The day: 5 December 2009, Lunch.
The place: 29 Maddox Street, London W1S 2PA
The venue: Hibiscus
The food: Modern French
The drinks: Optional glass of wine with Saturday lunch, and a list you might expect in a 2* French restaurant.
We stroll down Maddox Street, stop staring at a closing down sale for golfing item (might need them soon, if we do not want to be social outcasts in the golfing reservation we have now moved to), and the owner chats us up, and tells us that it has never been this bad for business. Well, ought we not to support local business? The Golfman tries to dissuade us from the object of our desire: ‘too expensive’, he claims, while trying to talk us into a beginners set of clubs, a real bargain at £125 – well, the set lunch at Hibiscus still sounds more attractive, thank you very much.
An oak panelled room which feels fresh and informal in spite of a large chandelier. Chef Bosi in the kitchen, with his two stars. All looks set for a promising Mayfair experience, during a London weekend which featured a double culinary bill for us (the other one at Heinz Beck branch at Apsleys – more on this story later). And a very fine experience it was.
The bread is home-made, warm and good – puzzling that it only comes in one variety, though.
The amuse bouche…
where are we, at Dolada (thankfully not). But the amuse bouche in an egg shell is all the rage now, as we recently sampled there a similar idea. Here at Hibiscus it is a very interesting amuse of complex flavour. We ask two different waiters but we manage not to fully understand either. One says that there are 17 Moroccan spices, the other 20. One says it’s a walnut veloute’, we are dubious because we cannot recognise the walnut (are they mushrooms? or is it all confused by the 27.5 spices?). The only spice we clearly distinguish is cinnamon (we hope it was there). At any rate, it was impressive, pleasantly unctuous, light, complex and balanced (but no acidity).
Raviolo of Scottish scallops and Brixham brown crab, fricassee of Puy lentils, cep veloute’ and coconut milk
was, beside having a very long name, a very accomplished dish, the seafood springing flavour out of a fine, light, well-cooked raviolo. Delicious the contrast with the acidically tangy lentils. If ceps were there, though, they were entirely overpowered.
Warm Royale of toasted rice and walnuts
was pure elegance, the toasted notes so intense that they struck your nose even while the dish was being brought to you, the contrast between smoothness and crunchiness in this simple looking dish a minor masterstroke.
Our mains were in different registers.
Roast Shropshire partridge with smoked beurre blanc
was in a sense more ethereal despite a general assertiveness, the meat cooked very precisely and melting in your mouth. The broccoli (we think) ‘mousse’ with a on top toasted bread with on top a meaty taste (the lot of which was there, we think, in place of an advertised caramelised Savoy cabbage) a solid, gracious complement. What a pleasant dish, and look at the care for the vibrantly coloured garnishes.
We touched overall more ferine, earthier notes with the pheasant and foie gras pithivier (puff pastry encasing), which we shall nominate the dish of day (read on).
Also two very different desserts.
Iced chestnut parfait, Sharon fruit sorbet
A great classic combination, and a very satisfying dessert: the parfait was topped with a thin sugary crust, though in spite of this the dish was somewhat lacking in sweetness – fine for Man, less so for Woman – which was most evident in the sorbet and the fruit puree. We put this down to the variety of the Sharon fruit and on it not being quite ripe enough (we mean this). Thin slices of raw chestnut added an interesting contrast in texture and clean flavours.
As for the
Dark chocolate tart and white fig ice cream
again, the fruit was muted – the icecream had the perfect consistency, but alas wanting in flavour (why use figs in December?). The pastry in the chocholate tart was the wrong side of firm, but the chocolate filling was truly seductive, intense and rich.
At the end of the meal, some impressive petit-fours appear, together with coffee.
Now, we always have problem with espresso in French restaurant, but this is actually fairly good. Yet, ‘fairly good’ is not enough as an answer… the charming Italian waiter aims at perfection, and insists on bringing us another one to prove he can do better. The second one – well, actually it is the third one, as what we suspect was the second one meets the disapproving eyebrow of the Manager. So, the third one is creamier and attains perfection. The now caffeine-soaked Man looks happy indeed.
Extremely friendly, formal but approachable. A smiling, efficient and smooth Manager in full control, we were taken good care of by an Italian waiter, a sweetie, and he gained brownie points with Man at the moment of coffee…Maybe they could speak slightly louder ad more clearly when describing the dishes.
Nothing in particular, details here and there. The not quite ripe Sharon fruit, some lack of ‘sculpted’ flavours, some defects in the table cloth (e.g. a velcro strip bulging out). All stuff it would be too ludicrous of us to count against Hibiscus except if it has ambitions to perfection.
Warm Pithivier of pheasant and foie gras, roasted root vegetables
In principle a more rustic dish than the others, the presentation is truly haute cuisine, those brown tones in the sauce ‘pool’ a veritable painting. The classily made puff pastry, suitably imbibed, encloses a livery, earthily flavoursome filling which is elevated by the deep, deep reaching sauce. We were struck by the judicious use of foie gras; and, for a change, in this dish the salad was apt and not a pointless addition.
The three course Saturday set lunch with a glass of wine, coffee and petit fours comes at a very attractive £48 per head. Tasting menu for 6 or 9 courses at £75 and beyond.
Chef Bosi produces superbly accomplished cuisine of real finesse all round. Multilayered flavours and complex combinations hang together beautifully. We are not surprised his restaurant holds two stars. In our modest opinion, what the place is missing to reach the absolute top is an absolute precision and definition in flavours that we found missing, compared to other restaurants (e.g., Jasmin or Apsleys). Having said this, Hibiscus is obviously an obligatory stop for any gourmet in London, a place where you will have a wonderful and relaxed dining experience.