Last Thursday, April 8, was the auspicious day that was Panu’s birthday. I was still suffering from the horrid stomach bug so he went out for drinks with his buddies and I stayed at home and watched Brokeback Mountain ~ my first time and dude, it’s a good movie. Sad, but good.
Though I missed the festivities, I wasn’t about to let an occasion pass me by without celebrating with some form of eating so I resigned myself to get better by Saturday, when we had reservations at Hibiscus to properly celebrate his birthday.
Hibiscus Restaurant is tucked away on Maddox Street, but you’d never even know it was there unless you were looking for it. Once inside, the privacy and quiet of the dining room is remarkable and ensures you forget that you are but a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of Regent Street.
Baby of head chef Claude Bosi, Hibiscus is a member of this new breed of restaurants ~ one that does away with the menu, if only on Friday and Saturday nights, and instead offers you a bespoke meal* cooked with the freshest seasonal ingredients picked up that day. I first experienced this at De Kas in Amsterdam, which to this day is still one of my favourite meals ever, so without much ado, I threw myself (with my new-found appetite) into Hibiscus, expecting nothing but the best.
* choose from four, six or eight courses. No prizes for guessing what we went with.
We started with air-light parmesan cheese breads and an amuse bouche of apple and carrot spritzer, which contained berries soaked in what I would like to think is air, because it was just delightful when they popped in your mouth. Instructed to “sip and then shoot” the spritzer, it wasn’t just good fun, but a perfect palate cleansing preparation for the beginning of an epic meal.
Course 1: Devonshire brown crab served with Tokyo white turnip and turnip & crab soup
A light and superbly tasty way to start the meal, this was my favourite straight off the bat. Shredded crab meat layered between papyrus thin slices of white turnip and the soup, heavy with hepatopancreas and crab meat, was reminiscent of Eastside Inn’s crab bisque which killed me a little and sent me to heaven.
Course 2: smoked asparagus on a bed of soft boiled eggs and black truffle
Smoked asparagus is one of the most divine things on this planet and I only wish I knew how to properly smoke ‘em at home without setting the fire alarm off. Prior to serving us this dish, a waiter brings out the asapargus, hidden within a heavy stone pot, and lifts the lid just a tiny bit but enough for us to catch a waft of the lovely smoke. Urgh, tease.
Served on a bed of egg mush, I wasn’t so much a fan of that as just the asparagus spears themselves which were perfectly tender and tasty. The eggs were somewhat rescued by a sprinkling of black truffle, a nice flavour complement for the asparagus.
Course 3: slow cooked organic salmon from Glenarm (Northern Ireland) with pea & asparagus cream and celeriac sauce
This course was again a winner and intrigued me more than anything. We’re told that the salmon is slow cooked “for a very long time” in a 43°C oven. I happily accepted this and nodded away but Panu brought up a good point. 43°C is not. that. hot. I mean, ok maybe not here in London, but certainly in Australia, we suffer a couple of 43°C days each summer and while it’s a little uncomfortable, we can still go out and definitely not roast.
So for fish to cook in that temperature well hotdamn “a very long time” must really have been a very very long time indeed!
Anyhoos, science aside, the salmon was just cooked, it wasn’t sashimi raw but definitely not cooked through, but whatever, it tasted phenomenal. I’m sure some credit can be attributed to the pea & asparagus cream and celeriac sauce or maybe the magical cabbage leaf to the side which tasted like it was encrusted in crushed wasabi peas. Divine.
Course 4: sweetbreads stuffed with black garlic topped with a special French soy dressing
My loser course for the night. Not because I get freaked out by sweetbreads, heck I put anything in my foodhole, but something about the texture didn’t work so well with me. Too wet and too soft and disgustingly too creamy. Panu ate all of his though so it’s probably just me being funny, and I don’t mean ha-ha funny.
Course 5: foie gras from Ardour
Excuse the lame name for this course but I couldn’t make out a single word the heavy-accented waiter said. I gathered it was foie gras. From Ardour. And no idea what the accompaniments were, although a good guess is some stewed apple and an eggy sauce.
Strangely, after having just been grossed out by the texture of sweetbreads, I thoroughly enjoyed the foie gras ~ a rich, smooth, wholesome flavour. Some light toast would have paired nicely, but the foie gras was meaty enough to have on its own.
Course 6: slow cooked Kid from the French Pyrenées served with parsnip and broccoli and white asparagus cream
The key meat course for the night and sadly, a disappointment. I can’t fault the texture ~ the meat was tender and cut like butter with the stunningly branded Hibiscus knives, but taste-wise… there wasn’t really a taste to be honest. Bland and more bland, the tastiest part of this dish was the lightly grilled parsnip.
Course 7: Neal’s Yard cheeseboard with Indian mango chutney, white figs and grapes from Greece
I love that they make a point to tell us the grapes are from Greece It makes no difference to me if they were from M&S. Cheeses were cheeses, I’m still taking baby steps in this arena and enjoyed the goat’s cheese and blue cheese. The two in between were a little heavy for me, but right up Panu’s alley.
The white figs I liked. A lot.
Pre-dessert: strawberries topped with sweet celeriac gel and Szechuan pepper cream
Such a brilliant idea and I wonder if someone’s going to come up with a post-dessert dessert one day! This pre-dessert was awesome and really merits being a full time dessert all on its own. The strawberries were sweet, the celeriac gel was neither here nor there but what boggled my mind was the Szechuan pepper cream, which tasted like Szechuan peppers. But it tasted like sweet cream. But Szechuan peppers. But sweet! And a cream!
My brain didn’t compute all this very well at all and while I was trying to work it all out, my tongue started to experience the all too familiar sensation born only from the tongue-numbing Szechuan peppers. Tingly and definitely a sense of numbness spreading from the sides of my tongue, I decided to stop speaking for fear of drool and instead sat patiently, enjoyed the aftermath and waited for my proper dessert.
Course 8: white asparagus tart with chocolate & buttermilk sorbet served with buttermilk and blood orange cream
And I thought my sweet potato cheesecake was different. Well, check out this white asparagus tart. Initially requested to taste the tart without having been told what it was, I couldn’t put my finger on it. Panu said he tasted potato and alls I could taste were peanuts, an overpowering (but good) taste from the base.
Explained afterwards that the tart was made from white asparagus, I was so impressed I wanted to have another slice. The buttermilk sorbet, sweetened with white chocolate, complemented the strong taste of the tart well, as did the buttermilk and blood orange cream, dotted along the side.
There you go. Though not nearly as epic as The Fat Duck, it was still pretty epic, considering my stomach had probably shrunk to the size of a nut from lack of gluttoning all week. But that’s all fixed now, all is well with the world again and hey-ho tonight we fly to Hong Kong for some food, a wedding and more food!
Oh and happy birthday, Panu. Did I get you awesome presents or what?
29 Maddox Street
Mayfair, W1S 2PA
0207 629 2999