This is the first post in the Work Week in London series.
It's not everyday that you can say to a friend, "let's meet in London for dinner" - especially when both you and the friend live in Boston.
Which is why my dinner at Hibiscus was so delightfully surreal.
First of all, it just so happened that Bryan and I both needed to go to London for work. With a bit of advanced planning, we were able to arrange it so we could travel there together.
Then we found out that one of our really good friends from Boston was also going to be in London that exact same week. How weird is that?
So even though we see our friend all the time in Boston, we still thought it would be fun, if possible, to try to have one meal together in London. It wasn't easy to settle on just one restaurant, but after some hunting around, we picked Hibiscus based on its excellent reviews, convenient location, and availability of reservation.
Hibiscus started out in Ludlow, a market town about 150 miles northwest of London. Chef Claude Bosi, who trained in France with both Alain Ducasse and Alain Passard, ran the restaurant with his wife, Claire Bosi. The restaurant soon received a ton of recognition, including two Michelin stars.
In 2007 Hibiscus said good-by to the town of Ludlow and moved right into the center of London, giving many, many more Londoners a chance to try Chef Bosi's talented, creative, and edgy cuisine.
The menu is divided up into different types of tasting menus. You can do a three-course for £87.50 ($132 USD), a six course for £95 ($144 USD), or an eight course for £105 ($159 USD).
Lunch is significantly cheaper, with a 3-course for £34.95 ($53) or a "beefed up" three course with wine, petit fours, and coffee for £49.50 ($75 USD). You can even just get the "plat du jour" (plate of the day), which only costs £19.50 ($30 USD) or £24.50 ($37 US) with wine, petit fours, and coffee.
Bryan laughed when he saw the menu.
"Clearly this menu is priced to entice you to get the 8-course menu. Who would get the three course?"
He's right, in some ways. If you're going to pay $132 USD for a meal, why not shell out the extra $27 for 6 additional courses? At the end of the day, the small, incremental price differential is worth the significant increase in variety of dishes you get to try.
So, of course, we went for the 8-course menu (which, as it turned out, was more like a sampling of 14 different small bites).
We started out with several tiny little amuse bites that came out pretty much all at once. The Leek and Potato Tartlette (top left) were splashed with just a hint of anise flavor. The Polenta Mushroom Croquettes (top right) definitely hit the spot to whet the palate. The Cheese Gougeres were delicious - airy, delicate, and cheesy, though my friend still preferred the ones she's had in Boston.
Our first course was a Smoked Haddock Egg Custard carefully served inside of an egg shell. The custard was mixed with a rice veloute and curry oil. The entire dish was very rich, with strong smoky fish flavors dominating the entire custard.
The next course was a Mussels and Carrot Broth accented with cumin. The soup had very intense flavors, both of carrot essence and that deep, rich ocean flavor that comes from the mussels. The other guests really enjoyed it, though I personally found the mussel flavor to be a bit off putting (was I particularly sensitive to fish flavors for some reason that day?).
It was springtime, and thus many local spring vegetables made appearances. The next dish was a Lime and Spring Onion Ravioli served over a broad bean (also known as fava bean in the U.S.) mint mash and topped with fresh, shelled broad beans.
This next dish had an really unusual combination of flavors, but it worked surprisingly well. A single Seared Scallop was topped with a strong mustard sauce and served alongside a tart grapefruit apple gel. This was accompanied with a "pork pie" sauce and dotted further with a hazelnut Parmesan coffee sauce. This dish worked, and we were pleasantly surprised at the excellent combination of flavors.
Next we enjoyed a seared Sea Bream (a type of fish) with fresh spring morel mushrooms in a kaffir lime sauce.
At this point I was starting to feel pretty full, which is always unfortunately timed because it's usually at this moment that the heavier, more savory courses make their appearance.
Here was no exception, and our next course was Sweetbreads with Nashi pear (or Asian pear), grilled frisée, and a pear veal jus. The sweetbreads were fatty and juicy, which worked nicely with the brightness of the fruit themed accompaniments.
And finally, for the last course, we had Guinea Fowl, an odd looking flightless bird that sort of resembles a turkey. The fowl was stuffed with a coriander brioche filling right in between the crispy skin and the meat. This came with confit kumquat on the side, coriander mint jus, and an asparagus "risotto".
Technically if you count each amuse as a separate course, we had already had ten courses by the time we approached dessert. I was quite full, but then this gorgeous first dessert totally caught my attention. It's a fun play on s'mores with a cereal-like flaky pastry sandwiching "marshmallow" shaped cream. This dish was served with a compote of tiny strawberries, Sichuan pepper foam, and a celeriac jelly.
"Taste the yellow cream and try to guess what it is."
I took a small bite. It was sweet, creamy, and nutty.
"Chestnut?" I asked.
None of us got it right. You'll never guess what it was.
That's right. We had an asparagus flavored cream as one of our desserts. I was really surprised. It actually works quite well as a sweet, creamy dessert. It is surprisingly nutty, and reminds me more of chestnuts than a green vegetable. This asparagus cream was served with paper thin meringue sheets decorated with jet black olive powder. The plate was further decorated with olive and lemon flavored "drops".
We're not done yet. The last dessert they brought was this airy chocolate. The texture is hard to describe, but just imagine something with the air pocket density of a sponge, but made of chocolate. My favorite was the caramel, but I enjoyed all three (white chocolate mint, caramel, and chocolate).
Yes, we were stuffed, but we managed to fit in one last bite - freshly baked madeleine cookies.
It was an unusual and almost surreal experience in some ways. Meeting up with a friend from Boston halfway around the world just to enjoy this one meal together. How often is it that three good friends can align their business trip dates that perfectly?
Hibiscus most certainly delivered on providing a solid, high-end meal in a lovely part of London. It was centrally located so we could all take the Tube (London's subway) and arrive with relative ease. If it's still early, you can definitely walk around that area after dinner. The restaurant is very close to Oxford Circus and not too far from Picadilly Circus or Leicester Square. All of these areas are fun, lively places where you can just walk around, shop, people-watch, and and just generally soak in everything about London.
I never tire of it.
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