(Note added December 2011: A second visit was distinctly less impressive than reflected in the review below. Between excellent dishes, the already noted amateurish mistakes were magnified to the point that a dish was tasting positively vile and verging on inedible (a salty cockle broth garnishing a turbot). When asked by the manager how it was, we told her how it was. The chef stormed out of the kitchen to confront us and assert that we were wrong. Unfortunately we were obviously right, saltiness is just that thing that anybody can spot…it was probably just hurt pride on his part that prevented him from admitting the mistake – a rather unpromising attitude for future developments. At those prices and with that attitude, we will not risk Hedone again for a long while).
Long cut through London from E1 to W4, for what? Well, for a good cause we hope. We look at the lunch menu, which offers 3, 4 or 5 courses (with two choices only for mains and desserts). Everything is enticing, so we ask for everything.
We are a little disappointed though that a lamb, which has been judged by this guy the best he’s ever eaten, isn’t on the menu. As it happens, this illustrious gourmet happens to be sitting right at the next table (we know it but he doesn’t, ah the joys of anonymity) and we become green with envy when we see chef Mikael Jonsson himself step out from the full open view kitchen area to personally bring the sought-after lamb to the next table! But this and other special treats are well deserved: our gourmet neighbour has been at Hedone six times in two weeks, a feat that we could never match, has written a glowing review, and has scored the cuisine at 2* level. Do we agree?
Let’s be frank: with such a high bar set, no.
With us, excellent bread such as the one on show today is always a winner: nice crust, texture and flavour, even if of only one type, which is a slight disappointment. Some at least minimal variety is important with bread.
An umami flan, topped by seaweed coulis (we think), suavely unctuous, offers unusual and crystal clear flavours, a striking opening to the meal, a work of simple genius. It was preceded by an also striking nibble of a sable’ buckwheat biscuit in which Berkswell cheese flavour comes through intensely, subtly accompanied by a blackcurrant powder.
A gazpacho is bursting with vegetable flavour and vibrant colour (good produce and good judgement in proportions and seasoning do the job), served spectacularly in a transparent bowl, and the dill seed sorbet worked very well indeed at all levels, flavour, temperature and consistency.
A simply grilled mackerel with Japanese flavours was incredibly soft and succulent, perfectly seasoned and accompanied by the tenderest of green leaves. A dish of great simplicity and effectiveness.
So far so good. But the the cooking was not perfect across the board. A wild salmon was reduced to a squashy texture by slow cooking. You can see from the photo some signs of the massacre. A nicely crispy skin or at least some firmness of flesh would better serve the splendid beast which died for us. Yet the peas were very good.
Conversely, we found too much firmness in a thickly cut pork of superb quality and exploding flavour, due to being a little overdone (great potato mash with just a hint of mustard (we think) and Grelot onions though, and the simple jus was perfect! And the crispiness of the skin!).
And, no matter how good and fresh the scallops were in another dish (and they were again fantastic), just steaming them (admittedly very precisely) with no contrast or complement for their natural potent umami and sweetness seems a bit like raising the white flag as an ambitious cook. Cuisine has been developed to enhance the natural flavour of the raw materials, after all. Isn’t this is what cooks do?
For desserts, a texturally very pleasant, smooth almond blanc manger provided a nice contrast to the acidity of an apricot, but perhaps the acidity itself was too much for balance.
On the other hand the Hedone chocolate bar (72%) was minimalistically but chewily gratifying.
We always order espresso coffee with some hesitation. Especially when, like here, most of the personnel is French… But it was of excellent quality and reasonably well executed.
We paid £183 with a £44 wine and water, which may seem steep but isn’t, really. Not only will you find here some of the best quality produce around, but the dishes are generously portioned and allow you to enjoy them in several morsels (accumulating flavours and impressions) instead of disappearing in just one or two .
Chef Jonsson seems a remarkable kind of chef, with his unusual pedigree of former gourmet and his ‘obsession’ with raw materials. He is very clever in keeping it simple, staying within his comfort zone of cooking, and focussing on sourcing. For what we’ve seen he would not excel at complex preparations, not having an assured hand in cooking, nor always stunning ideas on layering flavours. Hedone is already one of the best addresses in London – provided you are not in search of intricate dishes or complex culinary ideas or ambitious presentation, but of a potently good meal of dishes that are not pretentious yet do have some subtlety. Their only pretention, really, is great ingredients that are encouraged to speak mostly for themselves.