This cat marches to the beat of his own drum!
It’s all I could think after I finished chatting to solicitor turned food blogger turned uber chef Mikael Jonsson. I’d just finished my multi course, sensory overloading tasting menu at Hedone and was still reflecting on what was most likely one of the best meals of my life.
The self trained Jonsson had some pretty interesting thoughts about food preparation; and being self taught, seemed to have few preconceived notions of what food could be. That Jonsson was produce-led was clear from the meal, but what he was able to do with processes was quite staggering.
I was on the last leg of a UK trip that had seen me take in world #91 St John (see post here), as well as world #27 The Ledbury (see post here). But I’d definitely saved the best for last! With a coveted Michelin Star and rated as the #worlds50best #97, Hedone, rightfully, had a reputation for producing inventive food that was literally out of this world….
I was literally the first person in the restaurant when I arrived for my 6:30 sitting, and shortly after being seated at the bar (the best seat in the house in my opinion), Chef Jonsson came across to introduce himself and say ‘hi’. It was something that I noted happened throughout the night as guests arrived; one moment Jonsson was at the ‘pass’ inspecting each course, then in a blink of an eye, he was greeting guests….
One of the best things about sitting at the bar in a restaurant like Hedone, is the ability to watch all of the chefs in action. With an open style kitchen and a relatively small dining room, most guests were afforded a view of the team in action; but I felt like I had a front row seat and almost part of the team 🙂
It helped that one of my favourite chefs who used to work in Hong Kong was working the kitchen as well.
I started off by ordering a bottle of still water, which ended up being Isbre, glacial spring water derived from a source located near the Hardanger Fjord in Western Norway; it was good water!
My meal was about to kick off and unusually for a tasting menu; there was no formal set menu for me to read off…. Chef Jonsson’s approach was to take the best ingredients and put together the best meal for the day…
A series of amuse bouche started to be placed in front of me, beginning with a cornetto of tuna tartar with fried capers and lemon mayonnaise. The tuna was sweet, contrasting with the salty capers and crunch of the cornetto base.
A beautiful looking rectangle of beetroot duck foie gras was next. Creamy and sweet from the foie gras, the textures of beetroot added depth to the small bite which was the first of many ‘wow’ moments I’d have throughout the meal.
One of Hedone’s more famous and dare I say it signature bites was suddenly in front of me! A twisted take on fish and chips, a beautifully prepared rectangle of Monkfish was placed inside a ‘potato chip’ that was actually prepared from potato juice extract. There was an infusion of vinegar in the crispy coating, so all of the elements of a fish and chip meal were produced in one bite…. Simply delicious
I simply could not believe the size of the oyster that was the main component of the next course. The rock oyster was not only huge, it was super creamy with a medium level of salinity that gave a salty hit against a granny smith ice cream that was sitting on top, adding texture, temperature and a great little sweet acidic bite.
A perfect quenelle of Beluga caviar was the star of the next plate, but the super unusual ingredient of sea plankton and the slightly more common eel (made into a gel) was the dominant flavour of the dish. I loved the contrasting green against the black bowl, the plankton giving an interesting earthy taste that had a deep bite. It was like nothing I’d ever had and while challenging to the palate, was well balanced and very enjoyable.
Chef Jonsson came over and spent some time explaining the background the next course, which had huge personal affinity. I’ll start off by mentioning that it was a completely unique take on foie gras and utterly, utterly delicious. It was like a foie gras (fg) toasty; a thick layer of foie gras that had only twenty four hours previously still be part of a living duck spread on a crunchy toast. Added to that were chunks of eel that were sourced from guy Jonsson grew up with from a nearby beach. The freshness of the ingredients were clear and I have to say, the freshness of the fg really made a huge difference.
The combo lingered on my palate for quite some time and it was a dish I will never forget.
The surprising and random nature of bread arriving at different restaurants continues to surprise me; it was at this point a house-made set of white and brown bread arrived. Room temperature French butter (salt on the side) made devouring the crunchy fresh bread a pleasure. But I had to remember the cardinal rule – don’t fill up on bread – a task made difficult by its very deliciousness….
It was a test of my will power, but I prevailed….
Another unforgettable plate of food followed; fresh Dorset crab was the star of the show, but brilliantly supported a crab consomme (perfectly clarified), a horseradish and parsley oil, granny-smith apple and hazelnut mayonnaise. Make no mistake, this was a complicated dish made to look simple; and it was beyond delectable. You could taste the complexity, but it didn’t override the simple pleasure of eating the fresh crab with that unctuous mayonnaise. The sweetness of the crab played wonderfully with the intensely flavoured consomme, which was followed from a decent bite of the acidic apple.
It was a dish that Jonsson was incredibly proud of, and as he was explaining the dish to me; noted that chefs from around the country would come in and marvel at the dish (including chefs from The Fat Duck) trying to figure out all of the processes….
Look, I’m not a huge fan of vegetarian dishes, but I could probably be converted if I was able to devour the next plate of food daily! Fresh vegetables were cooked in emulsified butter that had been cooked with hay, then beautifully arranged on a plate that was very photogenic. But a dish cannot just be good to look at, and the plate satisfied me on every level. With a cucumber flower as the centerpiece of the plate, there were expertly prepared veggies mixed with a pea puree and broad bean butter sauce. I’m not going to list out all of the vegetables on the plate, but you can see for yourself in the photo. All I will say about the dish was – more please!
I’d paid a little extra for some truffle to be randomly added to some of my dishes; the next of which was one of the recipients.
So. Here it goes. I watched the chef pry open a live scallop, then slice said scallop and prepare. Cooked at 42 degrees for bare moments, the scallop was wrapped in black South Australian truffle and green Japanese cabbage and the served in a sauce that had been prepared from the juices and roe of the scallop. Man, this dish was so fresh, there was still movement from the scallop as I devoured it; the flesh fresh and almost translucent in appearance; the sauce that came with the scallop was super intense, earthy and fresh.
Probably the weakest dish of the night; and I say that tongue firmly in cheek (cause it was still a very good plate of food, with one exception that I will get to soon) was the sea bass from Dorset. The fish was beautifully cooked and it was served with a sweet sliver of tomato (sans skin), white beans and an emulsion that was super astringent and quite harsh on my palate. I loved the components of the dish, the tasty flaky bass, the soft white beans and the accompanying lettuce… But I couldn’t get past that sauce, it was just too much for me.
When my plate was cleared, my waitress looked a little distressed that I’d left the sauce and we talked about what it was made from….. Then the light-bulb went off; at the beginning of the meal, when I was asked if I had any food allergies, I mentioned that I hated olives and in particular tapanade. As it turned out, the sauce was made from green olives…… My waiter had mentioned that there was a tiny bit of olive in the sauce, and talked me into no changes….. I was never going to like that sauce….
Lesson learned for everyone I hope!
We were back on track with the next plate of food that consisted of veal sweetbread served with a carrot and apricot puree, chanterelle mushrooms and a sweet sticky jus. There was a wonderful caramelisation around the (thyroid) sweetbread that enhanced that beautifully sweet flavour; further sweetness came from the totally insane sauce with was brilliantly offset by the tartness of the carrot and apricot puree. Not only was the dish delicious, there was an aroma emanating from the plate that almost drove me insane with its intensity…
Last savoury component of the meal was a Bresse duck breast, which is often regarded as the finest duck in the world from Bresse in France. Accompanied by perfectly spherical yellow and red beets with peach, interspersed with kale leaves, parsnip puree and a sake reduction used as a sauce. There was a heck of a lot going on in the simply prepared plate and it definitely ran the gauntlet of too many ingredients; but the beautifully cooked and intensely flavoured duck was able to pull it all together. The combo of ingredients actually worked much better than they sound as a list 🙂 and it was a good way to transition into the next phase of the meal.
Which kicked off with a pre-dessert of a soft lemon curd interspersed with a mandarin gel, sitting on a base of toasted lemon meringue, then finished with a quenelle of lemon and thyme sorbet. It was quite refreshing and bordered on being a dessert and palate cleanser; the sharpness of the curd and mandarin gel contrasting nicely with the super sweet meringue. It was the thyme sorbet that really set this alight, it was totally refreshing and satisfying.
Last but not least was a quirky take on a traditional mille-feuille. Placed sideways on the plate with chocolate ‘cloud’ pastry that unbelievably light and flaky; then a creamy pistachio filling ran between the pastry slices, with the whole lot topped with fresh cherry slices and cherry sorbet. The dessert was almost too much for my brain to comprehend, the contrasting flaky pastry was abundant, the cherries tart and the sorbet sweet. So much was going on in my palate with the flavours that I stopped trying to analyse the dessert and just went with it.
Once I stopped trying to over think the dessert and just went with it, I really enjoyed the chocolate against the cherry sorbet and the pistachio cream filling; but I couldn’t help think that a sauce was needed for additional balance…. There was a lot of that crumbly cloud pastry….
My meal was over and I barely noticed the passing of time; three and a half hours had disappeared in the blink of an eye. It had been quite the experience, plenty of new and exciting food for me to try that was both delicious and challenging. I’d been entertained by the kitchen team going about their work with the clock-like precision that only comes from a Michelin Starred establishment and I’d had several interesting and engaging encounters with Chef Jonsson.
I’d found the service at Hedone to be superb, engaging, entertaining and educational. It seemed that just like their patron, the team really believed in what the restaurant was all about and were willing to share. It was a bonus for me that Nurdin Topham, formerly of Hong Kong’s Michelin Starred NUR was doing a stint in the kitchen. It was great to catch up with Nurdin after he left Honkers to establish himself in London.
Hedone had everything I look for in a restaurant; a super accessible head chef, an elegant but relaxed setting, creative food that tests the boundaries of what’s possible and food that is just plain yummy.
There’s not a lot of restaurants that I leave and immediately want to go back; Hedone is definitely one of those restaurants.
I’m counting down the days to my next London trip…..