It was a crucifyingly warm Good Friday, and I was dying for the sins of myself and others, thanks to the previous evening’s sesh in the depths of 151 on the King’s Road. Not to mention my poor pair of brand new (mustard) Tod’s, which seemed to come out of the fray in a worse state than I – on the face of it anyway. Resurrection was required; luckily, I had the excitement of paying a lunchtime visit to the latest venture from one of my favourite chefs, in one of London’s most iconic buildings.
It’s steeped in culinary history, a rite of passage for some of my greatest inspirations in food – Simon Hopkinson and Jeremy Lee to name two – one of whose company I have the pleasure of enjoying on a regular basis, with no judgement as to what state I may be in. The excitement was tempered by a slow stir of dread, as today was mother and son day. Of course, I was far from top form on the inside. Don’t worry; I looked great – unlike my fucking shoes.
Spare footwear donned, shades firmly in place to provide an invisibility cloak for my shame and Mount Gay sweat, it was time to take the walk down Pelham Street and approach the famous structure itself. Terence Conran’s Michelin House has stood for over a hundred years and seen many a rise and fall in tyre pressures and restaurants over the generations. Opening a new restaurant here always causes a stir – whether of dread or delight.
Especially when you consider the chef in question. Claude Bosi has always been at the forefront of modern French fine dining, seriously close to the edge on boundaries of technique, execution, delivery of flavour, and presentation. The second instalment of Hibiscus opened in London in 2007, and quickly claimed once more the two Michelin Stars it had obtained in sleepy Shropshire, years before. Claude’s style has always polarised diners’ opinions and I’ve always been a huge fan. I’d often enjoy dining at Hibiscus, and Claude’s unique style never failed to surprise me – in a good way. Whether it be a scallop the size of the Michelin Man’s fist paired with a pork pie – yes, pork pie – sauce, or Brixham crab with smoked haddock jelly, I couldn’t get enough of Hibiscus, and was delighted to be a regular.
The only thing that let it down was the venue. The stuffy, ground floor, post-war office block conversion on Maddox Street was on the cramped side for the diners and front of house, to say the least. I’m not surprised that Claude decided to up sticks and move to Bibendum. The location couldn’t be more of a polar opposite. The often-confusing blend of Art Nouveau and Art Deco in the building allows a tsunami of natural light to kaleidoscope its way through magnificent stained glass windows, and into the high-ceilinged, spacious, and relaxing dining room.
I almost had to put my sunglasses back on when my weary eyes noticed we were being looked after by legendary restaurant consultant John Davey for the day. John’s history in hospitality puts some of the best restaurants the modern world has ever seen under his belt, including a few backstreet greasy spoons in London, such as the Ledbury, and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.
One or two restorative Negronis later, and I was starting to rise from the almost-dead. Jonathan, our excellent sommelier, recommended a Mersault from Antoine Jobert’s 2010 vintage. Usually I’d leave that one lying around for a few more years; however, the acidity from the age of the vintage helped shock my palate back into life rather than provide the buttery, palliative care an older vintage would administer.
After a curious olive-like amuse bouche and a brace of Hibiscus classics: a wasabi-laced eggcup and a cone of foie gras ice cream, it was time to pore over the menu. The fine dining options are still there and awaiting me for my next, less hungover visit, however this was lunch. Lunch menus are always, and I mean always, the way to go when fine dining. You have the table all afternoon – take your time. It was Friday, after all, and not just any Friday. The fish rule had to be observed – it’s what He would have wanted. A starter of mussels hiding in their delicious blood orange-coated rock pool was the correct choice, simply because I needed something to wash that Campari down with. The generous lump of cod “Grenobloise” which followed hit the mark, too.
Enough about me. I should really be talking about what my mother chose for her main course. There is a trolley option. Yes, a trolley. Today it was suckling pig, and, despite it not being kosher, holy shit, was it on the money. Paired with chantenay carrots and a gratin dauphinoise, that’s the perfect lunch (John graciously allowed me to have a portion on the side). We both opted for the irresistible chocolate soufflé to end the meal with (when is a soufflé not irresistible?) and the job was done. An indulgent end to a thoroughly enjoyable lunch.
London had been waiting with much anticipation for Claude to bring Bibendum back from the dead and see what exactly he’d do to this institution. Personally, I think he’s nailed it. With the ambience, the concept, the little touches (especially the butter dishes and egg cup holders), and the experience, it would be an insult to just call it Hibiscus III under one’s breath: this is truly Claude Bosi at Bibendum as it’s meant to be. Claude himself seemed much more relaxed than in previous days in Mayfair. It’s not surprising. He finally has the space for his team in London to do what he does best – keep being creative, pushing the edges of modern French cuisine, and saying “fuck you” to the naysayers. I can’t wait to go back next week and see what’s on that trolley.