To make great food, start with great ingredients. This may seem self-evident, yet it is something which seems to elude many high-end London restaurants, and why I head off to the continent if I want to eat really top of the range food. Hedone is interesting in that its chef and owner, Michael Jonsson, is an ingredients expert rather than a chef by background. After training as a chef many years ago in Sweden he switched career and became a lawyer, but always with a passionate interest in food. The Gastroville blog that he writes is influential, and he has advised some Michelin starred restaurants in Europe on ingredient sourcing.
Now he has switched to the other side of the counter and is behind the stoves of his first restaurant, in modest premises at the unfashionable end of the Chiswick High Road that were previously a Lebanese nightclub. Michael spent over a year travelling the UK searching out artisan suppliers, from producers of flour to unpasteurised butter to shellfish, and supplements the best British ingredients he can find with produce from Europe where necessary. The menu, which has no a la carte option, changes on a weekly basis, and often is adjusted daily in the light of what ingredients are best that day, a similar approach to that taken by Astrance in Paris. A ten course tasting menu is currently available at £70, four courses at £50. A three course lunch is £35 on Thursday through Saturdays. For the ultimate experience the carte blanche tasting menu at £95 uses the very finest produce that the kitchen can obtain. Given the high quality of the ingredients here this is actually good value - this price would not buy you a starter in some top Paris restaurants, where similar and in a few cases identical ingredients are being used.
The dining room has exposed brick walls and an open kitchen, with a few seats at a bar looking into the kitchen in addition to the main dining area, and has carefully thought-out lighting illuminating the tables well. There is a downstairs with a private dining room, and this houses the wine cellar. The wine list had around 200 choices, with a lot of French wines but also selections from elsewhere, at fair mark-ups by London standards. Example wines include Crawford River Riesling Young Vines 2009 at £39 for wine that will set you back £27 in the shops, the lovely Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2008 at £70 for a wine that retails at £34, up to Javillier Corton-Charlemagne 2007 at £179 for a wine that costs around £70 in the shops.
I have now eaten 52 meals at Hedone, and have not recorded every dish of every meal, though there is now an extensive photo gallery. What distinguishes Hedone is the relentless focus on the highest quality ingredients. An example of this is the beef, supplied by Darragh O’Shea, probably the best butcher in London at the moment. The chef spends time at the butcher selecting just a few of the choicest cuts of beef with a high degree of marbling and has them individually aged to order. The beef that is served in the restaurant has been aged from between 55 and 80 days, and has the kind of texture that you encounter in Japan.
Another example is the bread, where the chef spent training time with perhaps the finest baker in France, Alex Croquet, in order to perfect his technique. Now produced in specialist bread ovens, the sourdough, white and other loaves produced have now reached the stage where they are as good as you will find anywhere. Mr Croquet himself acknowledged that the bread is of a similar standard to his own. This is bread that any three star Michelin restaurant would be pleased to serve. There are many further examples of the degree of effort made here: the puff pastry is made from scratch and not bought, and one particularly good sauce that I tried took the kitchen three days to make, incorporating four separate stages. I could go on, but suffice it to say that this is serious cooking using serious ingredients. The style is deceptively simple with few garnishes, the idea being to let the ingredients speak for themselves.
Here are notes from a recent meal.
It is now over two years since Hedone opened. The meal I had today reflected continuity in the sense that the chef’s obsession with top-class ingredients continues unabated, and also development in that the dishes have become more polished since the opening. This is partly because, since gaining its Michelin star, the restaurant has been able to attract more experienced staff.
Ingredient quality could be seen in the stunning sea bass at the meal today, whose flavour was quite remarkable, flawlessly cooked; as good a piece of sea bass as I have eaten. Another example was the peas served with the pigeon. The peas came from Italy and were of exceptional quality, carefully selected pod by pod to be the very sweetest, up there with the best that can be found in the lovely markets of the Mediterranean. No kitchen in London today pays quite such attention to ingredient quality as Hedone.
The technical skill can be seen in the ever-improving bread and the lovely chocolate dessert: chocolate ganache topped with a chocolate disk topped with raspberry powder, with passion fruit and also vanilla ice cream. The sweetness of the chocolate and vanilla had the acidity of the passion fruit and the raspberry as balance, the textures of each element exactly as they should be: a really accomplished dessert. The cooking continues to develop here, and over the dozens of meals that I have eaten here it has been fascinating to watch the progression, the dishes getting steadily better and better.
Here are notes from my first meal here.
The meal started with dazzling goujeres, made with a Swiss cheese called l’Etivaz in this instance. Their texture was remarkably light and airy, and above all they had plenty of cheese flavour, which many goujeres lack, even in Michelin starred restaurants. These are some of the very best goujeres I have tasted (19/20). Umami flan and English peas consisted of a Spanish style flan i.e. custard, in this case flavoured with chicken stock and a Japanese secret ingredient, given additional flavour by excellent peas. This was a very appealing dish, with a real savoury sense to it, which was of course the idea (strong 17/20). This umami flan is also made at the restaurant in other styles, in one case with red pepper, in another case with seaweed topping.
Gazpacho with dill seed sorbet was stunning, the tomatoes used in the gazpacho tiny ones from Italy with intense flavour, the gazpacho carefully seasoned and the sorbet also working well, the dill a lovely pairing with the tomato; I have only once had a better gazpacho than this (19/20). The main course was the star – 45 day aged beef from the top butcher O’Sheas of Knightsbridge. The beef had more marbling than is usual to see in British beef, and indeed was reminiscent of black wagyu beef in Japan; the additional fat meant the beef had tremendous depth of flavour (19/20). I have only eaten better beef than this a handful of times. The beef was accompanied by excellent juniper-smoked potatoes and cabbage.
A dessert of apricots came with a light almond blancmange, the apricots having striking flavour, the blancmange having smooth texture and providing a balance to the acidity of the fruit (18/20). A deceptively simple “chocolate bar” melted in the mouth, the airy, light chocolate topping (the chocolate itself from Venezuela) resting on a base of dacquoise made from layers of almond powder, crunchy biscuit and crepe (18/20).
The coffee, a blend supplied by The Monmouth Street Coffee Shop, was excellent. A bill of £100 a head for eight courses, plus nibbles and good wine was a bargain given the quality of ingredients on display here. This review is based around a dinner, but in fact I have had four meals at Hedone already in the opening two weeks, as I am aware that to score a brand new restaurant at this level will be controversial, and I wanted to be confident that the level of cooking was consistent. It is.
For example, a further lunch saw a particularly impressive pigeon dish; the pigeon was imported from Paris whole (most UK butchers provide pre-gutted pigeons to restaurants, but this can result in some drying out of the bird), and the meat, cooked rare, had tremendous depth of flavour. This was preceded by two scallop starters: sashimi of scallops was a very simple dish relying on the quality of the main ingredient. The scallops were alive when prepared, and were so fresh that the thin slices of the flesh were still moving when sliced in the kitchen (17/20). The same shellfish were now cooked in their shell with seaweed butter, the scallops still attached to their shell having been alive moments earlier. Again a very simple dish but showcasing lovely fresh, sweet scallops, in this case from Devon (18/20).
I have complained on my blog for some time about the lack of ambition of most London restaurant openings in recent years. So many chefs seem content to open profitable bistros serving capable but unexciting food based on serviceable ingredients. This is understandable from a financial viewpoint, but is frustrating for a diner looking for world-class dishes, with few London openings aiming for the very highest standards of food possible. Hedone is an exception, bringing a level of quality of ingredients pretty much unknown even in multi-starred London establishments. For this reason alone it is to me the most exciting London restaurant opening for years.