Friday, 20 July 2012


Claude Bosi, the ambitious and exuberant chef-patron of two Michelin-starred restaurant Hibiscus in Mayfair, has a soft spot for ornamental chickens. So much so, he has a collection of the creatures lining the staircase at the restaurant, whose beady eyes watch you as you venture down to the loo.
Having upped sticks from its original home in Ludlow in 2007, husband and now ex-wife team Claude and Claire run a slick ship at Hibiscus. The restaurant is so understated, I walked straight past it. A polished desk on entry coupled with a partition screen give the impression you’re about to check in to a BA Club lounge. Inside, the interiors have been over-generously garnished with wood. Tones are hushed, lighting bright and flowers orange. On arrival, the restaurant is empty save for one or two tables, to give head chef Marcus McGuinness time to execute Bosi’s intricate dishes while he works his magic at new London pop-up The Cube atop the Royal Festival Hall.
Proceedings are kicked off in style when a pair of goody bowls arrive, one containing pudgy cheese gougères and the other ping pong ball-shaped yuzu and miso croquettes, both of which prove so addictive I’m suspicious they might contain crack cocaine. The croquettes explode with aromatic citrus liquid on biting, while the gougères ooze warm, creamy cheddar down my thankful throat. Chomping enthusiastically into a second, my skirt is christened with liquid cheese. Moments later, a concerned waiter arrives and silently offers me a starched white napkin from between two forks before swiftly departing so as not to draw attention to the incident.

Mackerel tartare with button mushroom cream
Obsessed with seasonality, Hibiscus doesn’t limit itself to the confines of a menu, but rather offers a page of seasonal ingredients, asking diners to choose the number of dishes they’d like (three, six or eight), and which ingredients they would like to see featured. I opt for eight courses and ask to be surprised. In a sweet and fitting tribute to the restaurant’s namesake, the feast begins with a vivifying hibiscus flower and pineapple soda amuse bouche, which I’m told to down like a shot.
Perhaps peaking prematurely, the first course is the apogee of the meal. Served in a small black bowl, a layer of foie gras-coloured button mushroom cream is prettified with edible flowers amid shards of shaved almond sticking out of the top like shark teeth. Beneath the teeth lies a smoky, meaty, mackerel tartare. When eaten together, the result is a rich, creamy and perfumed mouthful given texture by the almond shards in an exquisite example of the culinary pyrotechnics Bosi prides himself on.

Kaffir lime and spring onion ravioli
The next course is equally intriguing: a single, pleated ravioli stuffed with spring onion and Kaffir lime served with a buttery, broad bean and mint purée. The audacious use of lime highlights Bosi’s fearless approach. Out to surprise and delight, he takes flavour pairings to the edge of what is acceptable, assaulting and seducing the palate in one bite. Diners of a meek disposition may not warm to his gung-ho style, but, as each course reveals itself, I revel in the life-affirming flavour skirmish.
A pearl white hunk of roast Cornish John Dory was disappointingly mild on its own, but came to life when paired with the accompanying girolles drizzled in Lancashire mead and a salty sliver of Morteau sausage, the mead adding unctuous sweetness, the girolles earthiness and the sausage a savoury, meaty kick. Next up is a solitary, oak-smoked lamb sweetbread served with fresh goat’s cheese masquerading as a boiled egg, the yolk a pool of grass-green sorrel oil. Rich, juicy and oily, it tasted like a gourmet chicken nugget.

Roast squab pigeon with pistachios and cherries
Mention must be made of the wines. Chosen by natural wine pioneer Isabelle Legeron MW and enthusiastically poured by 22-year-old head sommelier Bastien Ferreri, the majority of the bins on the weighty list are organic and biodynamic, so what ends up in the glass is a bit of a lottery. While the opening wine, a 2009 Marsanne/Rousanne/Chardonnay/Viognier mash up from the Languedoc is cloudy in colour and spiteful in character, a 2007 Vermentino/Chenin Blanc blend from the Languedoc chosen to pair with the ravioli is bright, aromatic and elegantly spiced.
The only wine list in London to carry a page dedicated to orange wines, my wine find of the night was the curious and delicious Savasol 2007 from Loire renegade Julien Courtois. Made from the little-known Menu Pineau grape, Courtois deliberately oxidizes the wine to imbue it with wonderful, Sherry-like aromas of hazelnuts, toffee and sea air. Excited to be presented with a gleaming chunk of lobster, it turns out to be the least remarkable dish of the night. Much more impressive is an almost indecently pink slice of roast squab pigeon served with pistachio gravel. Sweetened by the accompanying cherries, the meat is achingly tender and exoticised by hints of spice. Finishing the dish, a crispy samosa contains creamy foie gras and an array of the bird’s innards.

White asparagus and white chocolate cream
The exhilarating flavour journey ends on a high note with a mystery dessert, the ingredients of which I’m asked to identify. Fashioned into a squidgy macaroon, I correctly guess the key components: white asparagus and white chocolate cream, and also manage to pinpoint the black olive splodges and coconut sorbet, but fail to decipher the elusive whey gel. The rich, savoury concoction seems straight out of the Great British Menu – a dish Matthew Fort would rave about and Oliver Peyton would peer down his glasses disapprovingly at. It was weird, but it worked. That’s the beauty of Bosi – he sends you on a crazy culinary adventure with no seatbelt or indication of the final destination, and the ride is all the better for it.
Hibiscus, 29 Maddox Street, London, W1S 2PA; Tel: +44 (0)20 7629 2999.

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