
Soused silver darlings sound like a species of bird, but it’s actually just pickled herring. Paired with crisp pickled vegetables, the fish was tart and sharp. It was pleasing enough, but it’s not far removed from the pickled herring you’d find from a street vendor in Amsterdam.
The Lebanese fried chicken on the menu instantly caught my eye. The small chunks of moist poultry were coated in a crisp, crumb-free, oil-free coating. Served on the side was a lightly-spiced sauce which I think was made largely from cumin. It was a good match for the chicken, although it could’ve been more boldly flavoured. The tart, pomegranate-flecked yoghurt was pleasant enough, but didn’t really match the rest of the dish. Overall, it wasn’t bad just a little unremarkable and it felt like it should be a street food or takeaway dish that you can just grab with your fingers rather than cutting at fruitlessly with a knife and fork.
For some reason restaurants left, right and centre are making dishes with peaches as one of the ingredients. Here, it’s a spiced lamb meatloaf with peaches and tomatoes. Neither of those fruits complimented the meatloaf though, which was dense and coarsely textured but also a little too dry. It did have a strong taste of lamb to it though and reminded me of a seekh kebab.
I’m a big fan of cherries and honeycomb, so I had to have the dessert that combined both with a chocolate mousse. The dark, slightly bitter mousse was soft, fluffy and airy which contrasted well with the squidgy cherries and the honeycomb’s crisp bite and chewy finish. The contrasting textures were nicely done, but the muted flavours of all three components was disappointing.
Going back for seconds
I had mixed feelings about my first meal at Picture, so I had to return for a second time. I started off my second visit with the beef cooked rare. The small slices of steak were a little tough and chewy in places, but they were also juicy and nutty with occasional hits of salty umami-esque flavour. Accompanying the beef was some sharp, tenderised celery and some earthy beetroot and mushrooms. All three complimented not only each other, but the beef too.
The peach turned up again, this time with smoked eel and chickpeas. The eel was very bony, but also very meaty with a consistently strong smokiness to it. The juicy sharp sweetness of the peach slices helped cut through the smokiness, but while the firm chickpeas were pleasant enough I failed to see what they added to the dish.
The pea salad turned out to be the perfect dish for a balmy summer’s day. The firm peas, the sharp, creamy goat’s curd and the crisp, sweet watermelon proved to be a refreshing and tasty combination of contrasting tastes and textures.
A heartier but not heavier dish was the tripe casserole. The thick squidgy slices of tripe were served in a thin but moreishly meaty sauce along with squidgy tomatoes and wrinkly, mildly salty pieces of cavolo nero. Simple but delicious.
The dessert of coconut rice and mango has been disparaged by some, but I lapped it up. It probably helps that I’m a fan of the similar Thai dessert from which this one presumably derives inspiration. The lumpy appearance and mildly coarse texture probably doesn’t help win over the dull and unadventurous, but I was fond of the creamy, boldly flavoured rice and the squidgy, sweet slivers of fruit. A very satisfying end to a meal.
My rather hit-and-miss first meal at Picture was followed up by a stonking second that was a triumph of well-chosen flavours and textures from beginning to end. The kitchen is successfully ironing out the kinks in its menu and it’ll be interesting to watch how it changes over the coming seasons. Picture deserves to succeed due to its combination of great food, friendly service and reasonable prices. My nearby safe house means that I’m in great danger of growing fat on their food while I line their coffers. Recommended.
Branch tried: 110 Great Portland Street, London W1W 6PQ
Phone: 0207 637 7892
Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday noon-15.00 and 17.00-23.00.
Reservations: probably a good idea
Total cost for one person including soft drinks: £30-35 approx.