Two weeks ago, Jon and I revisited Hibiscus to celebrate my birthday. (We were last there in December 2007, soon after Hibiscus arrived in London, and I was reminded of how long it had been since our last visit when I read Tamarind & Thyme’s rave review of her lunch there in December 2009.).
I’d had a horrible day at work and was tempted to cancel our 9 pm reservation. But if you cancel at the last minute, you pay a hefty £75 per person fee, which is understandable, but painful when you’re so exhausted.
So I dragged myself there, and things got off to a bad start when Jon and I were wedged between two tables of men talking dealspeak. Despite my best effort to tune them out, words like “clawback” and “leverage” kept intruding, and I started to feel quite sorry for myself.
A delicious amuse of Moroccan-spiced-froth-in-an-eggshell came and went, as did hot puffs of cheese gougeres. I hardly paid attention, because I couldn’t believe I’d been wedged in Dealmaker Hell. The hazards of eating at a 2-Michelin-starred resto on a Thursday, perhaps.
So I did something I’ve never done before: I asked to be moved. Our servers didn’t ask why – they just moved us. Our new table was an oasis of calm. Much better.
Jon and I had the tasting menu. If I had to generalize, I’d say the courses at the start were more creative and “ooh ahhh” than the ones towards the end, but from start to finish, we had a delicious meal. My initial feeling that I had been coerced by the high cancellation fee into eating an exhaustingly-long meal was quickly replaced by the joy that a well-run restaurant with a creative, talented chef brings.
Our scallop starter with a starchy puree and refreshingly tart gelee had us wondering in awe how anyone (i.e., the chef) can think to combine such startling flavors. Because it was my birthday, I just sat back and enjoyed the ride, so if you’re looking for precise ingredient descriptions, stop reading now.
One dish that still stands out, even two weeks later, was a raviolo stuffed with a poached egg, potato puree and studded with black truffle. First, the technical wizardry . . . how do you get an egg yolk into a raviolo without the whole thing spilling out? (My photo shows the yolk after I’d poked open my raviolo). Second, the flavors – potato, egg yolk and black truffle – an understandably-classic combo. The pungent black truffle’s flavors are absorbed into the yolk and potato puree. Comforting flavors in an elegant package. Brilliant.
If pressed to identify a weak link, I’d single out the duck course, because the duck breast had a few tough-to-chew bits. You know, the kind you chew for a while and then end up trying to gracefully spit out because it just won’t go down. It was an odd problem to have a 2-starred place, which is the only reason I remember it.
Pre-dessert, an apple gelee, celeriac and chestnut parfait was interesting but not anything I’d ever crave. The chestnut layer was too starchy for the parfait to be refreshing.
Desert was tasty and playful and ended our dinner on a high note: a parsnip tart that looked just like a tarte au citron, but instead was wonderfully sweet and salty. The smoked caramel-vanilla ice cream was a dreamy accompaniment.
The dinner tasting menu at Hibiscus is £90, so with a modest wine, coffee and service, our tab totaled about £280. Definitely a special occasion-kind-of-place, and at these prices and after such an inauspicious start, it’s a wonder that Jon and I left the restaurant feeling happy and relaxed. Thank God we’d moved tables with no fuss. I was glad we’d revisited, and we’d be glad to go back.
Hibiscus, 29 Maddox Street, W1S 2PA; 0207 629 2999; closest tube station: Oxford Circus