Thursday, February 25, 2010
Bibendum , London
In 1987 Terence Conran resumed his role as a restaurateur when, in partnership with publisher Paul Hamlyn and chef Simon Hopkinson, he opened Bibendum in the Michelin building in Chelsea. Hopkinson had been the Chef at the seminal Hilaire on Old Brompton road along with Matthew & Henry Harris who also moved to Bibendum.
Today Matthew Harris is Head Chef whilst his brother Henry is Chef Patron at Racine after stints at amongst other places Harvey Nichols Fifth Floor and the Soho House Group. Others that have passed through the kitchens of Bibendum include Bruce Poole , Jeremy Lee’s and Philip Howard.
Simon Hopkinson helped establish the style of cooking based on classic French Bourgeois cooking with a smattering of influences from Italy , Spain and the UK. Matthew Harris has continued the tradition since Simon Hopkinson stopped cooking.
Even after 22 years Bibendum housed in the part modern, part Art Deco Michelin building remains one of the most beautiful restaurant rooms in the country. In fact the whole building including the Conran Shop , Bibendum Oyster Bar and offices was really a case study for a brilliant design and branding.
I was lucky enough to be taken to Bibendum by my parents in it's early days and fondly remember the best Roast Bresse Chicken, Crème Brulée and Bread and Butter Pudding that I have ever had in the UK . I always felt that Bibendum was the only restaurant that Terrance Conran was involved with where the brilliant design was matched with food that had great flavour and was based on wonderful ingredients. Over the years I have seen Simon Hopkinson eating in a number of restaurants ranging from La Tupina in Bordeaux to Giaconda Dinning Room in London. It is clear from these glimpses and, his brilliant writing that this superb cook also really loves eating.
I went back last week on a Friday lunchtime to see how the place is doing after hearing some disturbing reports about the quality of the food and also because it had been over 3 years since my last visit.
Sadly based on this meal the reports were largely true . My starter of peppers stuffed with tuna was very average and I would guess that it had spent a bit too long in the fridge post preparation whilst my haddock and chips was really very poor. The latter was a dish I have eaten many times but the soft and over flowery batter around an almost tasteless piece of haddock was compounded by what I can only describe as pommes allumettes not actually bad but in my opinion totally inappropriate in terms of thickness. My companion asked me to taste his rump of beef and it was really was a shock as the meat was clearly under hung and I suspect that it was not sourced from one of our few top butchers but rather standard Smithfield sourced catering butchers product. This is not what I expected from a restaurant with such a great pedigree and tradition.
On the positive side the Crème Brulée was as good as ever and one of the wines we drank was an outstanding Castello del Terriccio Tassinaia 2004. Service can only be described as excellent.
My sad conclusion is that this restaurant may need to improve it's procurement pretty quickly as I cannot believe that 4 tables at Lunchtime on Friday bodes well.