Words Kirk Truman
Photography John Carey
“We were welcomed by locals and other businesses with open arms and have felt part of a real community ever since. There is a charm to the area unlike most others in London.”
Now, I’m not one to pick favourites, but I must confess that my arm is somewhat bent when it comes to a certain modern European restaurant at 110 Great Portland Street. From an unforgettable à la carte menu to one of my favourite bars to sip carefully away at whiskey; some would regard this place as an emporium of upmarket British-European fare in a utilitarian-chic space with plastered walls. Though its founders prefer the title Picture.
Picture opened its doors in 2013, founded by trio Tom Slegg, Alan Christie & Colin Kelly; restaurateurs with a diverse portfolio from front-of-house to fine dining. Front-of-house Tom who originated in Suffolk worked in restaurants in his home county from the age of 15. He moved to London in 2009 to work as a restaurant manager for the Michelin star rated Arbutus Restaurant Group. Chef Alan, originated from Aberdeen where he trained and worked. Moving to London in 2000, he worked at Putney Bridge Restaurant later working at Arbutus when it opened in 2006 where he became head chef in 2007. Chef Colin, originated from Tullamore, Ireland. He trained and worked in Dublin before moving to London in 2002. Colin worked at The Orrery restaurant before moving to Putney Bridge Restaurant then on to Arbutus Restaurant Group.
With the trio working within the same restaurant group (Arbutus) for a number of years, they shared a desire to begin their own venture. “We all got on well and had our own ambitions. It seemed the logical step to give it a go together and see what we could create. It has been a real bonus to have input from both front-of-house and the kitchen within the team” says Tom.
Location was first on the agenda for the trio, whose eyes were initially drawn to the Soho neighbourhood. “Soho has such an amazing energy and has become a hub of fantastic restaurants. Unfortunately with that comes a price-tag that was above the budget of first time restaurateurs like ourselves!” says Tom. However they were swiftly drawn away from the Soho allure to the more exclusive postcode of Fitzrovia. “We loved the area. Fitzrovia and Great Portland Street has a lovely neighbourhood feel despite being so close to Oxford Street and all the hustle and bustle associated with it.” A site on Great Portland Street was soon suggested by an agent. It ticked all the boxes particularly when it came to the size and feel. With the BBC and many other local businesses being so close by, they saw an opportunity which they knew would bring something new to the street.
Seeking to be in keeping with the area, the trio wanted to create a restaurant with a real neighbourhood feel. “Opening a restaurant in London today is tough – there is a concern that you need to be ‘on-trend’, that you need to ‘keep up or get forgotten’. We are all strong believers, however, that if you focus on serving the best food you can with genuinely warm hospitality you can’t go too far wrong. Our aim was to create an un-intimidating environment where people can have fun” says Tom. For some time, the owners were tossing and turning between names for the restaurant. Conclusively they decided on Picture a name evocative of the neighbourhood’s relationship with design and media.
Exquisite food and value for money embody the ethos behind the menu at Picture. From Pork cheek with kohlrabi, mustard seed and a Granny Smith apple to Hake brandade, brown shrimps, sea greens and sourdough croutons, the à la carte menu caters to a wide variety of tastes. The six course seasonal tasting menu (available at £39 per head) has proved particularly popular amongst regular diners and is a great way to sample all of their current dishes. “The food itself I suppose would be categorised as modern European. It is light and fresh and a lot of care is taken with the quality of the product coming in to the kitchen. The majority of our suppliers are London based but we also like to look a little further afield for produce that is really worth it. For example, the highest quality lamb from Elwy Valley in Wales has become a staple on our menu.” To add to the incredible menu and relaxed dining environment, Picture boasts a beautiful parquet-topped bar in a modern setting with a team of experienced bar tenders creating truly innovative cocktails.
Upon acquiring the site in 2013 the initial renovation took its toll on the overall budget. But welcomed entirely by locals and other businesses, Picture and its founding trio have felt part of a real community from the outset. “The area around us immediately seemed to be booming. When we opened we knew that we were taking a risk. Thankfully, we have seen other restaurants and bars arrive, adding a vibrancy to the area that can only mutually benefit our neighbours. We attract a lot of regular guests and are aware that this repeat business and word-of-mouth is what will keep us running successfully!” says Tom.
Picture, now an established part of Fitzrovia’s restaurant scene, always has an eye to improving their offerings and keeping their ideas fresh. The restaurant looks forward to many years ahead in the area and a potential expansion. “We are looking to open more restaurants in the future, and will probably stay as central as possible. There is no doubt however that we will always look at Fitzrovia as home.”