For three decades, through fire and furore, Pied à Terre has endured
Over its 31 year history Pied à Terre has lived through changing chefs, tabloid scandals and Michelin stars. Through it all, David Moore has remained at the front lines, greeting guests and ushering the restaurant forward
Pied à Terre has been many things throughout its over 30-year long history. It’s been a one-Michelin-starred restaurant. It’s been a two-Michelin-starred restaurant. For a time it was a no-Michelin-starred restaurant. It has had big-name chefs at its helm. It has had under-the-radar chefs at its helm. It’s seen muted decor and loud decor. French influences and Greek influences. The street outside has changed, too, growing from a relatively overlooked thoroughfare to a thriving culinary hotspot. And, among it all, Pied à Terre has remained with David Moore at its helm, his shirts increasingly more flamboyant with each passing year.
Opened in 1991 by Moore and his business partner at the time, chef Richard Neat, the restaurant quickly garnered great notoriety, obtaining a Michelin star after just 13 months. It took them another five years to gain their second star, after which Neat departed from the business. After a brief stint in India, he went on to open his own restaurant, Neat, in Cannes and in 1999 became the first British chef in France to be awarded a Michelin star.
Following Neat’s departure, Tom Aikens joined to head up the kitchen. He helped the restaurant retain its two stars – and became the youngest chef to do so. What happened between Tom Aikens and Marcus Donaldson in the Pied à Terre kitchen during his tenure as head chef has been widely reported, and ultimately led to his departure from the restaurant. “He left due to violence in the kitchen,” Moore tells me. “It became quite big news.”
That may be something of an understatement, but I don’t push the topic. Both men have moved on and had extremely successful careers regardless. For Pied à Terre, however, the departure of their head chef just before Christmas could have been seen as something of a catastrophe, had sous chef Shane Osborn not been willing to step into the rather large shoes left behind. “It’s always been the sous chefs who have stepped up,” says Moore. “It was tricky, because it was the 16th of December 1999 and we had a full house.” Thanks to what sounds like a rather chaotic final few months of the century, Osborn and Moore had become close friends and developed an easy working style, so the move made sense.
It's always been the sous chefs who have stepped up
A few months after taking the role. Pied à Terre lost its second Michelin star. It was a blow, but Moore tells me he chose to see it as an opportunity. “A lot of restaurants retain the two stars or the three stars, but the industry regards them as having inherited them, rather than having won them themselves,” says Moore. “Shane was conscious of that. So with Tom, he inherited them with the restaurant from Richard. And then when we dropped to one it was like, ‘That’s going to make life easier for us, because we know we can do that blindfolded.’ And then three years later we won it back. So that vindicated Shane Osborn and proved he was a two-star chef.”
He remained with the restaurant for over a decade, departing in 2011. While this retention of one chef for such a significant period of time may signal a period of stability, this is Pied à Terre, and upheaval seems to be woven intimately within its story. In November 2004, while Moore was visiting a wine supplier in Burgundy, a faulty ice machine part started a fire at the restaurant and resulted in it being almost entirely destroyed. It took nearly a year for the space to be rebuilt. It’s the kind of event that, coupled with serious issues with insurance, would likely force the closure of many other restaurants. But somehow Moore and Pied à Terre rose quite literally from the ashes, just another obstacle peppered through the restaurant’s storied, tumultuous past.
As evidenced from Pied à Terre’s timeline, it was not always smooth sailing. Running parallel to the Pied à Terre story, 2007 saw the opening of sister restaurant L’Autre Pied in Marylebone. Co-owned by Moore, it won a Michelin star two years after opening and served as something of a training ground for future head chefs at its predecessor, including Asimakis Chiannotis, who has been at the helm of Pied à Terre since the late 2010s. The fact that L'Autre Pied lasted a near-decade in London – many of them with a Michelin star – while arguably never quite capturing London’s collective imagination as much as its illustrious sibling is much more a testament to the latter’s enduring influence than anything lacking on the part of L’Autre Pied. It ended up closing its doors in 2017 – a “blessing in disguise,” according to Moore. “I think if I had two restaurants in lockdown, I would have been finished,” he says.
It does, ultimately, seem to be down to Moore that Pied à Terre has survived, and thrived, for so long. I’m curious, did he ever want to throw in the towel, pack it in, retire somewhere nice and move on? “Yeah, more than one or two times,” he laughs. “There were many occasions where I thought, ‘What am I doing this for? I don’t need it.’ There were times where I didn’t sleep for six months with worry.” Something kept him here, though. Whether it was love, ambition or insanity, Moore doesn’t seem quite sure, although I get the impression that it ultimately comes down to the former.
I always call Pied à Terre my first child. I’ve got three; I’ve got two girls, 15 and 12, and I’ve got the restaurant, which is 31
“I always call Pied à Terre my first child. I’ve got three; I’ve got two girls, 15 and 12, and I’ve got the restaurant, which is 31,” says Moore. “Every time it gets mentioned, you get a thrill. When somebody criticises it, it hurts. When somebody is nasty, you want to be nasty back. I’m very protective of it.” He pauses as an acquaintance walks past, breaking conversation to say hello, and ask her how she is – ever the front of house legend, he seems to have retained seemingly niche pieces of information about her life. This side comes out again at dinner, when he gets into conversation with my dining companion, a friend who works in the mental-health services. He asks her thoughtful questions, genuinely listens, and draws comparisons to his wife’s work. It’s this side of David Moore that, despite everything else, I ultimately believe has ensured Pied à Terre’s survival. He is a born hospitalitarian.
“I feel like I wake up and pinch myself, like, how did this happen?” he continues, when we get back to our conversation. “Sometimes I just think, my god, how have I managed not to fuck this up?” It would be easy to chalk it up to luck, but that would do a disservice to Moore’s commitment and hard work. It is hard to maintain a restaurant for more than a few years, let alone a fine dining restaurant in central London for over three decades. As Moore himself says, “It’s hard to articulate what it means. It’s defined my career – it’s defined hundreds of people’s careers.”
And that it has. The list of alumni is wide and varied. Moore tells me about chefs from around the world – many of them Michelin-starred – who at some point stood behind the stoves at Pied à Terre. The decor may have changed over the years, Moore’s shirts may got louder, and the bones of the space may have seen something of a fundamental rework thanks to that pesky fire, but it seems that the Pied à Terre of 2022 isn’t all that different to the Pied à Terre of 1991. And the same man will greet you as soon as you walk through the door.