13 December 2015
I'm very surprised to find that Hedone, open four years and with a Michelin star for three, hasn't been reviewed by any Square Meal diner. So if this seems a little stretched its because there's a bit of ground to cover.
It was our first visit today at a busy Saturday lunchtime- the only day of the week when Hedone opens for lunch except for special seasonal openings. Its at an unfashionable end of Chiswick High Road, and indeed the premises look nothing from the outside and are scarcely opulent on the inside. I suspect they have little real interest in restaurants except as a place to serve their food in reasonable comfort . Its Ok, though a bit spare, but not an environment designed to impress of itself.
Its the food that matters here and indeed I have to say that the cooking here is as good as anywhere I've eaten. Everything we ate today was cooked and presented just about perfectly. And there's a lot of staff, and service is friendly, timely and pretty much flawless too. I will however need to distinguish between "the best cooking" and "the best food" for in my opinion there is a difference and whilst Hedone has good food- and sometimes extremely good food - there are other restaurants in London where I'd rather eat. To get this across , I need to explain how they run this restaurant.
There's no menu online. You book without knowing what they're going to give you. All you know is how many courses you're going to get for how much money. And it's a lot of money. In the evening , the cheapest menu, a bottle of wine from the bottom of the list ( virtually nothing under £50 here) a couple of coffees and service is going to cost £260 for a couple at minimum. Once in the restaurant you're brought a wine list and what they called a menu which has no mention of specific dishes at all. You simply confirm your desire for x courses and off we go. In short you don't get to find out what you're going to eat until its served to you. It's a gourmet Lucky Bag.
Now my point here is that having committed to eat, you're most likely as we did to find that you like some of these beautifully cooked dishes rather more than others. If you were able to choose from a menu you would naturally select dishes that you would expect to offer you particular pleasure. There is always a risk, but as a customer you use choices to minimise it. You can't do that at Hedone. So the risk is greater than at a restaurant that told you beforehand what you're going to get, or better yet allowed the alternative of selecting specific dishes. At Hedone there is a risk, and the customer carries all of it, and you're prevented from avoiding it. "Food quality", to me is more than an abstract sourcing and cooking issue- it also reflects the restaurants ability to provide food that matches the palette of the individual customer, and perhaps fits with their mood. Hedone gets the first part of this as right as anyone. It doesn't participate in the latter at all.
There's no point indicating what we ate, what we liked and what we enjoyed rather less because these dishes can't be chosen and indeed might never be served again. Suffice to say that of the seven items we were given to eat today (4 courses, preceded by three amuses bouches) I felt two were outstanding , three were very pleasant and two, including the main course didn't excite me at all. Meanwhile the bread was magnificent. My wife would agree the numbers but would differ on how each dish was rated. If in a more conventional restaurant, these dishes had appeared together as a tasting menu , we'd have retreated happily to the a la carte. As it stands , a kitchen seemingly capable of giving us the best meal of our lives today did not do that. And some restaurants that cook less well than Hedone are rated more highly.
And I need to finish with a word on value. There are obviously other restaurants in London that charge as much-maybe a little more . But they are most often three, or sometimes two star restaurants that offer a wide range of dishes and real choice. For a restaurant that concentrates its cooking on a small number of dishes, gives the diner no choice, and hasn't spent a fortune on how it looks or where it is, I think Hedone is rather expensive. And I think their customers would benefit from a wine rethink along the lines that it's perfectly possible to serve enjoyable, competent wines and make a profit for quite a bit less than £50.