There were many flashes of brilliance at Hedone. Mikael Jonssen is a technically accomplished chef who, by going the bistronomique way of many Parisian youngsters, has created a ballsy, relaxed new address. I loved the pearly cod with its skin crisped wafer thin, salty artichokes and mini pools of warm pomegranate sweetness and the sumptuously glazed chocolate slab. But sadly they came too late, after a devastating early assault from an enormous helping of raw or near-raw (I couldn’t eat it) onion. I don’t care if they were a ‘mild’ variety, or how brilliant their association with pear and buttery sauce should be IN MY HEAD. They squared up to me, sneering, onionly , from the plate, « Come on then, coward, don’t just eat me, UNDERSTAND me. »
To be fair, this was never going to work out. I find ‘Hedone’ a rather self defeating name for a gastro restaurant. And then, also, I had sandwiched my visit between two of the sexiest restaurants in London,Quo Vadis and Locanda Locatelli. There, as you sink into their softness, the rooms whisper, « Stay, stay forever, eat everything, drink everything, you will love it, for we love you. » Here the chefs Jeremy Lee & Georgio Locatelli are established, confident, with nothing more to prove, no campaigns or trends to lead. Perhaps I’m doomed to eternal subjectivity by my love of these knowing, velvety places, and by many tearjerking meals at Chateaubriand, with whom Hedone is currently being compared. But Lee and Locatelli truly soak you in their pleasure of giving you pleasure. Inaki Aizpitarte experiments and dares from his heart…..and guts, with poetry and always, always ; deliciousness. Hedone, by contrast, feels like a product of the foodgeek, cult of the chef generation, one where the unspoken hierarchy of customer over chef is reversed, where process wins out over emotion, where the customer must work (research?) before and during the meal to do honour to the chef’s intelligence and toil. Lots of people like this type of restaurant experience, I know. But perhaps naming the restaurant ‘Archimedes’ might then go better with its angular, joyless plates.
For where exactly were we meant to take our pleasure after the chef had indulged his ? The head-height padding of the banquette walls was very pleasant to snuggle into, and the bread receiving pebbles were terribly strokeable. Our waiters were sweethearts, and the table had a sort of handle into which the tablecloth neatly disappeared, doubtlessly provided to steady people in the Meg Ryan, faux orgasmic moments more or less promised by the name of the place. It was certainly not , however, pleasurable watching a mirthless chef and brigade assembling plates in full view from all sides. Unless I’m grabbing dumplings, tapas, sushi or kebabs on the run, I do not want to see this, but more and more restaurants are sticking their kitchens in the middle of the room. I believe that the frontier between chef and punter must stay in place for the magic of his creation to operate properly. Not disintegrate to the extent that we cannot avert our eyes from the efforts and suffering we are supposedly paying to avoid by not staying put in our own kitchens. For most people the provision of this service is where much of the point of restaurant-going still lies. A chef’s ‘philosophy’ (if that’s what he or she wants) will jump from his food as it is set in front of a customer without forcing him to witness its construction.
In this case, I’d watched that huge portion of intellectual onion being flung around the kitchen and fingered onto my plate. And by the time it was releasing its furious essence into my nostrils, it did not want to pleasure me at all. It wanted to strangle me. Or, at the very least, simply by allowing its awfully clever onionness into my brain, pre-sabotage my palate, digestion and, above all, my night. Hedone the goddess would never have stood for it.
Photo from here.