Claude Bosi at Bibendum: Review
Bibendum is the kind of restaurant that makes food nerds like us go weak at the knees. For starters, it’s got history. Sir Terence Conran took hold of the abandoned building in 1987 (it had previously been the Michelin headquarters), and hired one of the greatest British cooks, Simon Hopkinson, to do the food. Simon’s style was very classic (think fillet steak au poivre or roast grouse with bread sauce). Claude’s style? Well, it’s more classic with a side helping of bonkers.
His menu feels like it’s cooked by a kitchen of two halves, where one half starts cooking a regular dish, before handing it over to the other half who think, ‘sod it, let’s put some strawberries on top of these scallops and see if anyone notices.’ It’s hard to get your head around expectations that aren’t met in a room like this, one of the most recognisable dining rooms in London, its stunning blue windows portraying the tubby Michelin man, the carpet so plush you bounce towards the table.
We started with a flurry of snacks, which, to be honest, we’d expect from a meal that cost the best part of our holiday savings. Nuts dusted in malt vinegar powder were brilliant, feeling slightly dirty and playful alongside rosé champagne. ‘Olives’ were delicate spheres filled with the flavours of a pissaladière, that classic French pastry, spread with onions and crisscrossed with anchovies.
Now, a ball of fish juice popping in the mouth doesn’t sound too appetising, admittedly but this was much more fun than a cod liver oil capsule. A couple of ‘fayne dining’ essentials were crossed off next (foie gras, tick! Puffed crackling, tick!), as we eagerly awaited the egg that’s been all over Instagram.
Perhaps we were expecting something as wonderful as the Parmesan custard with anchovy toasts that Rowley Leigh used to serve at Le Café Anglais – something silky, rich and just a little bit cheeky. What we got instead was an egg filled with peas, curry powder and… coconut. The combination was unpleasant.
It was at this point we had to make a concerted effort to keep an open mind. Was the cultured butter the colour of marigolds and served in a Michelin man dish? Yes, but it also needed salt and frankly, that man looks like he’s having trouble getting up due to over-indulgence; wincing and propelling paunch-first.
Did the first course read like a dream combo of ingredients, including crab and elderflower? Yes, but in reality, we haven’t wanted jelly since it came with ice cream and that ice cream was not flavoured with crab. A single asparagus stalk that followed was very nice and all, but we’re not sure we want it heavily dressed in orange ever again.
The best savoury dish, by some stretch, was a piece of sea bream served with the delicious wrinkly weirdos that are morel mushrooms, the cooking so precise and impressive. Those scallops with strawberry were actually genuinely wonderful, the room temperature raw scallop topped with a strawberry sauce vierge and tickled with the aniseed tang of tarragon. A sweetbread, too, was excellent, the requisite sticky sauce made with black garlic, a herby drizzle and some fun bits and bobs around the side.
To finish, a pea tart, which was everything we’d wanted the meal to be – experimental but thoroughly successful, the sweet pea lending itself so well to the dessert that it kicked pumpkin pie in its swollen orange bottom. And then, that was it, a couple of chocs and we paid our £200 each and left.
What was that? You’ve just choked on your coffee? Of course you have. There are a lot of places in London to spend the equivalent and, in our opinion, have a much better time while you’re doing it. Maybe it’s our fault for spending that amount of money on dinner in the first place, but when it’s such a slice of restaurant history it’s hard to resist. We just wish he hadn’t messed about with the recipe.