Picture Fitzrovia (August 2013)

The first, perhaps stupid, thought that came into my mind before dining here was why, if you were opening a new restaurant, would you call it Picture? I am not sure how much is in a name, but it certainly counts for something. Gastro-philes who are familiar with the success and enjoyment of dining at Wild Honey and Arbutus would surely come here of their own accord, but for the casual diner, might the name make one think of artwork? Or, as an acquaintance wittily remarked, picture mispronounced sounds like ‘pitcher’, and this dining experience is about as far from the forlorn food of the Pitcher & Piano pub chain as possible. The other curious thing about Picture is that there is barely an artwork in sight. Maybe the name is a post-ironic statement, a juxtaposition to the grey-washed walls, minimalist decoration and retro style furnishings. Such a design formula, also when factoring in a huge skylight in the main dining areas does create a wonderful light and airy space. The setting certainly leaves the diner with a wonderful opportunity to concentrate on the food served up by the highly talented chefs here (and more of this later). The only problem, however, that while the room was just perfect when my dining comrade and I arrived for lunch at 12.30, by peak dining time, the noise levels were such (with nothing obviously to absorb them) that non-shouted conversation become harder. Moreover, the chairs that we had thought ‘looked’ nice, certainly didn’t ‘feel’ nice after having sat on them for about an hour-and-a-half. That the place got so busy, was evidence of its popularity and winning formula – great fresh food at highly competitive prices served by genuinely welcoming staff – although my humble advice might be to dine either early or late, avoiding peak noise levels. Do dine though: we loved the food and the concept of small shared dishes works wonderfully. Sharing may have its critics, but to my mind it can democratise the whole dining experience, not restricting customers just to the traditional starter-main-dessert formula. Moreover, as grown-ups, one also doesn’t need to split each dish religiously; human nature dictates that some people will prefer one item over another, but at least this way one does have the option to try a broad range and witness the full testament to a kitchen’s talents. My comrade and I comfortably managed seven small savoury dishes (priced between £6 and £9) followed by one dessert. They delighted on all counts, presentation, freshness and innovation, the use of the traditional, but with a nod to the modern. Highlights included the sole ceviche with cucumber and sea lettuce as well as the ravioli of Italian greens and ricotta, accompanied by chilli and parmesan. Although we didn’t opt for it, a three-course set lunch of this quality for just £15 seems almost too good to be believed. Picture also scores in the wine department: everything is available by the glass, and bottles range from less than £20 to almost £80. Great food, service and price win the day!