Monday, 15 February 2010

Bibendum and then some...

Bibendum, South Kensington

I have a list in my head that consistently grows longer and longer and I'm fairly confident that you have a similar list in your head, because you probably wouldn't be such a foodie if you didn''s a list of all the restaurants I want to go to, and honestly, it never gets shorter. For every restaurant that I tick off, I think of about four more that find their way on to the list and make themselves comfortable. The usual suspects are there...The Fat Duck, Royal Hospital Road, River Cottage HQ (this is going to be for a very special occasion I think!!) The Harwood Arms is a new one, and up until this weekend, Bibendum was on there. I was spoilt rotten for Valentine's Day this year, because a very clever young man surprised me with a long luxurious lunch at Bibendum, knowing that I'd been yearning to go there for at least a year now. Obviously, you can't fail to notice the stunning building as you walk along Fulham Road, and the inside doesn't disappoint. Magnificent stained glass windows with Bibendum the Michelin man striking a pose frame the room, and grasp your attention as soon as you walk in. The layout of the room is spacious yet buzzing, there is plenty of room between the tables, without it feeling sparse. There are comfortable, almost sofa-like armchairs at many tables, and the waiting staff just glide around, seamlessly making your dining experience as perfect as possible, without being too conspicuous. It's a real art to be a good waiter or waitress, there's a fine line between attentive and annoying...I think the mark of a good waiting staff is at the end of the meal everything has gone smoothly and you've barely noticed anybody working around you. You sort of think 'Wow, everything worked so well, but I'm sure we hardly saw the waiter!'. The entire team at Bibendum were like this, they seemed effortless in their service, but attentive at the same time. Brilliant.

However, the reason I was taken there in the first place was of course the food. He started with lamb sweetbreads, with a Bearnaise sauce and puff pastry, all of which was utterly melt in the mouth, and an envy-inducing starter! I had rabbit rillettes, which was beautiful, with an onion chutney alongside it, a fine bean and hazelnut salad and some toasted brioche. The rillete was obviously quite fatty, but not unpleasantly so, the chutney cut through it and the bean salad lightened up the dish. For mains he had roasted guinea fowl, and I had the very delicate and feminine lamb shank. The bird was tender and juicy, cooked to perfection, with a buttery garlicky sauce seeping from it when it was pierced. The lamb though, was really special. I barely had to touch it with my fork before the meat yielded and fell off, leaving an almost pristine white bone behind. It sat in a dish of deep and meaty sauce, served alongside mustard pearl barley. This felt indulgent and creamy, with a lovely kick to it, without being so spicy that it took over the rich flavour from the lamb. For dessert we shared a vanilla pannacotta, and then had a plate of Brie de Meaux. Usually I'm a little apprehensive of Pannacotta as it can so easily be a disappointment - it can become rubbery, flavourless, too stiff...but I had the utmost faith in Bibendum, especially going by the first two courses, and I wasn't let down. The pannacotta was soft and wobbly, made with the perfect amount of gelatine, speckled with tiny black vanilla seeds that delicately flavoured the creamy dome. Elegant and simple, it was served with poached rhubarb, which although sweet, had a tang to it which was the perfect accompaniment to lift the heavy cream flavour and texture. Petit fours were served with coffee, of apricot pate de fruits, and the richest dark chocolate truffles I've ever tasted!! One was definitely enough to curb any chocolate desire for the next week!

All in all, it was the perfect lunch. We had beautiful, well cooked food, served by brilliant waiters in a breath taking environment. What more could a girl ask for for Valentine's Day??

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