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Art & Culture / The Hunger

Best of the West End: Bibendum

In this column, Ananda Pellerin and Neil Wissink uncover the secret pleasures of the gastronome

Oysters Rockefeller
Oysters Rockefeller Photography by Neil Wissink

The Hunger finds much to celebrate on a rare trip west to visit South Kensington favourite Bibendum

In 2008 Bibendum was declared the “Most Consistently Excellent Restaurant” at the Tatler Louis Roederer Restaurant Awards. In keeping with this proclamation, and after a recent relaunch of their menu, it’s no surprise that the west London Art-Deco behemoth still delights. Situated in the grandiose old British Michelin headquarters, Bibendum, named after the roly-poly Michelin Man, has been cheering its clientele for over twenty years under the gastronomic direction of co-owner and cookery writer Simon Hopkinson, whose particular take on French cuisine à l’Anglaise is a fine balance of technique and adherence to natural flavours.

Set over two stories, the first stop on the Bibendum tour is a courtyard café, while the main entrance houses a small oyster bar, situated next to The Conran Shop (Terence Conran is another of the co-owners). Upstairs is the stately yet welcoming main dining room, with high ceilings, tall windows and early Michelin paraphernalia – the best of which are old ashtrays that have been converted into butter dishes, with the knife balancing precariously between Monsieur B’s rotund tyre thighs. The overall effect is effortless charm and respectable comfort.

Bibendum exterior
Bibendum exterior Photography by Neil Wissink
The new menu boasts a combination of seasonal dishes and ‘Bibendum classics’ – picks from the no-doubt extensive archives covering head chef Matthew Harris’s twenty-year reign, and some of Simon’s signature dishes, including his famous roast chicken. From the new menu, smooth buratta cheese with artichokes, asparagus, roast cherry tomatoes and a truffle dressing was divine for its freshness and the unabashed flavours of the ingredients – the Italian tomatoes are some of the best we've ever had in London. Our classic starter was Oysters Rockefeller, originally created in New Orleans at the turn of the twentieth century, and given a life beyond kitsch here with bivalves that still smell of the sea, carefully grilled in a crust of breadcrumbs and herbs. Another time-honoured dish, the tête de veau, is a main for those who dare. It might be odd to say about head meat and brains, but they were delicately slow-cooked, and will be a treat for anyone who’s longing for some unabashed rustic French cooking. The Fricassée of hake and turbot with cockles, puy lentils and saffron sauce – a new dish – shared qualities that we found across the board: the seasoning was restrained, and speaks to a kitchen confident that their ingredients are the freshest and best.

There was a lovely surprise awaiting us on the dessert menu, delectable made-to-order pithiviers au chocolat, a pastry-crust mound filled with warm chocolate, here resembling a Yorkshire pudding rather than the usual flat pie. What was unsurprising, however, was to see Bibendum keeping to its perfect niche: it’s not (funnily enough) after a Michelin star, but this is only to its benefit, as you’d be hard pressed to find a restaurant that so happily and easily delivers to such a fine standard. A la prochaine vingt ans, we say.

What we loved about Bibendum: Susana Balbo Virtuoso Late-Harvest Malbec dessert wine, paired with the phithiviers au chocolat; generous table spacing; an excellent Gibson cocktail.

Bibendum is at Michelin House, 81 Fulham Road, SW3 6RD.

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