29 Maddox Street
Tel. 020 7629 2999
Food type: Modern French
Nearest tube: Oxford Street
Note: Hibiscus closed its door on 1st October 2016. Rumour has it that they will relocate to another site (hint: Michelin man) sometime next year.
The last time I wrote about Hibiscus, they were a 1* restaurant, the room was brown, yellow and boring and there was an actual a la carte menu of some description. That was of course way back in 2008. Flash forward 2015, Claude Bosi is still the head honcho but most of the staff working here when they opened in London have moved on. Even the room has had a complete makeover with a regal royal blue outlining the white walls. This certainly makes the room a lot brighter particularly during lunch. During the refurbishment, a demo kitchen has also been added for such indulgences like hosting a kitchen masterclass or chef’s table event.
Hibiscus is currently celebrating its 15th anniversary this year and I have been a fairly regular customer here for half that time. To commemorate their 15th anniversary, for the month of June, their 8 course tasting menu is a ‘Greatest Hits’ of dishes as voted by diners. I have had the pleasure of eating all of these dishes at some point or another during my visits here but this menu is not ideal as I wanted to try some of Bosi’s newer creations. Thankfully, Laurent Gillis, maître d here since 2011, was very flexible and offered to sort us out an 8 course tasting menu featuring some of the newer dishes which caught my eye.
True story – I once told Bosi after a meal here (in a light-hearted way of course) that I have enjoyed some of the best dishes but also some of the worst dishes here. I’m surprised he has not placed me on his restaurant blacklist after that comment! What I was trying to get at is that there is a very fine line between lunacy and sheer wizardry and Chef Bosi threads those lines very carefully. During his earlier days here in London (I never managed to eat at his restaurant in Ludlow) his style of placing jarring flavours on the same plate meant that eating here was a complete gamble. You’d get some mind blowing dishes but occasionally you would be served a dish which doesn’t quite work. Time has however allowed his ideas to be refined and to be sculpted to become the perfect masterpiece that it is today.
The evolution of Bosi’s cooking can be seen throughout his whole menu – from the canapés all the way to the desserts and petit fours. Take for example the amuse bouche of foie gras cornetto. Bosi has always been a big fan of serving foie gras ice cream to his diners during the warmer months (hah like England is ever warm). He has taken this idea and transformed it into one of his most memorable openers. A soya based ice cream cone packs a nice savoury note which gives the foie gras ice cream the necessary platform to shine. Hidden inside is a little mango puree which provides the right amount of acidity and sweetness – this is a balancing act on the tightest of tight ropes.
Bosi’s quest for providing his diners the ultimate experience has seen him team up with Mikael Jonsson of Hedone to supply the bread at Hibiscus. This is a complete no brainer given that his sourdough bread is widely considered by most to be the best available in England… unless you are that customer who complained that there are too many holes in his bread.
Special praise has to be reserved for a dish of Langoustines with strawberry “sauce vierge” which was the best dish of the night. This dish really speaks loudly of Bosi’s madness and culinary wizardry – in lesser hands the list of ingredients would be a train wreck waiting to happen. Sweet langoustine and sweet strawberries? Yet drawing on his travels to South East Asia, Bosi makes good use of the langoustine heads, transforming them into a rich dark paste similar to the exotic prawn paste commonly used in Malaysian Laksa. This little touch is all that is needed because it packs a huge umami punch to balance out all the inherent sweetness in the dish. To say this dish was sublime would be an understatement. Sommelier Bastien Ferreri does an amazing job pairing this dish with an obscure Italian wine which was a new find for me.
Another favourite of mine is the Lamb sweetbreads with gremolata and goat’s curd which started out life in a completely different form. The dish served in 2008 consisted of smoked lamb sweetbreads with goat’s curd and acidity coming from a lettuce veloute. Bosi has done away with the smoking and instead decided to impregnate the sweetbreads with black garlic before cooking it in a water-bath. The sweetbreads are then given a light dusting of curry powder before being finished in the pan to achieve a slightly smoky finish. The lettuce element is still there, now in the form of a gem lettuce leaf dressed with gremolata, sitting on top of the goat’s curd. What was missing previously is a veal jus which adds a meaty punch to balance all the acidity around the sweetbread. What was initially a good dish has over time been transformed to an outstanding one.
Moving onto cheese, the restaurant has finally invested in a small cheese trolley housing a small selection of cheeses. Of course, when the supplier is a certain Bernard Anthony, one does not say no to cheese. On the board sits a huge slab of his famous Comte aged 3 years. Bosi decides to serve the Comte sliced very thinly (which in my opinion is the best way to enjoy it), no doubt as a nod to his time spent at l’Arpege.
Tonight’s dessert was the much-loved sweet pea tartlet with coconut sorbet, a long time Hibiscus classic. A chocolate tart shell holds a little sweet pea mousse topped with a few pop corn to give additional texture to the dish. On the side is a refreshing quenelle of coconut sorbet which transports you to the Caribbean. This is certainly a very good dessert but it would be interesting to see what it will be like in 5 years time.
A meal at Hibiscus is always going to be a thought-provoking experience. It delivers a sense of adventure and aims to take you on a fun culinary journey. Bosi’s cooking has over time become more assured and confident without losing any of his wittiness or ingenuity which made it so special in the first place. The kitchen is currently at the top of its game and in my opinion, is at the top of the pile of 2 Michelin Starred restaurants in England. Whether they can make the final jump, time will only tell.