Hedone. He done good. Very good.
It’s rare that I go back and update my reviews but it has been known, especially where the restaurant has changed so much that I would be worried that someone would rely on the review and have a bad experience.
I have never previously re-reviewed on the grounds of improvement.
It’s true that I didn’t get all the hoo-hah about Hedone the first time I ate there. Too austere, too forbidding, too purist for my palate, it left me a little cold.
A few months ago I was telling this to A, who has been to Hedone around 60 times – no, my hand did not slip – and is one of the many who have experienced the rapture. I asked him what the fuss was about and I admitted I hadn’t felt the love. He suggested I give it another go, this time with him.
So, on a miserable Friday I find myself on the bus from Shepherd’s Bush to Turnham Green. Yes. The bus. I like a life of contrast.
There are two tasting menus and obviously we have the longer one, because, well, why wouldn’t we? Sixteen courses in all, if my maths is correct, it is still eminently manageable and no plate is left uneaten. I am an avowed clean-plater, however full.
I once had hypnotherapy to lose weight and in particular to train myself not to finish everything I was served. I remember, in my trance-like state, the various positive affirmations designed to encourage me to stop when full and to regard a plate with food left on it at the end of a meal as some sort of achievement.
I’m afraid that I’d need a lobotomy and a full brainwash for that to work.
Here are a few of the things that rocked my world. It doesn’t mean that the other dishes weren’t good, it’s just that I know you have a busy life.
A perfect tranche of monkfish came encased in a rectangular tube of pastry, like the finest fish finger you have ever had, to be dipped into the Hedone version of tartare sauce; a mayonnaise with tiny deep-fried capers, anchovy and very thinly sliced confit lemon.
Slightly later, an umami custard (which may have contained Parmesan) came flecked with what I am sure they said was chia seeds, though it didn’t really look like them or not the ones you can buy in Waitrose. Whatever they were added a little texture and added visual interest. It was brilliant. Delicate, savoury and silky.
Amontillado ice cream with tomatoes? What weirdness is that, I would have said, had you asked. I suppose I might think of dressing tomatoes with sherry vinegar and this is not a million miles away from that, but I would not have considered adding a sweet cream made of almonds and almond milk to those tomatoes. It worked, the almond sweeter than the tomatoes but only just, bringing out their essential flavour. It was a change from the usual sharp counterpoint, designed to accentuate the sweetness of the tomato; this did the opposite.
Then there was the crab that didn’t taste like any crab I’ve ever eaten. Served in three sections, one with what looked like a pale yellow caul covering part of the crabmeat but which was part of it, served in a crab consommé, made from Velvet crabs. In case you are wondering, Velvet crabs are the largest swimming crabs found in British coastal waters and are also known as the devil crab, witch, or lady crab and are often a little hairy: in the Latin, Necora puber, which doesn’t sound so great when you think about it.
We digress. This was one of the finest things I’ve eaten so far this year, made memorable by a silky light hazelnut mayonnaise. It’s not a combination I’m familiar with, crab and hazelnut, but it needs to go viral. It’s so easy to overpower the delicacy of perfect crab, but really, this was a marriage of equals. Small chunks of apple gave a little acidity and bite and what I think was horseradish oil brought depth and heat.
At some point there was the bread. It’s a crusty sourdough. I’ve written about it before and it’s a thing of beauty. Understand that however much you of it you allow yourself to eat, later in the day you will regret not eating more.
Sweetbreads. No, they are not testicles, as some people still believe, but are in fact the thymus gland, which can either come from the neck or the stomach. If you have never tried them, you are missing a treat. I first tried them at The Gavroche, where the set lunch, with half a bottle of wine, cost the princely sum of £26.50, all in. That’s how long ago it was. Back then I definitely assumed that they were the dangly bits and I still ate them, notwithstanding. It was years before I found out the truth.
Here, the sweetbreads look like a small chicken breast and are served with two of the sweetest baby carrots, orange and yellow, tiny girolles and a carrot vinaigrette. They are soft and buttery, the sweetbreads, with a spongy texture like a very firm chicken mousse. This is another spectacular dish, elevated by the quality of the simple ingredients. The colours of the dish are ever-so-elegant too, everything on the orange spectrum, including the sweetbreads, grilled and glazed so that they have a rust-coloured crust. Food for the eyes as well as the face, this dish was indeed (and I apologise in advance) the bollocks.
In another restaurant, the raspberry with lemon confit and cinnamon ice-cream would have been a standout dish, what with its semi-opaque frosted disc balanced on perfect Tulameen raspberries, but then another restaurant wouldn’t have had the mille-feuille.
Saving the best till last, going out with a bang, a happy ending, last but not least. I could come up with even more on the cliché front and there are some who might say that mille-feuille is a restaurant cliché but they would be wrong and if they don’t want their portion just tell me and I’ll be happy to help.
It took 18 months to perfect the pastry, the owner-chef tells us, as he is pouring the most intense balsamic vinegar over the plate. Layers of flaky wonder are laid on their side rather than in the more traditional vertical assembly, and there are layers of delicate custard, concertinaed between the pastry of perfection, topped by a vanilla ice-cream of pure deep flavour. So much better than the vertiginous versions which collapse as soon as you put fork to pastry.
There are two types of vanilla in the dish, Mexican and Madagascan. Mexican, I hear you exclaim, but yes, Mexican vanilla is, apparently, one of the very finest of all vanillas, if you can get hold of the real thing. There is a website called http://www.vanillamart.co.uk. It has more types of vanilla extract than you might ever have thought possible. Knock yourself out.
If you ever need to be convinced of the virtues of mille-feuille and frankly, why would you, this is the version that will turn you. I’ve had a taste memory of a vanilla slice, a particular one I used to bunk out of school to buy with my pocket money, when I was about 7 or 8 years old. About four inches high, topped with white icing, filled with bright yellow vanilla custard, I remember the flavour explosion, as I crammed that huge slice into my face, making sure that the flaky bits of pastry dropped into the white paper bag, so I could funnel them into my mouth at the end, not wanting to miss a single mouthful. That childlike joy, that unadulterated pleasure. That’s what it brought back. Who could ask for more?
Hedone. I went in trepidation and I left in admiration. There aren’t many chefs in London cooking at this level, with this type of dedication to the quality of the ingredient and I’m really glad that I gave it another try. It has a Michelin star but that single star doesn’t reflect standard of the cooking here and it’s worth hoiking yourself over to Chiswick to try it, even if you have to get the bus. You could have the shorter menu but you’d be letting yourself down and I’d be disappointed in you.