“What is the purpose of your trip?” asks the immigration officer as I present my passport.
“I’m a food critic here for research.”
My answer never fails to elicit a chuckle from the often taciturn customs officials. I’ve learned to embrace it.
“Welcome to London.”
Anytime I travel, I consult a variety of sources looking for “peak experiences now,” my personal mantra that drives my passion for globe-trotting. One of my go-to blogs is by Andy Hayler, the only person I know of who’s eaten at every one of the three-star Michelin restaurants in the world. His favorite London restaurant, currently, is Hedone. I decide to check it out with a foodie friend and his colleague who, serendipitously, are also in town.
In my mind, the chef — Mikael Jonsson — is the heir to the late Charlie Trotter, who improvised with fresh ingredients like a jazz musician and never served exactly the same dish twice. Hedone’s printed menu, such as it is, is really a statement of philosophy. The restaurant focuses on “unique expressions of the used ingredients” where they cook “everything to order.” Your only decision as a diner is between a taste of seven courses or going “Carte Blanche” for 10. I say we go for broke, and my friends are game. The menu is signed with a flourish in a signature that can only be described as looking like grafitti.
Our server arrives with a glass dome under which there are a trio of gnarled, bulbous orbs the size of small apples. As he lifts the dome, the unmistakable aroma of white truffles from Alba rushes to fill my nose with glory. We rapidly agree the extra supplement for a truffle dish is in order. For me, truffles are like crack; I’m unable to resist.
The meal that follows is extraordinary, but the servers present each course with thick French accents where I lose every fourth word. It’s like listening to a bad Skype or FaceTime connection. Regardless, the exquisite food speaks loudly for itself. Our spread is an inspiring cavalcade of 10 courses prepared in the moment. White truffles, foie gras, caviar, sweetbreads, sea bass and venison loin, with ethereal purées and sauces.
We politely demur at the offer of a cheese course, lest we explode. I’ve learned the difference between being perfectly satiated and feeling uncomfortably gluttonous sometimes balances on a knife’s edge. Better to decline and feel virtuous with your own self control then to indulge and be miserable.
The evening’s last treat is a trio of pristine mignardises. Strawberry-basil gelée, which glitters with a coating of granulated sugar, is softer than I usually encounter. I’m not really a huge fan of gelée squares for that very reason; the flavors may be arresting, but the texture is always, well, gelatinous. In this case, the gelée — despite looking exactly like the little squares I’ve had dozens of times — is melt-in-your-mouth delicious. It catches me off guard, both in texture and flavor. It’s simply sublime. But then so is the passion fruit macaron in the middle of the delicate rectangular serving dish. Finally, there’s a tiny, shiny silver dome of dark chocolate truffle filled with ganache worthy of Tampa Bay’s William Dean.
Great meals have pace, and while looking back it seems like you might’ve consumed an inordinate amount of food and what should be enough wine to render your legs wobbly, it turns out to be perfection over a period of four hours. We leave exhilarated by the creativity of chef Jonsson and his kitchen, but also emotionally full from a night well spent.
Just when we think we’ve escaped to await our Uber unscathed, we each get a small shopping bag full with a rustic loaf of the remarkable whole-grain bread for the road. What, I ask you, am I to do with that? I ponder while walking back down Drury Lane from the elegant hotel where my friend is staying to my more modest B&B. I know — I’ll present it as a gift to the staff in the breakfast room either to serve or privately indulge as they see fit.
Once again, careful consideration saves me from that slippery slope to gluttony.
Editor's note: Postcards is an ongoing series in which CL's food critic shares his culinary adventures outside Tampa Bay.