A Bit Fancy Eating Out London

Hibiscus, Mayfair

August 18, 2015

On a wet Wednesday night in 2012, I went on a date with a very nice man who took me to a very nice restaurant. We ate more than we needed to, drank more than we should have, and laughed so much more than I expected. I’m no dating expert, but in my opinion, it was a very successful first date – no awkward silences, no over-politeness, just comfortable in each other’s company. Three years on, I am still going on dates with this man to wonderful places, eating, drinking and laughing all the way, though we foot the bill together now!

I know people say you shouldn’t change when you get into a relationship but we have and I think it’s for the better. Sure, there’s all that emotional stuff like being a little more patient and understanding… blah blah blah… but let’s get down to the nitty gritty, the most significant change is in our culinary skills and tastes. Before a certain someone met me, he’d never eaten udon noodles (that’s a whole other story) and a generous sprinkle of pepper was the height of spice he could tolerate. I probably wouldn’t have gone anywhere near offal and shamefully purchased pre-made pasta sauces.

But oh how we’ve changed.

We’ve always been decent cooks with a fondness for quality food but London has spoilt us; from the street food trucks to the pop up residencies to the fine dining experiences, every level of the industry is pushing boundaries and trying new things all the time. So like spoilt brats we expect places to deliver exactly what they promise, impress and challenge us a little, and of course leave us with that happily sated sense of contentment. But has London also led us to expect too much? I’ve been wondering this a lot lately, particularly after our experience at Hibiscus; French cuisine, two-Michelin starred, highly recommended… what better way to celebrate three years of wining and dining together?

Hibiscus_wine

From the outside, Hibiscus is so understated we actually walked right past it, from the inside the dining room is understated and elegant. We were swiftly seated and given a few menus to peruse, though I was rather tempted by the huge tasting menu, we showed some restraint and opted for the set menu lunch with a bottle of the 2014 Les Vignerons d’Estezargues, Terre de Mistral, a very smooth, very drinkable red wine.

When the amuse bouche arrived, I wasn’t surprised as the ‘fresh eggs’ at Hibiscus are well documented but I was certainly amused by the flavours of corn and curry spice. I enjoyed it but a certain someone probably would have been happier with an egg done the traditional way.

Hibiscus_fresheggs

We started with the cured mackerel and strawberry ‘sauce vierge’ and the octopus, burrata and black pepper sauce ‘Malaysian style’, both were quite delicious. I thought the mackerel looked beautiful, the just-cooked flesh flaked away easily once I cut through the perfectly crisp skin, the sharp strawberries balanced out the oiliness of the fish. The octopus was equally pleasing, a tender tentacle to tantalise those tastebuds… you know it’s good when I bust out the alliteration!

Hibiscus_mackerel_octopus

Impressed with the first courses, things took a bit of a nose dive with the mains of confit chicken leg, tropea onion, paimpol beans, smoked eel, organic lemon and dijon mustard and barbeque veal breast, new season carrot, lemon, olives and goat’s cheese. On paper, the veal appealed to both of us, on the plate it was absolutely stunning, but on tasting it was a bit of a disappointment. Good flavours let down by a few hunks of dry meat.

I don’t often order the chicken dish at a restaurant because it’s just chicken but threw that rule out the window because this is two-Michelin star chicken with all these bells and whistles of smoked eel and fancy beans. But you know what? At the end of the day it was still just chicken, nice chicken, well cooked chicken, but all a bit ho-hum. I wish I had gone for the tuna.

Hibiscus_veal_chicken

At this point we were really wondering if our expectations had been too high… ‘it’s only their lunch menu’… ‘maybe we should have gone for the tasting menu’… ‘I’m sure dinner is very good’…

And then our desserts arrived and all was well again. My summer berries tart, honeycomb cream and whiskey ice cream was scrumptious, but I am quite partial to a fruit tart. The crust was thin and crisp, just as I like it and the ice cream had a generous little kick to it. In my opinion, the tart might have looked better but a certain someone’s dessert of Oakchurch Farm raspberries, clotted cream and matcha green tea definitely won on taste.

Silky smooth sweetness, balanced with freshness from the berries then with little pops of subtle bitterness from the matcha to balance everything out. Let’s say I was extremely happy when a certain someone said it was a little too rich for him to finish off… I dragged the plate over before he even offered it to me! Oops… but you can do that after three years together right?

Hibiscus_dessert

Oh the sweet taste of redemption.

We finished our long lunch with cups of tea and petit fours of nougat, berry shortbread, and what I can only describe as a small chocolate aero. While sipping our tea, we continued that ‘did we expect too much’ conversation; Michelin stars would imply that the food should be excellent but considering the ridiculous value of the lunch menu at a fraction the price of the dinner tasting menus, perhaps something has to give, somewhere.

Hibiscus_petitfours

So on this particular occasion, we probably did set our expectations a little too high… while we weren’t floored with excitement, the service and atmosphere were warm, almost every dish was perfectly executed, and there were some absolute highlights!

With that settled, we were off to continue living the high life of spoilt Londoners with more wine stops and an evening at the Old Vic to see High Society. An entertaining musical comedy about the life and love of an American east coast socialite, I thoroughly enjoyed it and cannot wait to see what the Old Vic offers next.

Hibiscus_HighSociety

Three years on, countless number of ‘dates’ later, this one was every bit as fun as that very first night in Wellington so here’s to many more!


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  • LondonKiwiEmma

    What a lovely date venue (and I reckon you can start dessert stealing around the 2 years of dating mark so I reckon 3 years is generous ;))

    • Yus! I knew someone would back me up on that – I think if you’re not stealing dessert by this stage, you should just call it a day…

  • Shikha (whywasteannualleave)

    I could relate to so much of this Connie! Firstly, I loved HIgh Society when I saw it on stage years ago! Secondly, I felt exactly the same way about Hibiscus, definitely set my expectations too high because of its star rating and thirdly, I think hubby and I have changed in a similar way, I don’t think he’d ever tried Michelin starred food or been interested in food markets and the like till we met and I myself, whilst enjoying eating out, had never been much interested in baking or cooking or making anything from scratch. Whilst we’re certainly not as “foodie” as some of London’s foodies, we’ve both definitely progressed in leaps and bounds since meeting!

    • Wooohooo so pleased someone else could relate! I really like that we’ve improved our foodiness together… couple who cook and eat together, stay together?!
      I have friends who absolutely love Hibiscus (favourite London restaurant!! huge call) so I think we need to give it another go sometime and go for dinner to see if there’s a difference!

      • Shikha (whywasteannualleave)

        Totally, a really seriously London foodie friend of mine calls it his favourite restaurant so I’d be up for giving it another go! Perhaps we can put our cynicism aside one day and try it out together! ☺

  • andreaspassions5

    Congrats on your anniversary! Tbh, I think places like this can very easily rest on their laurels and it’s always a risk as to whether it’s going to be worth the money! I’m glad your starters and puds were good but those mains even just look small! And so glad you said the chicken thing, haha, I NEVER order chicken for the same reason. Still, I’d like to try Hibiscus for myself. Lots of love, Andrea xxx

    Andrea’s Passions

    • Thanks Andrea! Yes, I completely agree… and in London’s market, you’ve always got to be on your game! Lol I knew there would be other non-chicken-orderers. We’re keen to go back and do dinner to see if there’s a difference!

  • I can’t tell you how long I stared at that octopus dish. It sounds so dreamy! but that chicken sounded.. plain.

    Happy anniversary to you and the man!

    Honey x The Girl Next Shore

    • Thank you! We all love to stare at some tentacles, so no need to be shy… stare away hehe!

  • Happy anniversary Connie! I’ve booked Hibiscus a lot for others but never eaten there, at any rate I’d give the lunch menu a go. Would love to see High Society, I’m such a fan of those vintage musical scores

    Suze | LuxuryColumnist

    • Thanks Suze! I loved the music – so cheesy to admit, but it’s just such feel-good-fun! I’d definitely go again for the dinner, but it’s not near the top of the list, plenty of other places to try first!

  • I thought the same, I had an eight course tasting menu for dinner and while I thought it was good and wasn’t absolutely blown away as I should have been for two Michelin stars and the price of the meal.
    Lots of love,
    Angie

    SilverSpoon London

    • Good to know Angie – I was a little nervous about admitting my disappointment as it’s got such a strong reputation but perhaps it needs a bit of a refresh?!

  • It’s been 3 years… sheesh! Good to hear he was the gentlemen and got the bill for the first date, can’t say the same about the one I have here! Sounds like it was a fab day nonetheless, and again reiterating the fact I need to get to London (with a bit of money too!).

    • I know… that’s three years of my life, I’ll never get back! Just kidding, it’s just flown by and I love thinking back at all the places we’ve been together!

  • Aww, happy third anniversary to you and the boy! I suppose we always set the bar high when we see somewhere has a Michelin star rating, but hey – at least the desserts came through! They’re both so pretty and I could stick my face in a whole bowl of that honeycomb ice cream right now…xx

    Tamsin / A Certain Adventure

    • Thanks Tamsin – sometimes I wonder where the time has gone… probably spent in restaurants eating if I’m honest!

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