I need to start this post by apologising. I haven’t been able to write much recently on here, or for Vinspire. I have been a little preoccupied since Christmas as I have been studying for a German exam, trying to sell my flat and buy a house. I have now done those things (touch wood) so hopefully I can devote a bit more time to my writing.
A couple of weeks ago I decided that I wanted to get the year off to a good start when it came to eating out. I wanted to go somewhere impressive, somewhere that had been on my List for quite a while, somewhere a little fancy. Step forward Hibiscus. Situated just south of Oxford Circus, nestling on the outskirts of Mayfair (£400 on a Monopoly Board…), this is a restaurant with a tremendous reputation for doing superb food in a classical style. Hibiscus and its Chef Patron, Claude Bosi, were recently featured on the BBC’s Masterchef: the Professionals and has long been somewhere that I had aspired to visit.
The building itself is somewhat understated from the outside. Indeed, you would be forgiven for not giving it a second glance as you walk past it. However, once you walk inside the building it exudes class and elegance. It is tastefully decorated, chic and polished whilst avoiding exuberance or brashness. The staff are attentive, precise and cordial. Everything here has lashings of poise and refinement. This is a proper restaurant, where proper food is cooked. We had high hopes.
They have an interesting approach to their tasting menu. We were informed that we could choose the number of courses that we wanted to have, but that we wouldn’t know what dishes we’d get. The idea is that as each dish arrived it would be a surprise. We picked the six course tasting menu and got ready for our gastronomic voyage of mystery. I, of course, also went for the matching wine flight. No dry January for me…!
After some hors-d’oeuvre (chestnut mushrooms, coconut and curry “en cocotte”) which were served in a egg box, we moved on to our first starter: Norwegian King Crab served with Smoked Haddock and Granny Smith Apple. I hadn’t had Norwegian King Crab before so I was excited when this dish was announced. It was served in a glass beaker so that you could see the layers and interplay of the ingredients. The Crab itself was beautiful and was well matched with the smokey Haddock and the crisp bite of Granny Smith Apples. This dish was served with one of those wines that will stay with me for a long, long time – a 2013 Ligas (Pella, Greece), made from 100% Roditis. The sommelier warned us as he poured this wine that it may not smell right, but he had tried it and could confirm that the wine was indeed good. Curious, I stuck my nose in and inhaled deeply before recoiling in horror; it absolutely ponged. Deep with aromas of sulphur. Given the sommelier’s warning I tried the wine, somewhat hesitantly it must be said, but was pleased to taste a refreshing, crisp white wine that reminded me of a bright, lightly oaked chardonnay with smatterings of vanilla and pear. This was a brave choice from the Sommelier, it absolutely matched the delicate flavours of the dish. We were off to a good start.
Next up we were brought out a Cevennes Onion Consommé with Cinammon Dumplings. The dumplings were once again presented in a glass bowl, which allowed for a little bit of show as the consomme was poured over them from a miniature tea pot. As you would expect from an establishment at this level the consommé was crystal clear and extremely intense both in terms of colour and flavour. This dish, was elegant in its simplicity. It was paired with a 2012 Chateau de Gaure Oppidium Blanc (Limoux, Languedoc), a blend of 80% Chardonnay, 15% Chenin Blanc and 5% Mauzac; this was aromatic on the nose with a touch of smoke and vanilla. On the mouth it had juicy green apple and warm nectarine flavours. It had a hell of a job to stand up to the powerful consommé, but it managed it… just.
It was time to move on to the fish courses – and they were both stunners. The first was Scottish Scallops served with Black Radish, Almond and Truffle. This was just wonderful, the scallop slices were raw so they were juicy and fresh and were perfectly offset by the crisp bite of the radish. The shavings of truffle added a little bit of sophistication and depth to this dish, which was accented by the drizzling of almond oil to bring it all together. The dish was served on a rather beautiful scallop shell and there was even some crispy fried scallop roe to add a textural contrast. A very pleasing dish all-in-all. The wine match for this course was a 2012 Riesling from Le Dragon, Josmeyer (Alsace) from magnum, which was intensely aromatic with a touch of vanilla and that characteristic petroleum kick; just a little above dry it had notes of crisp green apple and luscious lemons and was once again spot on for this course.
Next up was a dish that I am already certain will be one of the best things that I eat this year: Cornish Cod “à la Grenobloise”. The picture cannot really do justice to the beauty of this dish. The Cod was juicy and meaty and melt-in-the-mouthy whilst the sauce was simply divine; buttery and rich, decadent and well… sexy. I’m salivating just thinking about this dish. For me, this is why I go to these kinds of restaurants; for a dish where, upon tasting the first mouthful, I put down my cutlery and tried to drink in the sensory overload that I was experiencing. I found myself purposefully trying to eat more slowly just so that I could enjoy it for a little bit longer. It doesn’t happen very often that a dish figuratively knocks you off your feet, but when it does it is something glorious. With this stupendous dish we were served a 2012 Domaine Rene Mosse Savenieres Arena Blanc (Loire Valley), 100% Chenin Blanc, this was an orange wine which had subtle hints of spice on the nose with some tropical fruits coming through (mangoes and lychees). On tasting it was rather tangy with red apple and crisp pears, giving it a nice bite. Needed the tang to cut through the richness of the buttery sauce. Wow. And one more. Wow.
I’d just about recovered from the experience of the last dish when they brought out our meat dish: Goosnargh Duck with Pumpkin and Passion Fruit. This was another great dish but was, in truth, somewhat overshadowed by what had come before it. The duck was plump and delightfully pink; it had a wonderful weight to it and was topped with a Pommes soufflée. The accompaniments to the duck went for that traditional sweet flavour combination with the passion fruit and the pumpkin, I particularly liked the seeds on the outside of the pumpkin which gave the dish a little textural contrast. This dish was served with a 2005 Celler Escoda-Sanahuja ‘La Llopetera’ (Conca de Barbera, Catalyuna), 100% Pinot Noir. This wine had a touch of cherry and almond to the nose, with just a little dusting of spices (nutmeg and cinammon). On the mouth it was surprisingly fresh given its age and had plenty of bright strawberry flavour. The zing of acidity was again a great match for the fatty duck.
For our pre-dessert we were given a lovely Meadowsweet Panna Cotta with Golden Delicious Apple, which was both deliciously creamy and wonderfully refreshing after all of the courses that preceded. After that we moved on to the man pudding, a Chocolate Millefeuilles served with Indonesian Basil Ice Cream and Star Anise. This was a BIG pudding. My wife said that she found it rather too much, but I loved it! The Millefeuilles featured delicate chocolate pastry with some incredibly dark and intense chocolate cream bringing it together. If you like dark chocolate, then this dish will be heaven for you! The basil ice cream was a clever touch as it brought a sharpness and freshness to the dish, which when taken with the Millefeuilles provided a nice contrast. The dessert was paired with a 2013 Domaine Trapadis (Rasteau VDN, Rhone), a blend of Grenache and Carignan. The wine was surprisingly light bodied and was sweet whilst not being overly so. The dominant flavours were raisins, dark chocolate and mocha, with a hint of spice to. The strength of this pudding meant that I would have gone for something big and in your face to match (maybe a Port?), but this more delicate wine seemed to make for a very good match too.
So, there you have it. A wonderful tasting menu to get 2015 off to a good start. This really was a high calibre meal; the food was all excellent (particularly the fish courses), the wine matches were very well judged and were interesting in their selection, and the service was top-notch.
Overall the impression I got from this restaurant that tries very hard to give diners an eating experience that makes one feel that they’re not trying very hard at all. There is no theatre or drama here; it all seems so effortless and calm to the customer, allowing us to focus on the beautiful cooking and the wonderful wine.
The rest of the restaurants for 2015 are going to have to go a long way if they are going to match this.