Review of 'Bibendum'

Ever since I walked by the Michelin House in Chelsea soon after moving to the UK I have wanted to visit the restaurant in this iconic 1911 building with it's distinctive stain glass windows featuring “Bibendum” (the mascot of Michelin) and fantastic tile-work. When I first saw the building the ground floor was a Conran Shop as it was then owned by the restaurateur (Sir) Terrance Conran. The restaurant “Bibendum”, now called “Claude Bosi at Bibendum” features Bosi of London restaurant “Hibiscus” fame having been appointed head chef of “Bibendum” in 2016. It now holds 2 stars so it is just as well I booked four months ago for our wedding anniversary…

Front Door - Michelin

The restaurant is entered via a door off of Sloane Avenue then proceeding to the first floor. The dining area is quite small with one side dominated by windows and sliding glass doors looking into the kitchen full of chefs endlessly intent on food preparation. The high central ceiling, carpeted floor and deep padded bucket chairs keeps the noise to a minimum even when the restaurant is full. Indeed we commented to one of the staff about not being able to hear any raised voices from the kitchen to which the reply was that it was an “unusual evening then”. Despite seating quite a good number of people the tables are a good distance apart letting the service team quickly and easily get to each with a minimum of fuss as well as giving the interior a feeling of luxury and opulence despite the fairly plain decor.

We were seated next to one of the fabulous Bibendum stained glass windows to the one side then left with the menus and wine list. The former is extremely simple, for our visit the choices were “A la carte” (£100 for three courses) or the “Surprise Tasting Menu” (£120 for six courses plus another £85 for matching wines). Cheap it is not. The wine list is best described as a book which is the first of it's kind that I have seen with an index on the front page as it has well more than 40 pages (most sold by the bottle but there are several of these pages devoted to half bottles also). After sitting we were offered chilled champagne from a rolling cart but declined…Carts would end up making several appearances throughout the evening with one being particularly memorable as when opened revealed different cheeses with the incredible smell quickly spreading everywhere.

Kitchen

We decided to go for the “Surprise Tasting Menu” to allow Bosi to show us what he was made of and deciding what he felt was excellent food. This proved to be an excellent choice that took us through a number of interesting flavours and textures that never completely shocked but were certainly pleasantly received. It seemed the rest of the diners were evenly split between those having the tasting menu and those having the a la carte (with larger groups tending towards the later).

Appetisers

Soon after ordering, an “amuse bouche” was brought to the table featuring a beautifully presented bowl in which three small treats were placed: A smokey eel parcel, an onion tartlet topped with Parmesan, and fois gras topped with dried raspberries. Dominating the table though was a small olive tree with a black spoon holding what, on initial sight, seemed to be an olive but what turned out to be a black chocolate and horseradish shell filled with a deliciously savoury liquid inside that filled the mouth immediately. An interesting sample of things to come.

Butter and Bread

After our tree was removed, bread was delivered to the table which would be continually replenished throughout our meal with it's wonderfully quirky tyre bowl with Bibendum perched on the side containing the butter. Slices of white and rye sourdough were perfectly cooked with a great chewy texture.

Jeruselum Artichokes in Egg Shell

Another surprise as an egg holder was delivered to the table containing an egg shell filled with eggs, Jerusalem artichoke, coconut foam, and vanilla powder. Delicate and absolutely delicious. This left us delicately scraping the edge of the egg shell for every last bit of the filling (this activity would feature throughout the evening as our plates regularly returned to the kitchen after service almost spotless).

Three Layers of Dorset Crab

The next surprise arrived in an amazing looking doughnut-shaped dish that was deceptively deep filled with “three layers of Dorset crab” topped with some sprigs of seaweed and puree. The crab was incredibly fresh and the layers each having very distinctive flavours. Light and, yet again, delicious.

Vegetable "Nosotto" with Cold Berries

The “nosotto” dish needed a bit more explanation from the server: Chopped vegetables and prawns cooked to resemble both in texture and flavour a risotto then topped with ice cold blackberries and curry oil (so slight you could be forgiven for missing it). The “nosotto” was dominated by the strong flavour of Parmesan with the vegetables and prawns only providing a texture that was almost lost in the background. The berries added a surprising contrast in temperature from the piping hot nosotto as well as small bursts of sharp flavour contrasts.

Scallops

Next, an organic-looking bowl arrived with a sea of foam with a scallop (hand dived, natch) nestled in the middle topped with small cubes of iberico ham and micro herbs. Beneath the foam the scallop was perched on small medley of cubed vegetables and potatoes. The scallop was perfectly cooked - not too soft but also not too firm with a perfectly smooth skin. Here, it seems, what it looks like is as important as the flavour.

Fois Gras with Pear

A plate arrived featuring a good sized portion of fois gras coated lightly in a rather unusual liquorice powder and accompanied by pear three ways: Small dollops of puree, grilled and compressed. The fois gras melted in the mouth, as it should, with the sharp anise-y flavour providing a sharp contrast while the pear was prepared in such a way to remove the harshness so provided a nice fruity note to the dish.

Duck

Our “main” course now arrived: A slice of duck with skin that was, disappointingly, not crispy served with cauliflower served three ways: Grilled, smokey puree and as a quenelle of crumble. The plate was dominated by a good sized pool of “golden raisin” sauce whose flavour nicely accompanied the other ingredients. The duck looked VERY rare even beyond the rare it should be but it turned out to be perfectly judged with the meat simply dissolving in the mouth as it was so tender. The grilled cauliflower was my favourite of the other elements, the others simply not being too memorable in flavour.

Pre-Desert Granita

Getting full at this point, we were given a small, delicate, twisted glass bowl (with sharp points!) containing granita, quince jelly and a small ball of sour cream (evidently served with sichuan pepper but I could not really taste this normally extremely hot ingredient). The whole dish tasted quite savoury to us and proved to be a bit puzzling. We agreed that it must be more of a palate cleanser than a dish in it's own rite, a “pre-dessert”, as the server told us, preparing us for the proper dessert. Unfortunately for us they could have, perhaps, skipped the dessert as it was the one bit we really did not enjoy.

Mulled Wine Sorbet and Whiskey Cake

The dessert was a “mulled wine sorbet” served with a small round cake drenched in whiskey, topped with a jelly oval. I am not a drinker and my companion does not really drink either so the fact that the entire dish revolved around putting as much alcohol into it as possible was not in any way appealing. We managed to finish it but let's just say we had a lot of water to wash the flavour quickly away. I still have problems with restaurants (and people) that believe that strong alcohol flavour is, for some reason, a good thing. If I want to alcohol I will order a drink. When I eat I want to eat not be completely overwhelmed by alcohol. In this case we could not taste anything of the other ingredients, only the alcohol. It seems unlikely the chef wanted this but this is what we tasted.

Petite Fours

Luckily, our meal did not end on the low of the dessert. Petite fours arrived a short while later to take away the unwelcome flavour of alcohol. One bowl was filled with sugar pieces and topped with several delicious choux pastry balls filled with cream. A second plate had a small sour jelly topped with the same sugar pieces. The final surprise for the table was a pottery container in the shape of a cocoa pod, indeed it contained cocoa beans, with two wonderful chocolates inside but also with a small “Happy Anniversary” banner also made of chocolate. A wonderful thought from the servers which was very much appreciated.

Happy Anniversary

At just over £350 for the two of us (including a half bottle of wine, three cocktails and two bottles of house sparkling water as well as a 20% service charge optionally added to the bill) it was not a cheap meal (they do have a Sunday roast if you are interested which is quite reasonably priced) but the food, ambience and service were absolutely amazing. Throughout the evening the servers talked to us and listened to us patiently as we told them what we appreciated about each of the courses…though I suspect some did not really catch my accent as we did not always catch theirs. Many different people served us throughout the evening and often without us even knowing which is to be expected in a restaurant of this standard.

In 2019 Bibendum received two Michelin stars. No doubt about it, an amazing culinary adventure that perhaps does not have a lot of fireworks but has an understated air of magnificence, fine cookery and delicious flavours.

Stairway

Rating:

Review Date: 2018-12-20


Cuisine: French

Address: Michelin House, 81 Fulham Rd, Chelsea, London SW3 6RD

Public Transport: TUBE South Kensington

Location: London (England) - Chelsea

Map:

 

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Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7581 5817

URL: http://www.bibendum.co.uk/