Hibiscus: Ludlow's loss is London's gain as the much-loved, two-Michelin-starred Hibiscus bursts into life in Mayfair
Hibbiscus, 29 Maddox St, London W1, 020 7629 2999
Sunday 18 November 2007
The hottest tables in town were those at the recent opening night of Hibiscus, as the two-Michelin-star Shropshire favourite made its London debut. So who were the oligarchs, A-listers and Mayfair fat cats who nabbed the 45 seats? Strangely, all but two were taken by regulars.
That the restaurant's former clientele were prepared to travel 140 miles from Ludlow to London to pay their respects says more about this restaurant than any paparazzi line-up, fridge full of foie gras or cellar of first-growths.
Ludlow's loyal devotion to Claude Bosi's cooking becomes understandable the moment a pretty little bowl of light-as-air Parmesan gougères hits the table. Here, in one bite, is the wine-drinker's perfect nibble: a golden little puffball that melts gracefully into cheesy nothingness in the mouth. Immediately, I'm thinking: Ludlow, you can't have him back.
The room apparently recalls much of the look of the original, but it feels perfectly at home in Mayfair. Confident, composed and comfortable, it comes complete with rich carpet, light-oak panelling, a sleek slate back wall and creaseless, white-linen-topped tables.
The menu, too, has mostly been transported from Ludlow, from the foie gras ice-cream with brioche emulsion and balsamic vinegar caramel to roasted suckling pig with sea urchin.
Bosi trained with France's finest, including Alain Ducasse and Alain Passard, and while his food sounds bold, show-offy and provocative, the end result is elegant, compatible and harmonious.
I adore his clever take on escabeche, an artful scatter of purple cross-sections of shimmering mackerel, blonde rounds of stuffed rabbit, pert baby leaves and paper-thin cross sections of squat baby carrot, the melting flavours linked by a drizzle of gutsy Morteaux sausage jus.
The only odd note comes with a gastropubby stack of lamb "sweetmeats", a culinary euphemism for testicles. Two finely crumbed, smoothly moussey patties perch on a chip-chop of oysters, sweetcorn and Thai curry that is a bit of a battleground.
Claire Bosi and her Ludlovian serving team have a light, less formal manner that is warmer than the French-driven equivalent. The nice-as-pie sommelier, Simon Freeman, talks me into a 2004 Leung Estate Ma Maison Pinot Noir from New Zealand at £45 from a 500-strong list with an overt French bias. It is unusually pale but delivers a serious Burgundy-like kick that suits Bosi's two-course suckling pig with its whopping £12.50 supplement.
First, the impressively tender, crisp-skinned rack of pork is inventively teamed with a lovely kohlrabi purée and the minerally notes of raw sea urchin atop a sweet potato fondant. I can't work out why sea urchin and sweet potato, but my palate doesn't query it.
Next, a golden sausage roll that is lighter, sweeter, flakier and juicier than any sausage roll previously known to man. It comes with a "brown sauce" of truffle jus and balsamic vinegar, and is wondrous, but could well be made a smaller part of the main dish without adding an awkward extra course.
Bosi's tumble of gently cooked veal kidneys is another artfully strewn composition of harmonious flavours, tossed with an enchanted forest of gnarled root vegetables, and splodges of a fresh, light goat cheese he makes himself.
It's pleasing, also, to be surprised by a dessert menu. A parfait of iced sweet olive oil and wild lime with chickpeas and dates sweetly blends ancient Middle Eastern flavour and modern technique.
Bosi is an effortless cook, instinctively knowing how to exploit natural flavour and remain in the modern idiom without being silly. The food is polished yet personal, graceful yet satiating. This is a small, fully formed, family-run restaurant of great charm. If London knows what's good for it, it won't let it out of its clutches.
1-9 Stay home and cook
10-11 Needs help
13 Pleasant enough
15 Very good
16 Capable of greatness
17 Special, can't wait to go back
18 Highly honourable
19 Unique and memorable
20 As good as it gets
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