Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Bibendum: A Kensington Institution

Punchline: Classy French food in beautiful setting, all without breaking the bank.

A lot has been said about Bibendum recently with visits from several notable bloggers. I thought I'd swing by an area I dont usually frequent for a look. 

Everyone knows of the beautiful former Michelin building, the 25 year history and the Hopkinson legacy. New management has kept up appearances really rather well, and although it may no longer be the jewel in Kensington's crown; it has carved itself a niche as serving top-quality French cuisine at seemingly the same prices that Hopkinson charged in the 1990's. The wine list (or should that read tome) is impressive and makes this reviewer long for a pay-rise. After all, nunc est bibendum.

Saturday lunchtime with the better half involved their weekend set menu. 3 courses for £30 (12.5% tip added on) with an impressive selection of dishes available. Dinner menus look as ever more extravagant but a weekend lunchtime treat is a good a yardstick as any.

Game ragu with hare ballotine. Rabbit terrine with pickles and brioche.

The ragu initially took me aback with the intensity of the gamey flavours. During the second mouthful it transformed into a deeply satisfying dish, the gaminess causing flashbacks to cold winters in front of a wood-burning fire. The hare was perfectly cooked, still lightly springy and retaining its unique gamey flavour which was not overpowered by the sea of mince. The complimentary bread acted nobly as a plate cleaner, which I am often wont to do when I feel things have ended far too quickly. The only negative was that a piece of the plastic wrapping had been left on one of the disks. Luckily I noticed it straight away and didn't attempt to chew it and finished the plate undeterred. They comp'ed us a free bottle of water (£4) and apologised.
Game ragu with hare ballotine
The rabbit terrine was very good. nice and chunky and full of fresh clean flavours, accompanied well with a mustard pickle chutney. I found the mustard a little strong for the rabbit but the better half disagreed and there are many reasons why she is the better half so we'll go with her.
Rabbit terrine
Duck confit with potatoes salardaise, Tete de veau with sauce ravigote.

The other half had been scarred by a chinese roast duck the previous week in Birmingham (at Jay Rayner's recommendation no less) and was wary of ordering flying-cow. Her fears were allayed on presentation as you can see below: it was a beautiful looking ducky. Skin was beautifully crisp, the meat tender and moist. I felt that it was a little bland and the usual aromatics in the salt-rub didn't come through enough. The potatoes were also delightfully crispy but the raw crushed garlic was a little pungent on the nostrils.
Duck Confit with potatoes salardaise
The tete de veau with sauce ravigote was an ambitious order from myself. I have never eaten brain and even though I am not exactly squeamish when it comes to offal, I have to admit that eating it was difficult. The head-meat was delicious, the meat was fork tender from the slow-cooking at the clean flavours a testament to the broth it had been simmered in. Said broth was excellent with the all the aromatics coming through giving a real crisp freshness, something I never manage to recreate at home. For those that have not eaten brain, it is a cross between sweetbreads and foie gras. Both creamy and slightly chewy, it has a flavour which I cannot fully describe. Incredibly mild and delicate. What I will say was that it was pleasant and any fear was washed away with the ravigote. The sauce was overly vinegary but with my brain-related nerves, this was a plus. Overall though was a tasty dish and one I would order again.
Tete de veau (before sauce ravigote was served)
Ginger syllabub, plum compote and meringue. Madelines, port and blackcurrant jelly and creme fraiche.

The whole desert was refreshing and cleansing. It was one of the most well-balanced deserts I've had in a while. The ginger syllabub was light, smooth and.. well... gingery. The light heat from the ginger complimented the tartness of the plum compote which I have to admit has recently become a secret love of mine. Meringue, which divides populations more than Marmite and Simon Cowell, was my favourite type: slightly chewy. Delightful.
Ginger syllabub with plum compote and meringue
The Madelines were warm and one of the better half's favourite pastries. The blackcurrant compote was scoffed but the port jelly, although nice was a little large given the size of the rest of the elements and so she left over half of it. Only complaint was that there could have been three.
The Slosh: a rather delicious, full-bodied Chilean Cabernet Sauvingnon. Personally my favourite grape, but at £42 (plus 12.5%) was a slightly excessive mark-up.

Boozed up and with a truffle each to set us on our way, we rather ungainly waddled down and out the doors for a rather long walk. 

Bibendum is a local legend, built on quality, simple cooking all while plying South Kensington full of booze. All I have to say is diu sit duratura! Long may it last!

Where: Michelin House 81 Fulham Road SW3 6RD 
Resturant: 020 7581 5817

Lunch for two with wine: £124

Food: 8/10
Service: 6/10
Slosh: 7/10
Value: 8/10

Overall: 8/10

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