Even though Claude got teary eyed at the ceremony, it really came as no surprise when the Bib gave him back his double stars. The award to Araki san did surprise me (I am of the opinion that Brett Graham deserves it), and you know my mind wanders to master craftsmen like Sugita san, and it is bewildering that the Bib believes Balfegó to be an ample substitute for Oma black diamonds. Especially for the £300++ bottomline.
A trojan horse of a digression, since the subject restaurant is located in none other than the former UK HQ for the French tyre company. Without boring you with its history, Sir Terrance Conran and Paul Hamlyn bought it in the 80s and had installed a great Chef in the form of Simon Hopkinson to run the Bibendum kitchens in those days, though never showered with stars by the Bib. WIth Claude’s appointment, this has now changed.
From the cynical angle, you could look at Bibendum’s 2 star award/Claude’s reinstatement, as the result of a carefully orchestrated courtship of the Bib – a delicious narrative in the making, for the Michelin house to finally house a three star restaurant. As it turns out, joining up with Conran has yielded early success and may yet prove to be a viable route to the ultimate accolade. Claude is of course the real deal. He has the pedigree, clout and experience to command a 3 star reputation, and in this day and age with the Bib’s ongoing identity crisis, it is rare to come across a London chef who remains passionate about achieving the milestone.
I much prefer this room robed in natural light to the darkly lit shoebox that was Hibiscus (in its Maddox St location, rather than Ludlow). It must be a pleasure to work this room, as happy feelings ooze from Front of House. I’ve always found Hibiscus an intimidating place to dine in, though there was no question about the immensity of what arrived on the plate; Larger than life flavours, ingredient pairings that seek to break the mould rather than nod to convention. Improvisation and innovation come to mind when I think of Claude’s cuisine, taking risks which can result in spectacular achievement and also incredible failure. Perhaps it is a trait he picked up from his mentor Alain Passard – whose cuisine is anything but static – and why not push the boundaries if you are capable of it.
So we dropped in on a sunny Friday afternoon in early September, and took in the ALC menu, rather than the attractively priced lunch menu (£40 for 3 courses, featuring trolley carvery roast) or the taster menu (£110 carte blanche, arisen from the ashes in a manner of speaking). It was expensive, but I found plenty to love. The savouries were absolutely two star caliber cooking. Puddings, a little anti-climatic, but did not dent the overall impressive nature of the meal. An amuse that nods -at least visually- to L’Arpege’s hot-cold egg, Hedone sourdough and excellent Ampersand cultured butter (deep flavours, almost cheesy) rounded things off. We paid £180.80 for 2 people which included 6 plates, 2 coffees and service.
As it stands, the 2 stars are fair and I think the restaurant is in a good place. There is no compromise in cuisine, but there is an upgrade in its expansive and relaxed ambiance. Of course, it is still very early days (it opened in April this year) and like you, I’ll be watching Bibendum closely over the next couple of years, where promotion may yet beckon.
Details of our meal below.
Hedone bread and Ampersand cultured butter, £free
Amuse: Sweetcorn and coconut
Adour foie gras ala Grecque, cauliflower and coriander, £22
A generous portion of a Hibiscus classic, by other accounts. A little worried this would be too rich, but was surprised to find it incredibly lightly textured, almost like egg tofu rather than a wedge of wobbly fat. Result from a 5 hour SV, and then finished in pan so it has a lick of smoke. Perfectly cooked. Cauliflower and coriander both high in acid and fragrance, well balanced with the savoury liver.
Cornish turbot Grenobloise, £38
Top notch turbot, two fillets rolled & cooked together (like a “boneless tranche” so to speak), evenly to a pearly translucence, I hazard, in the magic 50ishC region. Firm flakes, this is a near perfect turbot dish. On a bed of liberally seasoned (crushed?) potatoes hidden in whipped emulsion of beurre noisette. Big flavours, a hearty main course, impressive and delicious.
Paimpol bean Millefeuille, earl grey ice cream, £12
I too was intrigued when I saw coco beans in the pudding menu, so had to try it. To my surprise, beans in sweet was good, analogous to say a Chinese yam pudding in flavour. But I cannot say it would displace a conventional bourbon vanilla as personal preference.
Of course with MFs, its all about the pastry, and I was rather excited about this given Claude’s L’Arpege background. Sadly, the pastry was not flaky, lamination didn’t seem defined, did not shatter (at all), a challenge to cut with a fork (swipe above video), portion a little small. The only misstep in a largely impressive meal.
Chocolate souffle, glazed with shiny ganache, and loaded with Indonesian basil ice cream, £14
Tasted pretty good, but it was very slightly over cooked as the edges stuck (see above video), and middle a little too airy.
Coffee and petite fours, (£6pp yikes)
Claude Bosi at Bibendum
Michelin House 81 Fulham Road SW3 6RD
Lunch £30 for 3 ++
ALC £90 for 3 ++
Taster £110 for 7 ++
Tube: South Kensington
Tel: +44 (0)207 581 5817