Hedone: The word itself originates from Greek Mythology meaning “pleasure”, and is where the word “hedonistic” comes from. It’s been over 24 hours since I ate at Hedone restaurant and I’m still trying to process how glorious the meal was. Seriously, I’m still slightly stunned by how good it was there, to the point where I don’t think there are words (certainly in my vocabulary) which adequately describe just *how* pleasurable my meal there was, but I’ll certainly give it a bash..
Hedone is the result of a lifelong dream for Mikael Jonsson. As Dos Hermanos eloquently wrote in their review of Hedone “To call Mikael Jonsson an ingredients obsessive is to do him a disservice – It’s a bit like saying footballer Lionel Messi can play a bit”. After a few years working in a different profession because of an allergy, the allergy has now cleared and Mikael has finally been able to open a restaurant serving food using only the best ingredients he’s worked long and hard to source. So be it sea bass or turbot caught that morning from Cornwall or hand dived Scallops, if the ingredients don’t meet Mikael’s exceedingly high standards, he won’t accept them.
Now, I need to admit that on the day, I was slightly hungover and had eaten breakfast at St John Hotel. More to the point, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Hedone. From reading Mikael’s blog, it’s been nice to have followed him on his journey from conception of the restaurant to seeing it all come together until finally today, I was about to try it out myself. So it was with a completely open mind (if slightly groggy head and belly full of butter) that we made the journey to Chiswick..
The restaurant itself is anonymously amongst a strange mix of shops on the Chiswick High Road – Opposite is a funeral directors which itself is next to (what will be) a Japanese Sushi and Bento restaurant and in the same row of shops as Hedone is a chippy and a pizza place. But within Hedone is a large space (for about thirtysomething covers?) with an open plan kitchen and very modern furnishings. Details like the ceiling covered with what looked like doodles of various ingredients or kitchen items, to the slats in the tables just before the edge so that the tablecloths don’t drape over the edges give the interior a welcoming feeling. Even things like the design of the wine list so that it can be left of the table facing you (leaned against something like a small beanbag) to how the bottle of water is always left on the table with the label facing you, I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s always the small details which impress me.
The menu itself is simple and broken down into 3 dishes, then a choice of 2 mains and 3 desserts. You can have either 3 courses for £30, 4 courses for £40 or 5 courses for £50. It was pretty much a no-brainer that we would have the 5 courses but we couldn’t quite decide on what to have for mains: Lamb or Sea Bass. As we were deciding, the man himself came over to chat to us and he recommended that we went for the lamb, despite his revelation that he’s not too sure if he liked the lamb or not, and that it was “strange”. Still, if it was good enough for HM The Queen (I’m pretty sure he said that the supplier he got it from supplies the Royal Kitchens too), then it’s good enough for me! Whilst chatting to us, Mikael told us that he had a surprise for us later: He had a lobster dish and wanted us to try it – And we weren’t going to turn down such a generous offer.
Now, given how much the menu changes due to what ingredients Mikael can get, it may not be possible to get exactly the same dishes that we did, but I will recap on what we had to eat.
Firstly, we were given some sablès made with Berkswell cheese with some crushed dried blackcurrant on top. It pleased me no end to see a cheese made locally to where I live being used by Mikael and the crisp sablès were given a nice acidic note from the blackcurrant.
This was then followed by the Umami Flan. This isn’t a flan like a quiche or tart with pastry, but think of it like a set savoury custard – Very much like a Japanese chawanmushi and topped with a toasted nori compote. I’d heard about it before we went but it was so much better – and different – to what I expected. The nori on top a very familiar smell (and one I’ll never tire of) and when you broke into it to reveal a silky smooth set savoury custard, you know you’re in for something special. But the tastes were extraordinary (I may be saying this a lot in this post), you got the egg, then the duck stock it was cooked with, then the taste of bonito flakes and it was rounded off by the nori. None of the flavours overpowered or fought with one another, it really was a something to get your tastebuds going. A fantastic start.
So, onto the first dish; Lightly smoked salmon, roe, dill flower cream; 3 fat fingers of salmon with a bright sauce drizzled in between and small dollop of cream on the side. Trying the cream first, it packed a punch with what I thought was horseradish at first, then I got the strong flavour of dill coming through. The salmon itself was so fresh that it disintegrated in our mouths with a faint smokey taste at the end which complimented rather than overpowered the natural salmon flavour.
Next up was Slow cooked hen egg, cèpes and apricot chutney. Now, I’m a sucker for a slow cooked or poached egg with mushrooms, so this dish was full of promise and high expectations. Yet it still exceeded those expectations; the cèpes, both cooked and shaved on top were intensely flavoured and the hen’s egg so rich and creamy, offset by the sweet apricot chutney and there was a textural crunch from some bits of fried bread. When I split the yolk and it slowly oozed itself out, I tried to get a photo of it but got distracted by the waitress who thought I had dropped the spoon and offered to replace it, only for me to reply: “Oh no, I didn’t drop the spoon, I’m only have a minor convulsion..” So wrong to be saying such a thing, but so very right and apt at the same time.
Then came the Flame grilled Cornish mackerel, Japanese flavour. Oh God the mackerel – THAT mackerel! This one dish is one of the main reasons I’m eulogising about Hedone so much. Mikael had told us that this singular dish had divided diners into absolutely loving it or absolutely hating it; A fillet of mackerel is lightly grilled until the skin is barely blistering and served with a few dressed leaves – The simplest of dishes to look at. Firstly, the smells get to you; the smell of sesame oil, some mirin and/or rice wine vinegar and soy (the Japanese flavours) These are all flavours which appeal to my palate anyway so we’re off to a good start. Breaking into the fish – And you didn’t need to try too hard as it was barely cooked but broke away easily and then to taste…
… Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, the taste of the mackerel. Extraordinary, stunning, amazing don’t do it justice. The fish itself was creamy and unctuous, then the Japanese flavours kicked in and it’s rounded off by the oily flavour of the fish. YKL said it was like a religious experience and I’ve never had a piece of fish so delicious before – And this is a humble mackerel we’re talking about here! It was so good that I even tried delaying tactics so that I could savour it for longer as I knew that I would be sad once it was all gone. This one dish summed up our Hedone experience: The very simplest of dishes but using the finest ingredients, treated lightly so that the quality of ingredients shone through without any of the flavours being compromised.
And could it get any better? Well next was the lobster, cooked in a banyuls and butter dressing with cocoa and a lobster roe sauce with French green beans. Visually, the contrast of the greens, reds and blue from the barely cooked lobster was stunning and given we were still on a high from the mackerel previously, this dish was no let down at all. The lobster barely cooked yet with each mouthful you got very clear flavours; lobster, then butter and banyuls, then lobster again. Even the green beans (imported from France) were amazing. It’s a testament to Mikael’s obsession for the best ingredients that EVERYTHING we’d eaten so far tasted so very fine. I’m not sure if we were supposed to use our fish knife and fork for this dish but we took on a feral-like existence and got stuck in with our hands – Completely forgetting where we were but at that moment, we were so happy that we didn’t care what other diners thought. There was absolutely *NO* way we were going to let any part of this dish be wasted – Even if it meant sucking the shells or licking our fingers to extract every last drop of sauce.
Mains was Scottish lamb, aubergine, smoked potatoes, English peas. We were given 2 hunks of meat from the leg and shoulder and the contrast in flavours was extraordinary; the leg meat was full of lamb flavour that you would expect but the shoulder didn’t have any flavour at all – despite coming from the same animal and being cooked pink. I could understand why Mikael called the lamb “strange” and you could see it was a work in progress for him, but still delicious nonetheless. And the smoked potatoes – Who’d have thunk that peeled baby new potatoes could be so intensely flavoured and buttery, yet brought to life by a slight smokiness added to them?
We weren’t really sure about dessert, to be honest, given we’d eaten so very well so far and were beginning to lag a bit (the butter in the Breakfast Buns were catching up on us), but when push came to shove, we opted for the Raspberries, cinnamon ice cream, horseradish, aromatic vinegar and am I glad we did; the quality of Mikael’s sourcing for fine raspberries were very evident in this dish. They weren’t mouth-puckeringly tart, nor did they need any sugar to macerate in, they were perfect just as they are. The cinnamon ice cream was rich without being too sickly and it was all given a punch from the horseradish cream and lifted by the vinegar. So light yet packed full of flavours. A nice end to the meal.
So that was it, one of the most extraordinary meals I’ve ever eaten and still, I can’t quite believe just *how* brilliant it all was. The lobster dish which had us abandoning all sense of decorum was very generously comp’ed to us by Mikael, which only added to the sense of having eaten somewhere very special.
A lot of chefs these days talk about seasonality and how we should always buy produce according to what’s in season. Similarly, they talk of buying the “best quality ingredients” and how they don’t do too much to them so that “the ingredients speak for themselves” but inevitably, they are still mucked around with – Either with sauce reductions, emulsions or foams, or the meat has been given something like the sous-vide treatment so it’s about technique, too. Well, after eating at Hedone I would say that any chef who uses such statements are charlatans and bullshitters. Only at Hedone can they truly say that the food hasn’t been fucked around with and the ingredients are the main thing in each dish. In every single course, not only was everything collectively delicious, but EVERY single ingredient’s quality and taste came through – without having to fight with all the other flavours and tastes from everything else. For the first time (possibly in my life), I understood why “Fine French Beans” are called that – The ones eaten here – sourced from the Loire Valley where there are currently in season – were indeed, finer in size and appearance but they were also packed full of flavour compared to (what I now know are) dull, oversized and bland green beans which have been imported from Kenya and are available all year that I’m so accustomed to eating from Supermarkets. The presentation of each dish isn’t as intricate as some other places I’ve eaten, but Mikael would never let anything detract from the main thing on the plate (the ingredients and their flavours). Sure, you could argue that without making the dish look pretty as a picture and every plate that comes out looking the same, you have nothing more than a bunch of (fine) ingredients on a plate, but trust me, these will be the finest ingredients arranged on a plate you’ll eat. Never have I eaten a meal where the dishes which I’d say were excellent and scored 9/10 were almost forgotten about by the end of the meal, because the quality of each DISH was that good. In every single dish, I can still remember the taste of each ingredient because they came through so clearly. It almost became a joke how delicious everything was every time the next dish came out. I mean, there wasn’t anything mediocre in our meal; it ranged from excellent to unbelievably amazing. What’s more, the restaurant has been open barely over a month and is already fully booked at least 2 weeks in advance as word-of-mouth spreads, which is pretty extraordinary. Mikael never expected this reaction so soon and admitted that “things have been crazy”, but so long as people understand what he’s trying to do here, I’m sure that deep down he’s very happy – Despite his calm, laid-back exterior.
I started off this post by saying where the word Hedone comes from and what it means, to say that this meal was a pleasure is almost to do it a disservice given just *how* extraordinary it was. It really was mind-blowingly awesome and I never, ever thought that I would have reacted this way from eating there. Food has always been an important part of my life but my brain is still trying to process what happened in those few hours of lunch at Hedone – It’s almost as if I’m stuck in a post-euphoric state of some sort. I left appreciating fine ingredients a lot more than when I went in. Chatting to Mikael. he said that he hoped to see us again and promised that next time, things will be “very different” and “much better”, I suspect that Mikael means that he himself will be happier with things in that he will have settled into a better routine and have a better relationship with suppliers and trust me, that can only be a good thing. The idea that I don’t know what I’ll be eating, but am safe in the knowledge that if the produce meets Mikael’s high standards, he will honestly treat them with the greatest care and respect to let their flavours shine through in each dish is incredibly exciting. I’ve not been this excited and blown-away by a restaurant in well, ever, and I’m already eager and looking forward to going back.
The full set of photos can be viewed on my Flickr page