Hedone has attracted the sort of rave reviews that any new restaurateur would die for. So why do I feel underwhelmed?
I know of seasoned critics who’ve been five times already and it’s only been open a couple of weeks. Hard-to-please Fay Maschler gave it 4 stars, Time Out gave it 5. And it already has a cult following among the fervent foodies of egullet.
The restaurant (pronounced head-onie) been set up by Mickael Jonsson who writes a blog called Gastroville which focusses on fine dining. He did some early training as a chef but gave it up to become a lawyer. Now he’s obviously realised a long-held ambition to run his own kitchen which he does in full view of the diners.
The no choice menu (currently 50 for 4 courses, 60 for 5, 70 for 6 though he seems to be playing around with the costings) kicked off brilliantly with an amuse of fat chunks of perfectly cooked lobster with a lobster sauce (above) followed by some superb bread. This was followed by possibly the best smoked salmon I’ve ever eaten, cut Tsar-style (right) and served with a dill-flavoured cream. Impossible to fault.
But then the menu began to lose direction A dish of mackerel with a lettuce leaf (below, right) was exactly that. A mackerel fillet and a lettuce leaf. Mackerel in my opinion needs a bit of seasoning if it isn’t to taste overly oily. This did.
Soft poached egg and chanterelles is a classic combination but eggs can make you feel a tad queasy when cooked at low temperature and this one was. And the addition of peach was frankly a weird touch.
Steamed (I think) turbot came with cucumber and slow roast tomatoes - again fine, delicate but not particularly well suited to this meaty fish which I personally prefer given more robust treatment.
And lamb (below right) which had provoked some of the more ecstatic comments, was just plain underseasoned, oddly partnered with raw pear.
Desserts - a deliciously crunchy chocolate bar (below) and a dish of raspberries, cinnamon ice cream, flavoured vinegar and horseradish cream - were admittedly superb though. As was the service throughout.
So why didn’t I enjoy it? Was it an off-night? (For me, not the restaurant.) It had been a swelteringly hot day, admittedly. I was hungry but not ravenous. I was looking forward to an evening with my dining companion, an old friend I hadn’t seen for a while and indeed to Hedone itself. Over-inflated expectations maybe?
I just found it a bit - deep breath - dull. It’s as if a very talented amateur cook has opened a restaurant serving the kind of food he likes to eat. He’s obviously eaten in three star restaurants all over the world and appears to have come to the conclusion that chefs overelaborate and it’s time to go back to basics.
His blog, which I read, after the meal bears that out. He’s particularly critical of molecular gastronomy which he describes as ‘questionable cooking methods to add novel flavours and textural effects’ (some sympathy with that) and claims that many chefs have lost interest in the quality of their ingredients (wouldn’t agree there).
The problem is that he seems to have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. The reason the world’s best chefs cook as they do is because food is about entertainment not just nourishment. If you’re paying the kind of money that Hedone charges (not excessive for what you get but it is expensive) you want dishes to taste and look extraordinary, especially if there’s a no choice menu.
It’s early days and I should probably give it another go, not least to sample the umami flan that everyone’s raved about. But unless you live in West London, Chiswick is quite a schlep. For this sort of cutting edge cuisine there are many other options in central London - Hibiscus, Roganic and The Ledbury to name three outstanding examples.
Hedone is at 301 Chiswick High Road, W4. Tel: 020 8747 0377