Saturday, 3 November 2007


Some restaurants - for the drama of their food, their ambiance, their service - can be described as transforming food to the level of theater. If anyone would try to marry that description with Hibiscus, they would have to conclude their style of theater is an enigmatic one with subtle dashes of drama (and would most certainly be by a modern French playwright). Hibiscus has recently moved down to London from Shropshire, hoping to take its two Michelin stars with it. It sits in Mayfair, an understated dining room quietly flowing with softly spoken staff (sometimes too much so), belieing the gentle drama of the food that will follow.

I went to Hibisbcus with five other food devotees, including Ben and Howard from Food and Drink in London and Krista from Londonelicious. I knew the danger would be that if there were a tasting menu on offer, everyone but me would be tempted. Indeed there was, and indeed they were. I've gone off tasting menus a bit, seeing them as the culinary equivalent of speed dating - the dish is in front of you, you make a couple of tentative passes at the thing, and it's gone. I like to take in the nuances of wha
t's hitting me, and a 3-minute whizz-through of a dish doesn't always give me the time to savor flavors. Just the same, it was a whole-table decision and with five of the six very keen on the 7-course taster, I wasn't going to be stubborn.

The 7 courses did give us a very good idea of what the kitchen could accomplish. Items were prettily laid out (even alternating a delicious pink beetroot and a purple beetroot dish around the table so the colors were spread out) and each plate had several combinations of flavors to get your head around. We had put in a special request for the suckling pig sausage roll and were treated to both that and the pork belly. The sausage roll was a clever gourmet take on the traditional, with the more-ish brown sauce made from balsamic vinegar, almond oil and black truffles. Even the little dab of dressed lettuce on the side was packed with flavor due to its smoked olive oil and finely shaved crispy ceps. The pork belly was decadently fatty and rich and with a perfect bit of crackling on top. It was served with two sauces which were hard to pick out the flavors from, and an extremely softly spoken waitress didn't help clarify the matter.

The breaded lamb's testicle was quite intellectually clever - served with an oyster and corn tartare on the side, I was amused by the pairing of testicles with the aphrodisiac oysters. I wasn't won over by the flavors, though. The breading around the testicles was very fine and compacted, but gave the sensation that you were eating a frozen chicken nugget, and I found the flavor of the testicles and oysters together to be too heavy on the musky side for me to really enjoy it.

Several of the dishes featured a foam essence - grapefruit foam, hazelnut foam, lemongrass foam - which is a very modern culinary trick to include although some critics have had their fill of it. I myself enjoy texture and substance to my food and certainly don't object to having to chew my calories, so I find the wizardy of foam doesn't add substantially to my enjoying a dish.

At £75 for the tasting menu and £50 for the three course meal (£10 supplement if you would like the pork), you need to be committed to the style of food Hibiscus serves, or at least committed to trying it out. Everyone at the table was impressed, and some even declared Hibiscus stood a good chance of providing them their favorite meal in London. For any future visit to Hibiscus, I would certainly opt for the 3-course meal, to give myself a chance to really savor and pick out the flavors and textures thrown at you.


Paz said...

Lamb's testicles? Oh, my! I enjoyed reading your review. I felt like I was there with you. ;-) Thanks for stopping by my blog.


Wendy said...

Have to know, what do testicle taste like?

Annemarie said...

Hi Paz - thanks very much!

Hi Wendy - I like my offal generally, but I'm not convinced by testicles yet. They were similar in texture to the soft part of the kidney, and did just taste a bit...musky, almost like a strong-ish, earthy mushroom. But that's only the lamb I tried - others could taste different!

Jeanne said...

I read Marina O'Loughlin's review this morning - interesting to read yours almost immediately after! This place is defintely going on my "to visit" list - thanks for a great review.