Magazine article The Spectator

Lettonie & Pied a Terre

Magazine article The Spectator

Lettonie & Pied a Terre

Article excerpt

A GRIEVOUS injustice has been done. In the new Michelin red guide published this week, Pied A Terre restaurant has had its two-star rating reduced to one. This is an outrage which must not go unchallenged. It is traditional for restaurant critics to sneer at Michelin stars. I cannot think of one who doesn't. And it is true that Michelin has warped priorities and poor judgment. But however mannered and pedantic may be the standards that it sets, they nevertheless remain the standards. That strange feeling Gordon Ramsay keeps getting that his head is about to explode is not caused by a desperate desire to score ten in the Good Food Guide, any more than Alain Ducasse wakes up gibbering with the fear of losing one of his eight toques in the Gault-Millau. It is of those innocuous Michelin marvels which Mr Ramsay is determined to win a coveted third, and M. Ducasse to hold on to his sixth. If Lettonie, in Bath, merits two stars, then the jewel of Charlotte Street deserves at least the same. At Lettonie a few weeks ago we had a most pleasant lunch in one of the most restful dining-rooms in England. Its endless picture windows transformed the harsh blue light of a cold midwinter day into a warm, enveloping yellow. Only three other tables were occupied, but the atmosphere was languid and companionable rather than gloomy. In one comer was a middle-aged business couple out for a middle-sized treat, in another a gang of lads who pontificated with endearing gaucheness about the wine while gobbling the food with uncritical gusto, in the third a large North American bon viveur and his English companion. He tried to engage my daughter in conversation about the excellent cheese they were both having, but she, most unusually, forwent the opportunity to declaim.

Most enjoyable though it was, there was nothing remarkable about the food. We had the bortsch terrine with beef pirogi and soured cream. The chef-patron, Martin Blunos, is apparently of Latvian extraction (while his wife, the beautifully named Sidn, who runs what future generations will call the 'user interface', I assume to be Welsh). According to Helen Sabieri's short article in Alan Davidson's Oxford Companion to Food (a stupendous masterpiece, by the way) 'pirog' is the Russian word for pie, being itself derived from 'pir', meaning feast. She quotes Darra Goldstein:

[Pirogi] is as ubiquitous in Russian life as it is in literature. Street corners are dotted with hawkers selling their pies hot from portable ovens; cafes offer meat pies along with bowls of soup.... The pies range from the complex and extravagant (the many-layered salmon kulebyaka, for instance) to the simple and plain (deep-fried half-moons of dough stuffed with leftovers). The large pies are called pirogi. They are usually square or rectangular in shape.

The small pies - pirozhki, Ms Sabieri explains - 'come in a variety of shapes including small half-moons, and may be either fried or baked. They are a popular accompaniment to soups, especially clear broths and bortsch, or as part of zakuski.'

Mr Blunos's pirog was more of a pirozhki. It was as charming as any other pirozhki one might encounter, but not more so. The same can be said of an earthy dish of glazed belly pork with mashed potato and roasted garlic. It had strong but subtle flavours and soft, pliant textures which were initially very pleasant, but with not really enough crunch to balance the viscosity, nor any sharper tastes to cut through the sweetness. …

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