Thursday, 6 March 2014
Much as I'm tempted to describe West London restaurant and foodie gastrotemple Hedone as "polarising", it's increasingly clear I'm just going to have to admit that when I have one opinion and the rest of the bloody world has another, that's not "polarising". That's just me being wrong. I didn't hate Hedone at all, but for the astonishing price and next to the tidal wave of hype from some of the biggest names in food in the capital, I just couldn't see what the fuss was about. But fine, OK, whatever. you win. Hedone is God's own diner and serving a poached onion on a plate is a work of genius. See? No egos here.
But what do you do, as a Michelin-starred chef behind one of the most critically-lauded restaurants in town, when you get tired of being associated only with the foams and frills of fine dining and want to see if your meticulous (/dangerously obsessive/emperor's new clothes - delete as appropriate) approach to ingredients works in a less formal environment? And also, what if you don't want the expectations and hype behind your flagship kitchen to cloud customer's experience in the new place, where after all you aren't pushing for the same levels of international haute-cuisine? Well, you go undercover.
The rumours of a "big name" chef casting his eye over the menu at Soho wine bar Antidote had swirled around Twitter and the blogosphere for a week or two, but it was only when one bright spark spotted a pear and cevennes onion gratin on the chalkboard menu that the pieces seemed to fall into place. We are, of course, talking about Mikael Jonsson of Hedone, and exactly how his influence breaks down is yet to be revealed completely, but we do know he is involved, and his new menu forms part of a wider refurb and revamp of this pretty little spot tucked around the back of Carnaby Street.
Of course, I had to try the aformentioned pear and cevennes onion gratin, and as the most Hedone-like thing on the menu, again I was underwhelmed. The crust on top was golden brown and gently salty, and the sprigs of greenery had a lovely sharp dressing, but beneath this was a bland, semolina-like mush of diced vegetables, with very little to recommend it.
But from here on, Antidote got better and better. Salt marsh lamb shoulder was beautifully cooked, and though weird at first the seaweed purée beneath actually worked well once the shock wore off, seasoning the meat with a deep, mysterious brine.
Cheeses were perfectly kept and very well chosen. I tried a 2-year aged gruyere, which was quite salty but had a lovely smooth texture and plenty of nutty alpine charm. And a Camembert packed a great big punch of farmy goodness, and was so moreish that I timidly nibbled around the skin before finally giving up and ate that, too. But better even than the cheeses was the house bread, with a delicate crust and a bouncy, moist crumb, so fresh and light that whoever's making bread at Antidote (and it is all made in-house) should be very pleased with themselves indeed.
And it's a gorgeous room, and the staff were charming and helpful and couldn't do enough for me, and there's even a quiet little outside terrace for when the weather improves or if you fancy a cheeky smoke. It's not even that expensive, although I imagine with a bigger appetite and a keener eye for the wine list (largely natural, I'm told, and with some real bargains though don't quote me on that) you could drop a good deal more than the £31.50 I managed on this lunch. For central, though, and considering the obvious effort that's gone into the food, I'd still call it value. Perhaps the most bizarre thing about the experience at Antidote is that, cevenne onion obsession aside, it's almost as different to Hedone as you could imagine. In fact, you could say, it's the anti- oh, I see what they did there.