Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Hedone (revisited), Chiswick


For this blog to be any use to anybody - in fact for any restaurant critic, or guide, or Buzzfeed Top Ten Lobster Mac & Cheese list to be even the least bit useful - then we have to assume that there is such thing as an objectively nice place to eat. If we can all agree that eating soil is not fun, and that eating chocolate is, then surely we should also be able, as a species, to draw a fairly solid conclusion about the land inbetween these extremes; we are, after all, most of us after more or less the same thing - a good dinner.


Sometimes, though, I am baffled by restaurants that polarise opinion, both those that I think everyone should love but they don't, and equally those that people fall over themselves to lavish with praise and which leave me completely cold.


Take Hedone, for example, in Chiswick. I first visited five years ago, shortly after it opened, and suffered through an emotionally vacant precession of beige dishes, ostensibly using the finest produce Western Europe can provide and yet each so wanting of texture, colour and fun that I felt my soul shrinking with every passing minute. And yet in the subsequent years a certain devoted subset of Foodie Internet have repeatedly and sincerely praised the food at Hedone as being not just amongst the best in the country but genuinely world class.


They say that chef Mikael Jonsson goes to greater lengths than any other individual to find the very finest ingredients for his menus. They say said ingredients are treated to techniques that both compliment and amplify specific flavour profiles to the greatest possible effect. And they say, over and over again, that if you can't appreciate that this corner of West London is redifining modern gastronomy, that his towering achievement belongs in the history books, then you don't deserve to enjoy eating out at all and you should just stay at home with a Findus pancake thinking very hard about your life. OK, to be fair, they've never actually said anything about Findus pancakes, but the inference is pretty clear.


It's enough to leave a man who spends a good proportion of his time looking for the next big gastronomic high (me) with a severe case of the FOMOs, and so five years almost to the day I made another booking at Hedone, determined - desperate, in fact - to figure out if I really was a hopeless pleb or instead have some kind of tasting menu-based Damascene conversion.


Long story short, turns out I'm still very much a resident of Plebsville; a 2nd meal at Hedone was every bit as bewilderingly dull as the first. An amuse of tomato jelly tasted of... well, tomato jelly on a little biscuit; no more, no less. A dish of scallops and truffles - despite containing two of my favourite ingredients - conspired to be wobbly and thin, like eating something that needed finishing off on the grill. A slab of foie - again, usually something that couldn't fail to lift my spirits - was a big, boring, fatty chore. Nothing was hideous or even that wrong, it was just empty, cold, devoid of form and fun. It was, in short, the very opposite of why I eat out at all; if the best restaurants are life-affirming and generous of soul and spirit, this was dining by numbers, technically correct but emotionally bereft.


I'm not about to tread on the opinions of so many people who clearly - and for their own very good reasons - consider Hedone their Ultimate Restaurant. But it is odd, not to mention deeply frustrating, that I so obviously couldn't get out of Hedone the transcandental experience so many others had, people who I know for a fact have a huge deal of overlap with my own tastes when it comes to most other restaurants in town. In my original review I made the comparison with modern jazz; that somewhere at the back of my mind I knew there must be something in it, but that thing, whatever it was, will likely be forever out of my grasp. To some, John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" is a breathtaking work of staggering genius; to the rest of us it is just arrythmic, dischordant nonsense. I wish I understood it, but I don't.


In many ways of course, whether or not I or anyone else appreciates Hedone is a matter of supreme unimportance. They won't miss me (or many like me) as a customer and I won't miss them. I only mention any of it as a kind of thought experiment - that if it's possible for people to have such wildly different experiences of the same restaurant, in fact even of the same meal (my first visit was on the same table as one of the Hedone superfans I mentioned earlier), what use is restaurant criticism at all? Should I find something else to do with my spare time? In fact, don't answer that.


Anyway, excuse my existential wobble; normal service will be resumed in due course. Perhaps we should take some comfort from the fact that we as people, as diverse and difficult as we are, can find anything in common at all, and that the occasional blip like Hedone is proof of nothing more than our diversity. I will leave the Pride of Chiswick to those better placed to enjoy it, and, as one anonymous commenter on my original review put it, "stick to searching for the perfect burger... and leave [the] real food to the adults". For now, I'll agree to disagree. But by God if anyone starts having a go at Tayyabs, there'll be hell to pay.

6/10 (again)

Hedone Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

19 comments:

Andy K said...

I'm so with you. The atmosphere is pretty far from "fun" and the food is... well it's OK. For the money there are sooooo many places I'd rather visit. I feel slightly validated by your write-up - thanks!

Julie Smith said...

I couldn't agree with you more. When I went (mid-2014?), my friends and I had the full-on chef's tasting menu and it was so much food that I literally threw up in the bathroom (hasn't had before or since in my lifetime). Arguably, a restaurant in which one throws up is unlikely to make their top anything, but it has also permanently scarred me from big tasting menus ever since and I scoff any time I see Hedone on top lists of food experiences. Cheers!

SluppyB said...

Bloody great photos though!

Tim Fines said...

Thank god I'm not the only one! Went there a couple of months back with some friends promising them a great meal (on the back of reviews which I usually trust - Andy Hayley amongst others) only for us all to be wildly disappointed. Only the lamb dish was worth taking about and even then nothing worthy of the accolade of best restaurant in the U.K which I've read previously. Staff were stuffy boarderline snooty with the exception of the sommeliere. Sadly an experience devoid of fun or great food

Martin said...

I feel the same sense off bewilderment about Meat Liquor. I appreciate it was the place that first kicked off the whole burger craze, and Kudos, but... It's alright. It's nothing but average. There are so many places doing better burgers and food in general.

Anonymous said...

Can't help but agree. The key word about the place, putting aside the quality of the food, is 'joyless'.

The service particularly I remember was very poor and the owner's attitude to our wine order of cheap white/expensive read was 'pour without speaking to us'/'effusive fawning' as if a switch was flicked was enough to ensure we'd never go back.

The food is perfectly decent 7/10 fare and most people like me who visit and don't enjoy it are probably suffering from expectations management to some degree.

Anonymous said...

Brave review.

I loved it on my visit. I still remember the lamb I had, it was extraordinary. Only reason ive not been back is its on other side of London but at least Antidote kinda fills that Hedone shaped hole.

Mikael is moody as fuck though, my main memory was him swearing and throwing pans around but his FoH were great.

Heloise said...

Hmm. Am almost certain partner has booked this place for my upcoming birthday meal. Can't wait...

It is indeed me again said...

I agree great Photos. They seem to show/back up what your review says. It appears to be lacking. I will at sometime spend my money elsewhere, when I am in London with money.Its another I could eat at Gordons deal, Julie try Gordons (RHR) tasting menu 100% leaving balanced/in heaven not heaving:)
P.S. any nearer finding the best Caribbean/Jamaican food for my next London trip? Curried Goat Rice Peas Dumpling, has joined Fish Chips Mushy Peas mug of tea as my top meal.





Scouse Will said...

I've not been to Hedone, but I second Martins comment about Meat Liquor, I just cannot see what the fuss is about. I have actually felt disgusting after both times I have been there, there is nothing special about it at all. I guess life would be boring if we all liked the same things though!

Chris Pople said...

IIIMA: I haven't found any Caribbean restaurant in London worth the money yet I'm afraid!

Heloise said...

Chris, back in the day, I lived in Brixton. There used to be a fantastic place just off Coldharbour Lane. Probably been razed as part of local redevelopment but will try to ascertain if it's still there.

Gareth_UK said...

An outrageous slur! Call yourself a food critic? I have eaten at the finest places in London and I LOVE Findus crispy pancakes. I mourn the fact that you can't find them in the supermarkets these days, especially the chicken and sweetcorn ones. Fried for extra unhealthiness and then slathered in ketchup. Junk food heaven!

Raj Gupta said...

Negril in Brixton is the best Carribean I've been to. But even that is no more than a 7/10

Lee said...

Each to their own I guess. I went there late last year and had a similar menu to the photos you've shown, and loved pretty much every course. But then again, I remember my meal at The Ledbury was one of the dullest meals I've ever had, and everyone showers praise on the place. I think when the expectation of these places is so high, it can make it all the more disappointing if it doesn't quite work for you.

Moanin' Charles Findus said...

A similar amount of time has elapsed since my visit to Hedone and I too was wondering what I'd missed. So you have both my thanks and respect for sparing me a return visit.
Your experience, and that of many in the comments, resonates strongly with my own. Joyless. Technical. Ultimately dull.

On the other hand, I do have a lot of time for "A Love Supreme".

You know its me again said...

Thanks for trying (re Caribbean) . Few Hairy Whitingstall is a Findus crispy fan, he made his own on a show once. Actually, I recall some joy when these were served, not often, ready meals an other shite were thankfully not invited by my parents. I don't think we could afford them. Sounds bizarre but our freezer was full of wild fish rabbit etc. a chunk of our veg was grown in the garden. How lucky to have grown up this way. Looking for Findus Crispy Pancakes now on the Net. I bet there in Spain or South America??

Me again said...

Tesco sell them, backlash from fans in 2016 saved the day if the web is to be believed.

Gareth_UK said...

Hey TESCO for Findus Crispy pancakes?! I'm straight there. There's one about 400 yards from where I live but I rarely visit because...well same reason I don't watch ITV.

I'll report back.