12A Newburgh Street, London, W1F 7RR, United Kingdom

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In a pedestrianised cobbled alley just off Carnaby Street, Antidote is not a new restaurant (it opened in 2006) but in March 2014 it underwent a complete change in the kitchen. Originally a wine bar doing simple snacks, the owner decided to change tack and commissioned Michelin-starred Mikael Jonsson of Hedone to run the catering on a consultancy basis. Mikael recruited the kitchen team, designs the menu and supplies the produce. The level of ingredients is not quite at the level of Hedone due to the lower price point here, but Mikael’s idea of lesser ingredients still trumps those used at virtually any restaurant in London. The bar itself is downstairs with some bar stools and a few tables, and there is a dining room upstairs. Downstairs there are snacks available, while the upstairs room offers a short fixed menu.

The décor of Antidote is simple, with wooden floor and no tablecloths, the tables quite small. The room was fine but the dinner experience was somewhat marred by the very small, remarkably uncomfortable chairs. The head chef is Chris Jones, who in addition to working at Hedone was sous chef at Autre Pied for a year and prior to that was senior chef de partie at l’Enclume.

The wine list had just over 200 labels, mostly (88%) French but with some interesting Italian wines too. The list ranged in price from £20 to £250 with a median price of £51, and an average mark-up of around 2.9 times the retail price, though some bargains lurk in the upper reaches of the list. Cave Vignerons d’Estezargues Cuvee Galet 2012 was £23 for a wine that retails at around £8, Josmeyer Pinot Noir 2011 was £56 for a wine that costs £20 in a shop, and Emedio Pepe Monteulciano d’Abruzzo 2001 was a relatively bargain at £106 for a wine that will set you back around £80 in a shop. Bread is made in the ovens at Hedone and delivered each day, in this case white foccacia and sourdough. I have written about the bread at some length in my Hedone review, so will not repeat the detail here. Suffice it to say that it is close to perfect, by a wide margin the best bread that you will encounter in London.

In the early days of the new kitchen regime a set four-course dinner menu was priced at £40. The quality of the produce was evident in seasonal white asparagus from France, carefully cooked with a classic Hollandaise sauce, given a slight twist with the addition of black cardamom powder and tarragon. This was excellent, the asparagus having lovely flavour, the Hollandaise light (14/20).

Cod with smoked Jersey Royals and dried black olives was less successful. The potatoes were excellent, just in season and accurately cooked, and the dried olives were an interesting touch. However the cod, though properly cooked, was less than hot when it arrived (12/20). This may be connected with the kitchen being two floors down from the main dining room, but hopefully the dish temperature issue will be fixed in due course; there was no such problem with the other dishes.

Salt marsh lamb from Cumbria brought the meal firmly back on track, the saddle and in particular the shoulder of the lamb precisely cooked and having considerable depth of flavour, the broccoli also very good; personally I am not a big fan of seaweed, so the sauce didn’t do much for me, but the lamb was classy (15/20). As a fishy alternative for the main course, sea bass with Swiss chard and carrot puree arrived piping hot and accurately cooked, the sauce working well with the fish and the spinach tender (15/20).

A citrus pre-dessert had Amalfi lemons and grapefruit in several forms: as a cream, as a meringue and as a sorbet, in addition to a blood orange segment. The meringue was delicate and the quality of the lemons shone through here, and the cream and the sorbet balanced the textures nicely; there was also a saffron cracker as garnish (16/20).

Glazed chocolate molleux with passion fruit sorbet is lifted directly from a dish in the early days of Hedone, and was spectacular. Valrhona chocolate had superb flavour and silky texture, the passion fruit providing just the right level of acidity to balance the chocolate. This was serious cooking (18/20).  Coffee was a relative let-down, some uninspired Musetti coffee. I gather that there are plans to upgrade the coffee in due course. Certainly the gulf between this and the coffee at Hedone (supplied by a roaster in Malmo) is very considerable.

The front of house is run by the affable Guillaume Siard, and service was very good. The bill, with a nice bottle of Josemeyer Riesling, came to £79 a head. If you opted for a modest wine then a realistic bill with mineral water, coffee and service would come to around £67 a head. Obviously you can eat at the bar for less.

A few days after my initial dinner I tried lunch here. This was priced at £30 for four courses, £23 for three courses or £19 for two courses. The first course was slow-cooked duck egg with morels and peas with a little red pepper with a sauce made from the white of the egg. This was a staple in Hedone in the early days, and was executed well here: the duck yolk’s slow cooking held its texture together, and the morels, just in season, were very good (15/20).  

Slip sole was served on the bone with seaweed and lemon butter. The fish was of good quality and carefully cooked, but the sauce lacked quite enough lemon for me, being insufficiently acidic to cut through the richness of the butter; still a very good dish, but not quite spot on yet (14/20).

Suckling pig was better, the pork shoulder having excellent flavour and served with wild garlic and Calcot onion (a green onion from Spain) with mustard frissee. The mustard and onion had enough bite to cut through the richness of the pork; perhaps the crackling could have been a touch crisper but this was still an excellent dish (16/20). On the side, triple cooked chips were excellent, crisp and golden on the outside and cooked nicely through.

The chocolate molleux, this time with a crunchy nut base, still had the superbly rich flavour and texture of the Valrona chocolate, the passion fruit sorbet providing just the right balance to its richness. As before, this was outstanding (18/20).

Even though the restaurant was still in its early days for these two meals, the class of the ingredients was apparent, with just one or two fairly minor glitches in the kitchen that will doubtless be ironed out. The dazzling bread and the superb chocolate dessert stood out, but the meat dishes tried were also very fine indeed. This is a place that is only going to get better as the kitchen settles down, and is already high quality; it is excellent value given the level of ingredients being used. It is a true antidote to the PR-driven "hype over substance" openings that have recently been so prevalent in London. I can see this becoming a regular haunt of mine. 


Further reviews: 18th Jul 2014

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