Every major meal out belongs to a time and a place. 

The scene: a push-the-boat-out dinner with friends.

Justifications: celebrating a milestone birthday of a dear friend. Raising a glass to a recent engagement and a new job.

Hidden motivation: a London chapter in a couple’s ‘quest for the best’.

The season: autumn in London.

The location: Hibiscus.

If there’s one dish I can’t forget, it’s the mushroom tart.

It didn’t come at the start of the meal, it came right at the close.

Before then there were some excesses with animal fats and a progression of brown sauces that pottered along the pantone charts of fawn.

And then we come to this.

Someone has been listening closely to Vanessa Williams.

A restrained wedge of pastry with a custard filling that gives a satisfying wobble. It looks like burnt butter or light treacle. The only clue that there are mushrooms involved is the bisected piece propped on a mound of cream. That’s until you put it in your gob. Yes it’s a lovely piece of tart. But there’s also a sweet mustiness that’s like a stomp in gumboots through a ditch of autumn leaves. It’s mysterious and understated. To the side is an arc of blueberry puree and a quenelle of macadamia cream.

This is why we came to Hibiscus.

Claude Bosi has been a chef since he was 16, working across Europe amidst a constellation of starred restaurants.  Three years ago he moved his stable from Ludlow to London. There are again two Michelin stars that are his and this year Hibiscus was included in San Pellegrino’s list of  top 50  restaurants in the world

Hibiscus is an understated room, in a side street not far from the maddening crowds of Oxford Street. Sitting at the tables for two that line the walls are a collection of mature couples celebrating milestones, food geeks and their SLR cameras, an upscale and slightly awkward first date and some visitors from France.

Taking up valuable real estate in the centre of the room is an imposing floral arrangement and our table set for four.

While we wait for our friends there are gourges topped with chedder; airy cheesey balls of hospitality and some fried spheres of polenta which help you remember that good things in this world often go squish.

On Friday and Saturday nights there aren’t that many choices to be made. It’s simply pick a number and the food will come. It can be four, six or eight courses. The Hungry One isn’t known as that because we were running out of cute nicknames. “And I didn’t really have lunch…” he says. So eight it will be. 

The waitstaff helping us on our way are young and international. Our sommelier recognises our antipodean drawl, confessing that his Perth vowels have been easier to shed. The accents of the French floorstaff are not so easily left behind, with some so thick that cottoning onto what is in a the dish is often more about exploration than comprehension. 

The meal starts with a drink, which could double as a flamingo if it fancied. It’s froth and bubble, Friday night frivolity in a glass. Flavoured with pineapple and hibiscus the fluffy top is best nipped at while you contemplate the  kinky punch care of the black pepper sprinkled ontop. The pink liquid beneath is best downed in a shot, while some suspended spherified lozenges slip down like rings on a waterslide.

The playful mood continues with a kingfish carpaccio, blister thin and topped with Asian herbs and a malt wafer for crunch. Festooned on top is an embarrasing amount of shaved summer truffle. The coldness of the fish doesn’t prod the best out of the truffle.It smacks a little of pairing a  Prada top with swimsuit bottoms. Luxurious, but perhaps not put to the best use.

Or maybe the dish is really an interactive lesson in the best application of truffle. For what follows is startlingly good. It’s a lone ravioli  housing a perfectly poached egg yolk with smoked potato and topped with black truffle shavings.

Around the table everyone is hushed. When you pierce the pasta the warmed egg yolk rushes out to greet you. The truffle is earthy, the smoked potato makes you feel like you could be beside a fire while rain lashes your window. Draped and melting over the top is a slice of comte cheese- “aged to four years” we’re told.

The next three dishes win varying levels of praise. There’s crusted scallop, the size of a novelty yoyo. With it is a grapefruit jelly, with a slightly medicinal twang and a texture like melted jujubes.

There’s a wing of skate with baby corn kernels, buttermilk cream, vanilla and jerusalem artichoke and burned butter.

And then there’s a solid lobe of foie with ryebread crumbs, quince and seabuckthorn puree. It is rich beyond relief, with ventricles still tracking through the lobes. The females at the table are unable to finish. The boys even falter. We look for respite in the bottom of the bottle of a  floral Alsatian Muscadet. Alas, the bottle is empty.

Yet the riches don’t end there. A final savoury course sees Scottish grouse with pepper sauce and another fawnish sauce (this time a bread one) ladled to the side. The earlier menu theme of corn returns, with a puree of curried sweetcorn.

On its own it would have been an interesting dish. But the intense gaminess coming so closely on the heels of the haul of foie is a bit like challenging your insides to a jelly wrestle with offal. In this contest, I am losing. With the meal coming to such a crescendo of meat and squish, we’re gagging for some distraction.

Distraction, but not relief comes with a shared cheese platter from Neal’s Yard and a pre dessert of apple puree, celeriac and chestnut cream layered as a trifle in a latte glass.
And then it’s the miraculous mushroom tart.
Our bellies distended, we are wistfully looking towards a pot of peppermint tea, but we still manage to scrape the plates all clean. A testament to a truly spectacular dish.
Hibiscus is a place ripe for celebration and contemplation.  It’s food that calls for concentration to milk the most from it. But it also calls for some advanced skills in digestion. 
“Would you like to go back?” asks The Hungry One asked on the tube on the way home.
It gave me pause for thought. Seasonality on the plate is something is well worth appreciating.  But tonight’s haul of eight courses of autumnal beige has got the better of me.
Perhaps I’m more of a ‘six in spring’ kind of a girl.
Any suggestions on what we should go and celebrate next May will be gratefully received. 
29 Maddox St

London W1S 2PA
020 7629 2999
Underground: Oxford Circus

Forty ninth best restaurant in the world in the 2010 San Pellegrino ‘World’s 50 Best Restaurants’. Tick off another in our ridiculous ‘Quest for the best’
Hibiscus on Urbanspoon

  1. Looks like an great (albeit large) meal and a wonderful experience to dine at one of the world's best.

    You've got me lusting after that mushroom tart now, sounds incedible! Pity I'm on the other side of the world tho 😛

  2. Oh that mushroom tart is what dreams are made of! I have visions of trying to recreate it at home although mine may fall very short 😛

  3. It was pretty amazing- Lorraine, if anyone can do it, you can 🙂 Shortcrust pastry base, then a sweet custard, tainted with mushroom- perhaps porcini powder might work? But it was the blueberries and the macadamia that really made it sing.

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