Author’s note: Hedone announced it closed permanently as of 1 June 19.
Hedone has changed its menu format over the years since my last visit in 2014 and therefore a third visit now was well merited. This was a lunch meal trying the only set menu on offer, which for this service, was a ‘blind’ 7-course tasting menu at £105 pp. All in, the bill came to £187 per person including a young, but decent bottle of 2017 Chardonnay: Duresses, Douhairet-Porcheret. The food remains at a very strong 1 Michelin starred standard but I couldn’t help but notice that the restaurant/team felt and looked a little tired and weary as an overall atmosphere. Click the button below for a full rundown of this meal.
Hedone has gone through some fragile times internally in the last two years so I gather, with its future direction uncertain. That said, it was good to get back and see what the menu was looking like in 2019. The meal started with a foie gras parfait canapé with delicate red pepper coating and fino sherry gel on the top which was of a superb standard of parfait, the lightest of crisp coatings and the tart of the gel working beautifully together. Next up was the amuse bouche of savoury custard made with shiro dashi (a soup base made from bonito / kombu dashi and white soy sauce), with a pea puree and with fresh green peas. This really was first class – the dashi custard perfectly warm and smooth, complimenting the flavour of the pea puree well and with the superb peas bursting in the mouth with their freshness and providing a great texture as well.
Hand dived scallops from the Isle of Man came in a broth made from coconut and lemongrass with herb oil and courgette pieces for crunch. The scallops themselves were perfectly cooked and were of excellent quality, but the overall flavour of the broth was a little bland and not one of the best courses. White asparagus came next with Romaine lettuce purée, hollandaise foam with smoked paprika powder. As much as I was really looking forward to this, it didn’t provide the punch the table was hoping for. White asparagus has to be peeled like a potato as the outside skin is extremely course and gets its colour from being grown in the dark, having being denied the opportunity to photosynthesize, hence its colour and the flavour of these white asparagus was delicate but the overall texture not hugely enjoyable (overall flabby with all components).
A slice of the fillet of sea bass was next which was a delightful piece of cooking. The quality of this fish was superb (so succulent and packed with flavour) with a beautifully crispy skin. Seabass has a notoriously short cooking window to be perfect, so this was very well cooked and the base sauce using taggiasca olives (named after the village of its origin in NW Italy near the border with France and famed for being smaller, with low acidity, greater sweetness and never bitter) was a perfect accompaniment. A simple and great dish.
Lamb from central France was the main and only meat dish and was served with fennel salad, an artichoke slice and raisins. The lamb itself was cooked as well as it could have been but I was immediately reminded of far superior lamb at other 1 Michelin starred and Michelin recommended restaurants (Ynyshir Restaurant, Sosban at The Old Butchers and Kutir to name a few). However, the raisins mixed with harissa (a North African chilli paste made with peppers) was an absolute masterstroke and the dish was considerably boosted and almost saved with this addition – a winning level of tang and moisture assisting the naughty levels of lamb fat on the dish, supported and balanced by the crunch and moist fennel salad.
The pre-dessert was French meringue with strawberries and cream. French style meringue is often softer on the outside than Swiss meringue (and so I, personally, find it more enjoyable as a result). The strawberry espuma was as light and sweet as could be hoped for and overall the dish was a melt in the mouth and a wonderfully light palate wash. The only negative here is that a couple of the strawberries on my plate had old skin in parts and is a notch down from what is expected at this level. The main dessert itself was a coffee mousse in a chocolate glaze on a yuzu biscuit with a white miso ice cream. The chocolate and mousse were very well done, however, I felt the savoury notes might have actually been better in a pre-dessert as a cross over, opposed to the finishing touch. An ok end to the meal.
A word on the service and overall experience (which, as a refresh has nothing to do with my overall grade). I’m fairly sure that a great deal of the time diners cannot fully keep up with waiting staff explanations of what dishes are, but don’t wish to risk delay or cause a scene by asking again and again as waiting staff are busy. I’m equally sure that this usually results in about 60-70% of the description being understood on average (and sometimes 0%) which is politely followed by a retreating smile and nod. I mention this as the delivery on this occasion was machine-gun fast in thick accents and it was obvious that the staff, in general, wanted to get away from the table as quickly as possible with any questions to clarify what was said, seeming to be a nuisance. Now, I can (sort of) understand this if a restaurant is extremely busy, but the restaurant was only half full, if that, with a ratio of one waiting staff to approx. two tables, so there was plenty of time to deal with a few more seconds to be fully understood.
I think it was the fourth course where the waiting staff finally knew that I wasn’t going to shy away from asking about details that were incomprehensible (especially as I need to ask for the purpose of these reviews). And to their credit, they did finally make an effort to slow down explanations, but I suspect only as a result of polite persistence (I would also bet green money that this was reluctant and not the norm). Whinge over, but it does add to the overall experience which, as a restaurant visit, was not up there with the greats.
As we dined, we saw the executive chef at the bar on his headphones through the afternoon to periodically monitor the kitchen – nothing wrong with this of course, but it added to what I sensed, which was a slightly joyless atmosphere among the team as a whole. The image of the brilliant Mikael Jonsson at the bar, combined with the functional service gave this impression. I have complete respect for the Executive Chef’s knowledge, philosophy of cooking and design of the dishes, but the restaurant did feel a little gloomy and borderline dour on occasion.
However, the cooking was excellent, with moments that would not be out of place at 2 Michelin starred level, but overall, it sat appropriately in the 1 star family and is definitely in the strongest quadrant. Maybe, I have just been unlucky on my visits here and not caught it at its absolute prime…