For my Birthday, I obviously wanted to go somewhere pretty special to eat and with that came all sorts of questions – Do I stay in Birmingham or should I venture out further afield, possibly abroad? Do I try somewhere new or do I return to somewhere I’ve previously loved? I did initially think of staying in Birmingham but decided against it because well, I live here so can go to the good restaurants whenever I want (or at least it would be much easier for me to do so). I can’t really afford to go anywhere abroad so it was a matter of where else in the Country I wanted to go to. For a moment, I considered le Champignon Sauvage; the first 2* place I’d ever eaten and somewhere I went to in the beginning of my foray into finer dining establishments so I have a bit of a soft spot for them out of pure nostalgia. However, the cooking there is very robust and in them early days whilst my palette was still developing, was at times a bit *too* rich for me, but I reckon I could cope with it now. But was it enough for my Birthday meal? Not quite was that answer.. Besides, I want to go back to LCS with specific people to make it special again and by the time we thought about it, couldn’t get a table. I really needed somewhere I could get to easily by train for a day trip so that ruled out L’Enclume and other places up North so I looked at the train router and thought about the Hand and Flowers; I’ve been meaning to go there for a while with a friend but when I called them, they didn’t have any tables free for then next 6 months(!!). So there was only 1 place left – Londinium.
I go to Londiunium quite a bit really – Partly to visit friends and I used to go for work, but mainly because there are a lot of places I want to try in London. That said, there hasn’t really been anywhere new that has opened up in the past 18 months or so which has got me really excited and thinking that I *must* rush there (Well, apart from Sushi Tetsu last year). I mean, I remember being desperate to get a table at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and Pollen Street Social pretty much as soon as they opened, but I’ve not had that feeling about a lot of places which have opened in London for a while now. That’s not really a bad thing though, as it means that whilst everyone is rushing around trying to get a table at the latest establishment opening its doors for the first time, I’m finding it easier to get a reservation at somewhere which has had the time to iron out the kinks associated with new openings and have found their groove (so to speak). However, there has only been 1 new restaurant opening in the past couple of years where I actively seek to go back to time and time again – Hedone.
There’s no secret that I absolutely love Hedone given how completely blown away I was from the very first meal I ate there (and subsequently wrote about here) and am subsequently absolutely itching to go back as soon as possible pretty much all the time. Since that first visit, I’ve been back a few times and I’ll be honest, there has been an occasion when I’ve felt slightly underwhelmed and thought that Mikael showed off his mortal side. Whilst chatting to Mikael on a visit last Summer, he told us that he was (finally) a lot happier with how the kitchen was operating and subsequently much happier with the dishes being served – And you could tell that from subsequent visits; The near culinary god-like status was reinstated and every dish coming from the kitchen was absolutely stellar. Subsequently, there’s been no looking back; Hedone has been awarded its first Michelin star – Just over 12 months after first opening and as Mikael himself documented in his Gastroville blog, getting the Michelin star was a source of great pride to him and he finally a lot happier with the way the kitchen and restaurant is being run. From that slight dip where all the dishes were probably 7 or 8’s out of 10, every single dish that was being served now was worthy of at least a 9 out of 10 and that old familiar feeling of wanting to go back as soon as possible returned. And well, that turned out to be my Birthday;
The 4 of us arrived absolutely famished because as we deliberately ate a light breakfast given we knew that there were going to be a lot of courses eaten but I don’t think we were prepared for just how hungry we all were by the time we got there. Jokingly, we thought of asking them to have bread waiting for us on the table for our arrival, so when we all sat down eventually (after I had a bit of a brain meltdown in being asked to make a decision when hungry as to whether to sit at one of the new tables or the banquette) and ordered aperitifs, our server was about to serve us bread and butter before remembering that we had ordered aperitifs and quickly retracted from serving us bread – So close! The pêche royale was so delicious and strong, it went straight to my head and I soon forgot about being famished.
Actually, I really need to dedicate some words to the bread here; I mean, I’ve been making a lot of sourdough bread myself (thanks to a starter from Loaf) and yunno, I don’t think it’s too bad. The luxury of being able to have sourdough toast – Which could well be one of the greatest breakfast items ever – every morning is a real treat. The bread at Hedone has always been pretty good but I remember Mikael saying (again) how he’s much happier with the bread now and it’s almost at a point where he’s willing to bake it for other restaurants. All I can say is that if Mikael thinks that the bread could be better, it will be classified as borderline illegal from being so good. I mean, the bread as it is now at Hedone is stunning: The crust is a thing of beauty and the bread itself, whilst resisting the urge to talk about crumb structure, is almost sweet and malty – with the signature sour tang. Seriously, I used to think I made good sourdough and sorry guys, the sourdough from Loaf is delicious – But the bread at Hedone is leagues above. What’s more, they keep offering you some until you decline (after which, they quickly clear away your side slate/rock thingy) and whilst I’ve always liked the bread at Hedone, I can see why Mikael is much happier with this recipe and as we (half) joked, our mission to get Mikael to offer us a loaf of their sourdough to take home..
I could give a course-by-course detail, but I would run out of superlatives; Every single dish that came out to us (and we deliberately asked not to be told what we were getting to keep the element of surprise with Carte Blanche) was stunning and became a new favourite – until the next dish came out. Even now, the four of us struggle to decide upon the top 3 dishes of the day – From the Broken duck’s egg, green asparagus, green peas, fresh morels, red bell pepper where, as P commented, even the peas were delicious to the sublime Langoustine tail and claw, lobster bouillon and roe with a langoustine tail so thick, it looked almost like a really thick centipede, but was cooked to perfection and the bouillon so packed full of flavour. And that liquid parmesan ravioli – None of us had any idea how they made the liquid parmesan, but it was utterly delicious and I’m glad that the chefs at Hedone do know how to make liquid parmesan and cook it for us (grateful) paying guests.
But that’s not to say that every dish as a whole was a complete success; Whilst I loved the liquid parmesan and the mild horseradish foam it was served with, I found the ravioli pasta *just* a smidgen too thick – And we are talking millimetres here. Perhaps it needed to be to contain the liquid parmesan – And I must also stress that I was the only person in our party who thought that the pasta was too thick, but personally speaking, I would have given the dish a 10 out of 10 had the pasta been a teeny bit thinner, rather than the 9 out of 10. Yes, I am being that particular! For the suckling pork dish we were offered, the suckling pig itself was sheer perfection with crispy skin and the meat so tender and moist underneath. It immediately made me think of Chinese New Year (which is no bad thing) and I almost yearned for some jellyfish or some hoisin sauce. However, the endive and aubergine with miso and walnut served with it made it less of a successful dish as a whole; the aubergine wasn’t quite cooked enough and the glaze on both the aubergine and endive was incredibly salty – overpoweringly so and they didn’t really enhance the pork in any way. But you could overlook such misgivings purely because that piggy was so damned tasty..
However, these are genuinely minor gripes and in no way affected all of us having a brilliant time – Any kind of lunch that lasts 4 hours where each dish is at least 9 out of 10 is pretty damn good in anyone’s book, I’d say. Hell, I’m even eulogising about the bread served in this place!. I know that I’ve been a big fan of Hedone since the very beginning, but I can honestly say that Hedone now is not only very different to when they first opened, but they’re an awful lot better now. It’s very clichéd, but in a society where we are in danger of forgetting how things should taste (remember P commenting on how even the peas were good?), what Hedone does is remind it’s diners just how good ingredients treated simply can be. I mean, what can be more simple than getting asparagus that (quelle horreur) actually tastes of asparagus and not some of the bland, tasteless crap you can get from Supermarkets these days?. They don’t make a big song and dance about it (that’s left to bloggers such as myself and reviewers), but I do think that Hedone is genuinely one of the most exciting restaurants in London, possibly the whole Country. It certainly is brilliant value (especially for lunch) where you can go 2 course set lunch for £28.50, 3 courses for £35.00, but why would you when you can get have a 7 course tasting menu for £55.00? Sure, Hedone may not be a very fashionable restaurant nor may it be trendy enough to be a place to be seen. But Hedone is absolutely a place to eat (strange that, for a restaurant eh?) and I was already plotting when I can return to Hedone before we finished our meal. I am seriously excited to find out what culinary tricks Mikael and his brigade will do to fantastically great ingredients every time I visit – which is why I maintain that Hedone is one of the most exciting new restaurants to open up in the last few years and also why I keep going back. It is also why you should eat there, too.
You can view the full set of photos from my visit on my Flickr page