A year on from opening, 30-year-old chef Keith Goddard is slowly winning over the locals but has found it a steeper learning curve than he expected and a continual battle with prices. James Stagg explains.
Having taken over the site of a few failures, Keith Goddard could be forgiven for having some misgivings as to whether 101 Pimlico Road was akin to room 101 in George Orwell's 1984 - a place to face your worst fear or nightmare.
But the classically trained chef - who studied at the French Culinary Institute in New York and has worked at Tom Aikens and with Oliver Peyton at the Wallace Collection - is slowly winning over the well-heeled locals.
A year since opening the cosy, 45-seat neighbourhood restaurant, 30-year-old Goddard admits that it's been a steep learning curve for him and his 25-year-old business partner Will Guess - who also runs Rowley's restaurant in London's Jermyn Street.
"The main thing is doing what I want to do within budget to the correct margins, which is difficult," he says. "It's important that we make it a profitable business."
But in the economic microclimate of Pimlico, Goddard has found it complicated to gauge how to pitch his wholehearted and exciting food.
"I was facing having to take Côte de Boeuf off the menu as I wasn't hitting the margin I need to on it," he explains. "So I decided to put the price up and for the next two weeks it sold 30% more. It's strange, and when you're trying to build a business, it makes you wonder what to do."
He may have some doubts regarding pricing, but there is no such uncertainty when it comes to Goddard's cuisine. His sauces are classical but it's clear that the menu is open to new ideas and influences.
"I've been conscious not to limit myself. Obviously my background is French but I don't want that to hold back my cooking," Goddard says. "I've tried not to be too afraid of experimenting and don't want to take myself too seriously."
A starter of mozzarella, fig, Serrano ham and rocket salad with port vinaigrette (£12.50) confirms Goddard's nod to a more uncomplicated approach. The result is a refreshingly simple dish of well-sourced ingredients, served with care.
At the other end of the scale is diver scallops, truffled potato, raisin purée, tomato and basil (£12). Perfectly seared scallops sit atop a cloud of fluffy potato buoyed with truffle oil, while raisin purée proves a surprisingly pleasant pairing.
If the starters were interesting it's the meat which really excels. This, as ever, starts with the sourcing, and having worked at celebrated butcher O'Shea's of Knightsbridge, Goddard knows where to find the finest. The aforementioned Côte de Boeuf (£39.50 per person for two) consists of 44-day aged Black Angus beef served with roasted bone marrow, parsley and caper salad, and unlimited chips.
If that sounds extravagant, it's Goddard's truffle hand-cut chips (£4) that have really set the pulses racing. "The truffle chips are extremely popular," Goddard adds. "I had to experiment with them for ages. They're triple cooked, and to cool them quickly I hold them up to the fan in the fridge." The result is a luxuriously crisp and fluffy chip with decadent, deep truffle overtones.
Meanwhile, 10-hour lamb shoulder, spiced fruit couscous, smoked aubergine purée and almonds (£19.50) is succulent and sweet. The nature of the ingredients means the dish doesn't look like it should excite, but looks can deceive. A dollop of delicately smoked aubergine works effortlessly with the pulled lamb, both sitting on top of seriously fruity couscous which ensures the dish really packs a satisfyingly hearty punch.
However, since Caterer‘s visit the lamb is no longer on the menu due to its inflated price. Goddard explains: "Right now I don't have lamb on the menu because it's so expensive. If it came back down in price I'd think about including a lamb dish but at the moment we have a pork dish on there. It's a pork loin with pulled pork lasagne and a Morteau sausage beignet, Savoy cabbage and pig's head jus."
Desserts feature a classic chocolate brownie (£6) and home-made ice-cream (£2.50) in flavours that include peanut butter and orange marmalade. But it is the technique and talent with which Goddard deals with - and prices - his main courses that will help ensure 101 Pimlico survives in this fiscal brave new world.
101 Pimlico Road
London SW1W 8PH
Tel: 020 7730 0202
WHAT'S ON THE MENU
- â- Home-cured organic salmon, pickled fennel, crème fraiche and quails egg, £11
- â- Crispy confit duck leg, watermelon, baby gem and cashew nut salad, £10
â- Chargrilled wild halibut, sautéed potatoes, braised kohlrabi, samphire, £23.50
â- Roast cod, chorizo gnocchi, spring greens, garlic, chilli and parsley, £17
â- Corn-fed chicken supreme, stuffed and roasted, black olive mash, goats' cheese, green beans, £17
â- Coconut sorbet, mango and lime, chocolate, £6
â- Tonka bean brÁ»lée, raisin shortbread, £6
â- Strawberry and balsamic jelly, crème chantilly, £6