On a recent trip to London, my girlfriend and I wanted to try a couple of Michelin-starred restaurants. Full disclosure is due: both of our first choices were fully booked, but we landed on two very good alternatives, starting with Hibiscus. The chef, Claude Bosi, was born in Lyon and trained in France, but his cuisine relies heavily on locally-sourced ingredients. If you’d told me he was English, I would have believed it.
The restaurant opened in Shropshire in 2000, winning a Michelin star in 2001 and a second star in 2004. Eager to play on the big stage, he moved the restaurant to London in 2007, and the Michelin folks knocked him back down to one star. The menu is £60 for a three-course prix-fixe or £75 for the nine-course tasting menu. We thought that £15 was a modest premium to pay for a much broader sample of Chef Bosi’s cuisine, so we went with that.
We began with a bowl of warm, slightly salty gougères. The bread didn’t especially impress me, but we loved the soft Welsh cow’s-milk butter. It had an unusually high fat content, which imparted a yellow color, and was also a bit more salty than most butters.
1) The amuse-bouche was a Chilled Cucumber & Pineapple Soda (above left) with smoked olive oil and black pepper. This was very clever dish, slightly chunky, but with the consistency of soda.
2) Ravioli of Spring Onion & Cinnamon (above right) with meadowsweet flower, roast onion, and Granny Smith apple. This was a delicate dish, in which the ingredients worked perfectly together. The roasted onions were formed into little pellets that seemed solid, but melted instantly at the touch.
3) Tartare of Line-caught Cornish Mackerel (above left) with English strawberries & celery, wasabi & honey dressing. There was a lot on the plate, but this dish was extremely mild, and could almost have used a bit more punch. I couldn’t really detect much of the wasabi.
4) Roast Cornish Lobster cooked in Brown Butter (above right) with green bean and lemongrass purée, Cavaillon melon. This had the “oomph” that the previous dish lacked. Michelle’s comment was, “This was really very nice.”
5) Roast Monkfish (above left), Mona Lisa gnocchi, summer truffle, sage & onion purée, mead sauce. This had a nice savory, healthy flavor.
6) Lightly Oak-smoked Lamb Sweetbreads (above right) with fresh goat cheese, tamarillow powder, and lettuce veloute. The sweetbreads had a terrific smokey flavor, and everything on the plate worked well together. To me, this was the most remarkable dish of the evening.
7) Roast Goosnargh Duck (above left), cherries scented with lapsang Souchong, barbecued almond butter, and cauliflower four ways (purple cauliflower couscous, white cauliflower purée, and roasted cauliflower × 2). The duck was flavorful but a little too tough.
8) SweetTomato Skin (above right) with vanilla & frozen raspberries, held together with gelatin. Michelle said, “It’s so light, it’s like eating a cloud.” The tomato taste was in the background, while the raspberries were wonderful.
9 ) English Pea & American Mint Tart (above left), sheep’s milk whey & coconut sorbet. Michelle called this “the oddest thing I’ve ever tasted,” and “very strange.” I found it bizarre. That didn’t stop us from finishing the whole thing, but we felt that a tart made of peas misfired. At the end of a long meal, one wants a real dessert, not an appetizer masquerading as dessert.
The petits-fours (above right) were just fine.
Service was generally good, with many sauces applied at table-side, but some dishes weren’t cleared quite as promptly as they should be, and the staff were occasionally frazzled. We had trouble understanding the explanations of quite a few of the dishes. We got a printed menu at the end, but it would have been a lot easier had this been left on the table.
The server seemed offended when I said I wanted to make a wine selection before we ordered. I don’t know if our habits are unusual, but I’ve found that if you don’t choose the wine before placing the food order, you’re liable to be eating the first couple of courses with only water to drink. I haven’t noted the bottle we chose, except that we paid £43 for it (a reasonable price by London standards). The list was not an especially long one. After I narrowed down the choice to two bottles, the sommelier made a very good recommendation and decanted the wine without being asked to do so.
We were gratified to note that the restaurant was full in mid-August, with a mixed demographic of young people and jeans, old folks in suits, and everything in between. The clientele did not seem to be tourists. The tables are not overly cramped, but the noise level was on the loud side after the space filled up. The décor is a mediation on taupe and pine, but bright orange charger plates (pictured at the top of this post) give the room a dash of color.
Chef Bosi dares to challenge his audience on occasion. There were a couple of misfires, but on the whole this was a happy experience.
Hibiscus (29 Maddox Street, London)