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Wednesday 23 January 2013

London Restaurant Review - Hedone

Hedonism – Not with a bang but a whisper

Words and Photography by Simeen Kadi

Mikael Jonsson is obsessed with sourcing. He has travelled all over the UK looking for the best ingredients, from shellfish to salt. And what he can't find on these shores, and he has sourced a surprising amount of superb ingredients from right under our noses, he finds in neighbouring lands.

For Jonsson, what he puts on the plate before his grateful diners must be the most perfect ingredients, collected and curated with minimal intervention to deliver the most pleasurable eating experience. Hence the name Hedone, Greek for enjoyment and delight and the root of hedonism. But don't expect to come here for a raucous evening of sensual abandon – this is definitely eating with your top button done up – purity and restraint exude from the kitchen and into the spartan dining room where, other than the rather odd ceiling murals, Scandi chic is the order of the day.

Chiswick is hardly the centre of the London gastro-scene and it has taken me over a year to build up the stamina for a schlep out West. And, of course, it was worth the effort, Hedone has not received shrieking praise from proper restaurant critics for nothing. On a dismal, wet December afternoon the 7 course tasting menu is certainly something to look forward to.

Service is friendly, knowledgeable and crisp, worthy of the Michelin star that Hedone has recently received, after only a year in operation. Everything seems to have been carefully considered, from the slits in the tabletops to accommodate the crisp linen napery to the butter and salt stone with a beautifully designed nick in it to hold the knife in place. This is the sort of attention to detail I have seen in Japanese artisans and Jonsson is definitely a kindred spirit.

Our first starter was an Oyster, poached in its shell but still tasting raw and mineral-rich as if just pulled from the sea. The poaching altered the texture so it was softer and less chewy. The surprise element was the granny smith jelly which surrounded it – not sweet, just perfectly apple-y and a cunning foil to the oyster.

Much has already been said about the Cevennes Onion with Williams Pear. Are the onions of Cevennes so good they warrant AOP status (appellation d'origine protégé)? Perhaps it was all lost on my crude palate. The onion tasted like, well, onion. With shavings of pear over it. The onion and butter sauce, on the other hand, was divine, somehow taking the two ingredients and conjuring up some magic. If this is what Mikael Jonsson's cooking is about, that onion sauce made me see the light.

As did the Slow Cooked Duck egg 'Florentine'. This was a banging dish – a duck egg-yolk cooked slowly in a water bath to retain its runny unctiousness and then layered with spinach veloute, leaves, truffle shavings and parmesan crisp. A spoonful, taking in all the layers, was an overdose in rich umami flavours, a real swoon-worthy dish.

On the face of it the Wild Dorset Turbot, Potato Skin Emulsion and Beef Juice was pale and uninteresting, but again, beneath the cool, Scandinavian-style exterior was a robust kick of gutsy beef stock giving a hefty punch to the shiny, freshness of the turbot. And the potato skin emulsion was another of those 'wow' moments, never had the lowly potato skin tasted this good.

Jonsson delights in textures and unusual flavour combinations, enhancing the natural flavours of his impeccable ingredients by presenting them in new ways, rather than by masking them with cheffy cooking. So, beef stock and potato skin bring out the flavour of the already divine turbot. And, in our next course, cuttlefish takes on the role of both pasta and sauce. Ribbons of cuttlefish were cooked to perfectly emulate  al dente linguine. However, the cuttlefish broth was a little wan, earthy but not intense enough to really sing on the palate. I have eaten a similar dish at Martin Berasategui in San Sebastian which is denser and rounder in flavour.

But the next dish is easily one of the best beef dishes I have eaten in a long while. Slow Cooked Black Angus Beef Short Rib with Oven Roasted Carrot and Truffled Butter was a bar of aged and marbled beef with a dense, meaty flavour and a yielding texture with just enough chewiness to satisfy. The carrots were crisply cooked and the truffled butter - what can I say that is not already conjured up when the two words 'truffle' and 'butter' cosy up next to each other? All I can say is, hang the expense. And the stupidly long trudge to Chiswick and go now to enjoy this superb dish (just check it's on the menu first).

And then came our last savoury dish, the Roasted Breast and Leg of Squab, Salsify, Watercress and Jerusalem Artichoke Foam. Another triumph from the kitchen, the squab had been butchered in an interesting way where the half-bird was boned, leaving only the leg bone intact – clever stuff. Rich and incredibly soft, the meat was rare and came with an earthy, livery sauce. The Jerusalem artichoke foam was woody and balanced very well with the bright, watercress veloute. Finger bowls were provided to encourage picking off the delicious meat from the bone.

I should mention the wine, as we did not skimp on the red stuff (it being a life-suckingly dreary December day and all). There was one in particular, a natural wine made with 100% Syrah, Dard & Ribo St Joseph from Northern Rhône, which stood out for its savoury, olive-like hit which was a real surprise after the sweet, raspberry jam nose.  Natural wines are notoriously difficult to get right consistently, but this is definitely one to look out for.

And so to pudding, and there were two, before the petits fours jamboree, of course. Citrus Variation was a low-key title for a zingy upside down lemon meringue pie with a tangy sorbet - much nicer than the picture suggests, honest.

But the Chocolate Bar stole the pudding show.The chocolate bar had a crisp, crushed almond base with a very indulgent chocolate mousse above it, studded with kirsch-soaked cherry. A tongue tingling passionfruit sorbet sat alongside. Not sure that the two went all that well together, but individually, they were a delight.

Mikael Jonsson's dedication to quality and flavour may not deliver the most photogenic of dishes, with their lack of garnish and fuss, but the clean flavours shine through and, when they work well together, some of his unique flavour combinations are a hedonistic revelation, quietly delivered.

Cost: The 7 course tasting menu is £55 and there are cheaper lunch options to be had from a 2-course express lunch at only £19. The full throttle evening tasting menu is £70. We enjoyed wines by the glass, advised by the very helpful sommelier from a winelist featuring 200 bottles. Wines average at about £9 a glass. Or you can go for the wine pairing at £59 for the 7 course menu.

Likes: The obsessive focus on ingredients and the minimum of intervention means the food is the star

Dislikes: Can I moan about the travel to Chiswick one more time?

Verdict: Hedone has received its first Michelin star after just a year in business and my guess is Jonsson won't be stopping there. For this kind of attention to detail and considered innovation Hedone is a must-visit.

Hedone on Urbanspoon

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