CLAUDE BOSI AT BIBENDUM
CLAUDE BOSI AT BIBENDUM
Sonia and I always try to go to a good restaurant to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Last year we went to the 2 Michelin star Midsummer House in Cambridge and the year before that we were at Mosimann’s in Belgravia.
So it was quite fortuitous that we heard that Claude Bosi was relocating from his 2 Michelin star Hibiscus restaurant in Maddox Street to Bibendum, just a few paces away from where we have lived for the last 49 years!
We remember when Terence Conran and Paul Hamlyn converted the old Michelin Tyre depot in the Fulham Road into a smart restaurant some 30 years ago with Simon Hopkinson at the “piano” and my old friend, John Davey, fresh from his days at Giradet in Crissier, fronting the House. And WHAT a surprise it was to be greeted by John’s smiling face again after all these years, fronting the House at Bibendum! A lot of water has flown under many bridges for both of us since then, but John hasn’t lost his known propensity for making people feel at ease in posh restaurants!
There are always little touches about Claude Bosi’s cuisine that have an element of surprise. Serving the usual array of amuses bouches which are de rigeur in this type of restaurant, a tiny olive tree was brought to the table with what appeared to be two olives each on a teaspoon. Special olives we thought? Organic? Forced grown in Clapham, perhaps? Neither. It was a cocoa confection shell made to look like a black olive with a tasty filling of pissaladière that just melted in the mouth. Utterly delicious. The parmesan gougères were more conventional and Claude’s old favourite of an eggshell filled with wild mushrooms, coconut and topped with curry powder didn’t fail to please either.
So, on to the first courses. Sonia chose the Cornish cock crab with elderflower and Cornish sea herbs (£32). All white crabmeat (as one would expect – no cheapening of the dish with brown meat) delicate, smooth and unctuous, whilst I chose the Veal sweetbreads with black garlic and gremolata (chopped garlic, lemon rind and parsley) (£24) – beautifully cooked with good moisture retention, but both dishes we felt, although smooth and delicate, need a bit more intensity of flavour – even the gremolata didn’t seem able to zip up the naturally flavourless sweetbreads.
Cornish cock crab with elderflower and Cornish sea herbs
Veal sweetbreads with black garlic and gremolata
Main courses chosen were the Anjou pigeon “satay style” (£39) by Sonia and Somerset kid with razor clams and a sea beet sauce (£33) by me. The pigeon was absolutely cooked to perfection, but there was no vegetable accompaniment except for a very acidic pickled cucumber. A bite into this completely overwhelmed the delicateness of the pigeon which resulted in a somewhat strange combination. My kid was completely de-boned (kid is bloody fiddly to eat on the bone as rabbit can be) with the meat pulled and pressed into a kind of ballotine, which made it very easy to eat. The tiny razor clams with the sea beet sauce, whilst very faintly fishy and the marble-sized new potatoes truly succeeded in achieving complex but integrated flavours for this dish.
We shared a dessert – Chocolate soufflé with basil ice cream (£14) and a 25 minute wait – well it said that on the menu but we waited a lot longer due to a disaster in the kitchen, but that’s OK, we know these things can happen having run a restaurant ourselves for 23 years, and served to us by Claude Bosi himself. Utterly delicious again.
I asked Claude why he closed Hibiscus and re-started at Bibendum and he said that he was looking for a new challenge – maybe something simpler. Well, I’m not sure if this is simpler, but it is early days yet. The challenge for him, maybe, is to develop the presence of the Oyster Bar downstairs, perhaps by turning it into a full-blown French Brasserie, specially now that La Brasserie across the road has closed down after 50 years in the same spot. Prices in the restaurant are pretty steep – it’s not a place where people are going to go to every week – and the portions are just a little bit on the small side. I’m not saying that they should be of trencherman proportions (that may be something for the Brasserie perhaps, enhanced by Claude’s culinary input in making it a real winner), but seeing John Davey in the restaurant reminded me of a wonderful dish we had at Giradet, in Switzerland, many years ago where the fish was covered in a fistful of white truffles. Yes, that dish was expensive, but we considered it worth it because of Freddie Giradet’s generosity with the truffles.
Turning to the wine list – it’s pretty huge and is dominated by a high proportion of “natural” and organic wines. I have to say that I’m not a fan of “natural” wines. Yes there are some really good ones, despite the producers in many cases making a rod for their own backs in their crusade for “purity”, but these are few and far between. What is more, usually because the lack of sulphur added, they have been known to fall apart after a short time. So I would be very wary of any “natural” wine of any age. I hope Claude doesn’t have a big inventory of these wines for his financial sake.
Mark ups on these wines are pretty stiff as one would expect from a restaurant of this class and calibre, but I always think that they are really unjustified. I can understand and take the high prices of the food at this level of culinary excellence, because producing it is so labour intensive, but wine is just pulling a cork! (Well almost!)
Since we are too old to drink a whole bottle of wine between us, especially at lunchtime, we chose from their half dozen or so wines by the glass. I chose a glass of Domaine de l’Oratoire Saint-Martin Cairanne Blanc 2014 – nutty and fruity and a good accompaniment to my sweetbreads – £8 for an unspecified quantity but more than enough to cover the angle at the bottom of the Zalto glass it was served in. A nice 3 star mouthful and reasonably priced for the quality. For my main course kid dish I chose the Reyneke Organic Red Blend 2015 (Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon) from South Africa at £6 a glass. Simple and uncomplicated and finishing a bit short, it nevertheless was a good match for the dish. 2 stars and again reasonable value.
Sonia chose just one wine – Daniel Bureau’s Grolleau 2014 at £10 a glass. Grolleau is a pretty obscure and highly acidic grape found only in the Loire Valley and it is generally used for blending purposes, particularly for sparkling and rosé wines. It is rarely made on it’s own but here it has been produced by Damien Bureau, naturally, with no filtration and no SO2 added – and it shows. Tart and lacking any kind of generosity of fruit, at £10 a glass represented poor value for money, but then I suppose it was expensive for Claude to buy and you have to pay for the vintage failures suffered by the “natural wine” single issue addicts. It was actually a better match with the pickled cucumber in Sonia’s dish than the rich flesh of the pigeon! Halfway through I offered to swap wines with Sonia and it did match a little better with the kid but not much. Not a wine I would wish to encounter again.
It’s early days yet, and Claude is a great chef, but there are a few knobs and excrescences to knock off which will allow things to go smoother, which I am sure he will achieve in good time.
Claude Bosi at Bibendum
81 Fulham Road
London SW3 6RD
Tel: 020 7581 5817 e: firstname.lastname@example.org
Open: Lunch – Wednesday to Saturday 12.00 to 2.15, Sunday 12.00 to 3.00
Dinner – Wednesday to Friday 6.30 to 9.45, Saturday 6.30 to 10.00
Cost for 2 with wine £200-£250 à la carte: Tasting menu (7 courses) £110 per person plus 6 wines to accompany £85, 3 wines to accompany £55.
Lunch menu Wednesday to Saturday: 2 courses £30.00, 3 courses £36.50
Carvery, glass of wine and coffee £25.00
Value for money 11
Ratings are explained on https://www.winebehindthelabel.org/restaurant-reviews/scoring-explained