Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Hits and misses at Hedone

Poached Irish Rock Oyster, Granny Smith, Shallots
Hedone is an interesting one. My potted summary goes a little like this: it's a critical darling serving somewhat polarising Michelin-starred food by an ex-blogger out of a cube-like space with an open kitchen in, of all places, Chiswick. Although serving arguably the best bread in London, I otherwise find it hard to categorise the food. Despite the Swedish heritage of the chef, Hedone doesn't really rock to the new Nordic vibe, but it is clearly produce driven. Some dishes we ate were spectacular, but others felt strangely one dimensional. The somewhat hit and miss food, coupled with haphazard service and uneven pacing to the meal make Hedone a difficult one to recommend. But since almost everyone else seems to like Hedone a lot, perhaps I missed the point.


We ordered the seven course tasting menu for £65. In hindsight, I probably should have tried the a la carte menu (3 courses for £47) instead. There is also a surprise Carte Blanche menu, which at £95 requires an awful lot of faith in the chef. But, we have seven courses to digest here, the first of which was "Poached Irish Rock Oyster, Granny Smith, Shallots". The gently-poached briny oyster was nestled atop a tart granny smith apple foam which hid some pickled shallots for more contrast. Consensus on our table of three was that it was "nice", and not amazing. I found the slightly firmer texture of the poached oyster a bit peculiar, but maybe I'm just used to raw oysters.
Slow cooked duck's egg, new season's Luberon asparagus
Next came "Slow cooked duck's egg, new season's Luberon asparagus". We went with the optional Perigord black truffle pimp on this dish at a supplement of £12 each (which looking at the amount of julienned truffle on this dish was a bit of a steep ask since it looks like the truffle was just one thickish shaving). Despite this, it was close to perfect. The duck's egg was a just-set yolk encased in some thin shavings of raw green asparagus. The heady scent of the black truffle, enhanced by a truffle emulsion, didn't overpower the other flavours. This dish was beautifully textural with the creamy yolk and the crunchy asparagus offset by a somewhat magical acidity.
Liquid Cevennes onions ravioli
The "Hand-Dived Scallop, Potato Skin Emulsion, Beef Juice" was another highlight of the meal and a witty take on surf and turf, but perhaps I'm over-thinking things. The sweet scallop was barely cooked. It felt more like it had been just breathed on instead of having much of a flame put to it. The surprise came from the potato skin emulsion which had incredible depth to it and tasted like buttery new potatoes. The sauce had a smattering of tapioca pearls, for texture I guess, but frankly they added little to the whole.
Hand dived scallop, potato skin emulsion

The "Liquid Cevennes onions ravioli" was three or four pasta parcels of explode-in-the-mouth roasted onion consommé. With the dish was a horseradish emulsion, which I couldn't really taste, and a julienne of crunchy pear. The chef seems to love the Cevennes onions, serving them in various guises at other times in the year, but again, this was another "nice" dish.

Then came probably the most controversial dish of the night. The "Roasted Breast of Challans duckling, beetroot variation" came with a smear of sauce made with the blood and offal of the bird which had been thickened with foie gras. Apart from the tang of the blood, the foie thickening gave the sauce a slightly mealy texture that wasn't particularly pleasant. The duckling however, was beautifully rare and tender while the different coloured beets were served puréed, roasted and raw. There was also a slightly thick parsley purée that was lost since the flavour of the offal sauce overpowered much of what came into contact with it. There were three very different reactions on our table to this dish, but no-one loved it. I'm all for nose-to-tail eating but I think a different technique with the offal could have been more successful. Plus, it's just not a very appetising colour, is it?
Roasted Breast of Challans Duckling, Beetroot Variation
A pre dessert palate cleanser of Orange sorbet with a hibiscus jelly had a slightly medicinal flavour to it. I left the jelly, but enjoyed the freshness of the sorbet.  Things improved with the first dessert which was a "roasted Victorian pineapple cannele crisp with a coconut and lime sorbet". The pina colada combination seems to be making a comeback on London menu's but this was a nice twist with the flattened cannele and the various textures of the sweet pineapple, sourced from the Reunion Islands. There were lots of enjoyable fresh flavours here, although you could probably put passionfruit with any dessert and I'd enjoy it.
Roasted Victorian Pineapple, Cannele Crisp, Coconut and Lime Sorbet
The final dessert "Warm chocolate, powdered raspberry, Madagascar vanilla ice-cream" was a dish of contrasting temperatures and textures (warm melting chocolate, the crunchy frozen raspberry disk and vanilla ice-cream). This was a very rich, but tasty, end to the meal. I would have swapped the order of the desserts to finish on a much cleaner note. I needed water and tea to flush the cloying chocolate flavour out, but perhaps if you're a chocoholic you'll want seconds.

We ordered two bottles of wine - a fantastic Alsatian Riesling (Josmeyer Gand Cru Hengst 2009 £92) and an insipid Savigny from Burgundy. I usually like the Savigny style, but this was very thin and watery. It was available by the glass at about £13, but we paid £80 for the bottle. The mark-ups on the wine seemed pretty punchy to me, although there were options for ordering carafes.
Warm Chocolate, Powdered Raspberry, Madagascar Vanilla Ice cream
The staff had various levels of knowledge.  Questions about how certain dishes were prepared (like that spectacular potato skin emulsion!) couldn't be answered. I was encouraged by the waiter to ask the chef, mid service, how he coaxes out the flavour of the potato skin, but I decided against that in the busy restaurant. It's also an unusually noisy room, which is a shame as I couldn't eavesdrop on the conversation on the next table where Matthew Fort, the journalist, food writer and presenter of the Great British something-or-other, was served personally throughout the evening by Chef Jonsson. He even joined the table for a course at one point.

In all we paid a whopping £457 for three of us, obviously pushed up by the price of the wine. At the price point of Hedone's tasting menu, I would prefer to eat at Dabbous (a £59 tasting menu), if getting a table was possible of course. I've also heard great things from critics and bloggers I tend to see eye-to-eye with about Kitchen Table too, although I haven't actually eaten there yet (it's on "The List"). So, while there were certainly some stand out dishes, I wouldn't return to Hedone. Am I glad I've eaten there though? Definitely - the bread is the best you'll find and they're generous with it.

Hedone on Urbanspoon Square Meal

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