Hibiscus** [Restaurant Review]

Friday, 29 January 2010

Reviewed by the Wild Boar

I had the day off on a Friday and the PigPig promptly arranged tickets to watch Cirque du Soleil. We then spent an hour thinking where to go for lunch prior to the show then I remembered Su Lin’s glowing recommendation of her lunch experience at Hibiscus; naturally, greedy us also wanted to try it now. We went for the same 3 course set lunch menu that includes a glass of champagne for £29.50.

I won’t go into too much details of the restaurant’s history and details but essentially it is run by Claude and Claire Bosi, a French husband and wife tag-team who originally had a two Michelin starred restaurant in Ludlow, Shropshire but moved to London in 2007 and have managed to retain their two starred status in 2009 and 2010.

We were (again) the first to arrive at the restaurant for lunch and were shown to a nice corner table which to the PigPig’s joy had good lighting. I was a bit taken aback at how small the restaurant was, apparently only 45 covers + a private chef’s table downstairs. Meanwhile the décor was very plain with nary an ornament in sight bar the chandelier over the centre table in the room.

Some olives were provided for nibbles, something I thought was a bit odd given this was a French restaurant. However, the diced herbs with the olives gave it a fresher zing and was a nice touch.

Hibiscus, London

Our amuse-bouche had a name I couldn’t quite catch from our waiter’s thick French accent, but essentially it was a creamy soup accented with ras el hanout, made from 21 different spices to give a taste of Africa. I thought it was quite nice, but nothing very special actually; if it was served in an ordinary bowl (or shotglass as most soupy amuse-bouches seem to be served) I would actually have been rather disappointed.

Hibiscus, London 1

The sourdough bread was very nice though, lovely and warm. The top crust was a burnt but the rest of the bread was fluffy and went really well with the richly-yellow butter (from Wales apparently).

Hibiscus, London bread

I chose a terrine of foie gras and goose for my starter. Concentrating on the meat bit first, the goose meat was quite rich and well seasoned and together with the foie gras made for a rather dense lump of protein/fat. Luckily then for the rather mysterious yellow blobs by the side which provided a good citrusy tang to the meat which I’m guessing was also made from Buddha’s hand. I would have preferred thicker slices of both the Buddha’s hand and the black radish though.

Hibiscus, London foie gras

The wife had a warm royale of walnut and parmesan with a salsify veloute (she thinks there was also a bit of pear in there, but we forgot to take a picture of the menu to be sure of this). According to the waiter, salsify is a form of root vegetable and I was quite keen on trying it, as I don’t recall having it before; Wikipedia claims it has the taste of oysters but I certainly don’t recall any of that. At any rate the overall dish was quite well thought out I reckoned; the creamy soup was already delicious while the parmesan added extra flavour and the walnuts texture.

Hibiscus, London soup

We were both quite taken with the knives and although they looked a bit toy-like to me, they moulded well into my hand and felt really comfortable to use.

Hibiscus, London

For my main I had a roast partridge which came paddling in a little pool of caper and raisin sauce while there was another little puddle of beurre blanc to further flavour-ise the meat, which was itself perfectly cooked to juicy pinkness. I thought the pomegranate bits were a nice touch although I am not personally a big fan of them. Sitting atop the little ball of the savoy cabbage was a rather mysterious wafer which we reckoned to be made of some of the partridge’s innards smeared on some toasted bread.

Hibiscus, London partridge

Naturally, the PigPig chose the more opulent option, paying an extra £10 supplement for the limousine veal belly (why limousine? I don’t know. Maybe the chef thought it looked a bit similar, which it kinda does if you squint a bit at it). The piece itself was a joy to eat, with lots of tender juicy baby fat interlaced within the layers of meat. The naturally milky-ish taste of veal was further highlighted with the sauce of goat’s cheese, thankfully quite mild in flavour. The accompanying vegetables provided a welcome break every now and then with its fresh strong flavours too.

Hibiscus, London veal belly

As if there weren’t enough calories in there already, the course also came with a risotto with very generous shavings of black truffles.

Hibiscus, London truffle risotto

My lemon tart felt really weird at the first bite as it was not only sour but it had also a fair amount of bitterness (and saltiness) within, presumably from the zest. Further bites found extra dimensions of sweetness as well as finding some salt as well, making it a rather odd little combination for me. The PigPig also found it weird at first, but towards the end of the dish she actually enjoyed it more and more.

Hibiscus, London tart

I was a bit apprehensive of trying the coconut parfait as while I love eat/drinking fresh coconut, processed coconut products rarely make me happy. Luckily there was very little coconut flavour within this little piece and most of the dish’s flavour actually came from the rose sorbet and surrounding lychee compote.

Hibiscus, London lychee

Altogether, the total bill came up to £42 each, including a bottle of still water (the champagne in the pictures were part of the 3 course lunch menu). The service was reasonable, fairly prompt and attentive but they didn’t feel particularly warm and their descriptions of the dishes were rather shorter compared to other starred restaurants.

Food – 7.8
Service – 5.0
Atmosphere – 5.0
Value – 5.0

Overall I thought the food was of genuine high quality throughout, in terms of ingredients used, cooking technique, plate presentation and also the combination of flavours across each dish was well thought out. In fact, I can’t actually think of any strong flaws to particularly comment on in terms of the food.

Best bit: the veal was simply superb.
Worst bit: err, the room was a bit boring looking. Ok fine I’m grasping at straws here, there wasn’t any major issues I encountered.

29 Maddox St
Mayfair, W1S 2PA
Tel: +44(020) 7629 2999
Official website

Hibiscus on Urbanspoon

Teochew Braised Duck (Lo Ack 滷鸭)

Thursday, 28 January 2010

It's not often that I cook duck as the oil it releases never fails to amaze me. Imagine skimming off 1 cup worth of oil for each duck you cook. And everytime I eat duck dishes in restaurants, I'd think to myself  'My god, I'm drinking at least 1/4 cup of duck fats...but it's too yummy to give up...' It's only when you start cooking that you realise/ find out what actually goes into a dish or what it's composed of. So now, instead of eating half a duck, I eat a quarter =)

teochew braised duck 02

This is fairly common dish and can be found in many stalls in Malaysia. It's normally served with beancurds, eggs and intestines that are braised in the same sauce. Usually served with porridge but I like mine with rice. Not to forget the pickled vegetable, a must in my opinion. You can read about a restaurant review here. That's how we usually eat Teochew braised duck. 

teochew braised duck 01

I got this recipe from Bee's, a recipe from Pat Tanumihardja of "The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook" It was really flavourful and the chili-lime dipping sauce went really well with the salty duck. The duck sauce was a bit too salty and not as sweet as I remembered, but still very tasty. We really enjoyed it. I saw a few other recipes that involves cooking with caramelised sugar, I might try that next time. One more thing, the skin seemed darker coloured and patchy. Any ideas on why? adn how do I get it evenly coloured?

teochew braised duck 03
Adapted from Rasa Malaysia
  • 1 (about 2 kg) whole duck - rinsed and dried with paper towels
  • 2 tbs salt
  • 2 cups water (or more)
  • 1/2 cup dark soy sauce
  • 2 stalks lemongrass - bruised
  • 1 inch galangal
  • 3 tbs sugar
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 4 star anise pods
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tsp black peppercorn
  • Rub 1½ tbs of the salt evenly all over the duck, including inside the cavity.
  • In a vessel large enough to hold the whole duck add in the rest of the ingredients. Bring to boil.
  • Reduce the heat to medium-low. Gently lower the duck into the vessel. The liquid should reach halfway up the duck. Add more water if necessary.
  • For the first 20 minutes, baste the duck every 5 minutes or so to color it evenly.
  • Cover and simmer for another 40 to 60 minutes, or until the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender, flipping the duck halfway through cooking. (Total cooking time should be about 1 to 1½ hours.) To check for doneness, poke the duck in the thigh with a chopstick. If the juices run clear, the duck is cooked.
  • Turn off the heat and leave the duck immersed in the sauce for another hour if desired.
  • Cut the duck into serving pieces and arrange on a serving platter. Skim the fat from the surface of the sauce, then drizzle a bit of the sauce over the duck. (the sauce was really salty, so I only used a bit.)
  • Serve with rice and the dipping sauce.
Chili-Lime Dipping Sauce

teochew braised duck chili sauce 01
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 red chili
  • Juice from 3 limes
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Salt
  • Pound the garlic and chilies in a mortar with a pestle.
  • Add the lime juice and sugar.
  • Add salt to taste, mix well.

Roast Chicken with Glutinous Rice Stuffing

Monday, 25 January 2010

I had to try it when I saw it on Rita's blog. Her bird is just amazing - the colour and so evenly browned! Her version was an adaptation from Nookcook's recipe. Noobcook's East-Meets-West version was also tempting but I couldn't resist that gorgeous brown skin. I did a little changes myself as well, rubbed chili oil all over the chicken...spicy goodness...The sweet and salty skin was really deilcious. The meat so tender and moist. The rice so flavourful...

Glutinous rice stuffed chicken 13
  • 1 whole chicken
  • Salt
  • Chili oil
For marinade:
  • 1 tbs grated ginger
  • 1 tbs garlic - finely minced
  • 2 tbs Lee Kum Kee char siew sauce
  • 1 tbs honey
  • 1 tbs dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp 5 spice powder
  • 1 tsp white pepper powder
For rice:
  • 2 rice cups glutinous rice
  • 8 Chinese mushrooms - soak until softened and sliced
  • 2 Chinese sausages (I used 1 black 1 normal)
  • 1 tbs dried shrimps - rinsed and coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup Shaoxing wine
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/3 cup water used for soaking mushrooms
Rice seasonings:
  • 1 tbs oyster sauce
  • 1 tbs kecap manis
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbs dark soy sauce
  • 1 tbs light soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper powder

The day before:
  • Clean and trim chicken. Pat dry with paper towels.
  • Generously rub salt all over chicken and the inside of the cavity. Leave to stand for about 30 mins.
  • Mix together ingredients for marinade and rub marinade all over chicken and the inside of the cavity. Wrap with cling flim and refrigerate overnight.
  • Soak glutinous and Chinese mushrooms (in separate containers) in water and leave overnight.
The next day:
  • Before roasting, prepare glutinous rice stuffing.
  • Drain rice, leave aside for later use.
  • Slice the mushrooms, Chinese sausages and chop up some dried shrimps.
Glutinous rice stuffed chicken 01
  • Heat up a non-stick pot, add Chinese sausages, fry until browned.
Glutinous rice stuffed chicken 02
  • Discard some oil in the pot, leaving about 1 tbs of oil in the pot. Add dried shrimps. fry until fragrant.
Glutinous rice stuffed chicken 03
  • Add mushrooms.
Glutinous rice stuffed chicken 04
  • Add rice.
Glutinous rice stuffed chicken 05
  • Pour in rice wine, water and water used for soaking mushrooms. Mix in seasonings.
Glutinous rice stuffed chicken 06
  • Bring to boil then reduce heat to simmer. Cover and leave to cook for about 20 mins.
Glutinous rice stuffed chicken 07
  • Stuff the cooked rice into the chicken's cavity. You will havea bout half of the stuffing left, so you can start eating now =) no need to resist!
Glutinous rice stuffed chicken 08
  • Rub chili oil all over the bird.
Glutinous rice stuffed chicken 10
  • Place on a roasting rack.
Glutinous rice stuffed chicken 11
  • Roast at pre-heated oven (220°C for 30 mins).
  • Remove bird from oven, baste it and continue roasting at 200°C for another hour or until done (the chicken was about 2 kg). Check by piercing the the thigh with a knife, juices should run clear. You may have to cover with foil half way through to prevent it from burning.
Glutinous rice stuffed chicken 12

Spicy & Fatty Stuff - Ba Shan [Restaurant Review]

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Reviewed by The Wild Boar

Update: After my excellent experience at Wedgewood, Edinburgh last November, I'm well chuffed that the Hardens guide has rated Wedgewood as the best up and coming restaurant outside London for 2010.

Sister restaurant to Bar Shu (literally just across the corner), Ba Shan is amongst a small but prominent group of restaurants popularising Sze Chuan cuisine in London. On a cold winter’s day, some spicy food seemed like a perfect tonic (but no mapo tofu or kung po chicken please…).

ba shan, london 1

We were seated on the ground floor near the main entrance; the seating area I was in was quite small but unfortunately I didn’t explore the restaurant so I don’t know exactly how big it is. I quite like the décor within, with the little lanterns and wall carvings, certainly different from the old-school Chinatown restaurants. I wish other places had menus similar to Ba Shan’s – huge with plenty of pictures.

We started with jiamo (braised pork belly sandwich). The meat itself was quite tender, with just the right amount of fat to make it joyful to eat. It would have been quite salty on its own, but with the bread for temperance, it was perfectly seasoned. Overall, it was not bad, but the meat filling was a bit too little for my liking, it could (should?) have been more generous.

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ba shan, london 3

We decided to have two mains to share with some white rice and the first to arrive was Chairman Mao’s braised red pork. We were a bit shell-shocked at how quickly the food arrived, literally within 5 minutes of ordering (the last time food arrived so quickly was in my first trip abroad alone, walked into a random restaurant in Venice, ordered risotto, 2 minutes after that we heard a “ding” ala microwave and food was placed on the table).

ba shan, london 4

Anyway the pork was very tender, juicy and looked really amazing in the little pot with the succulent looking skin aligned in neat little cubes. Taste-wise, it matched the presentation and it was slightly spicy to the tongue at first but still easily manageable. Absolutely brilliant to eat with the rice.

ba shan, london 6

We just had to have one of the “dry-wok” dishes and I chose the one with twice-cooked pork (the PigPig wanted duck tongues but I overruled her). The little wok had a little candle lighting it up from below, but it seriously didn’t need anymore heat, as the wok was already filled with dried chillies and Sze Chuan peppers. We found it quite spicy at first but quickly acclimatised to it and we were soon wolfing down the delicious thinly sliced belly pork. In fact, I was eating it too fast and accidentally inhaled some pepper which caused an extended coughing fit, much to the PigPig’s embarrassment.

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ba shan, london 7

Altogether, the bill came up to £17 each. We had one starter, two mains and white rice for two as well as a pot of chrysanthemum tea (which was quite nice actually, seems like a while since I last had a pot of nice Chinese tea). Luckily we disregarded our waiter’s attempts to make us order more food as we were quite full with the amount we were served.

Obviously this review has a huge caveat in that we only sampled 3 dishes (including white rice and a pot of tea) but I’m quite keen on coming back to try the other dishes, especially the huge fish I saw two girls sharing.

Now the most distinctive aspect of Sze Chuan cooking is the spiciness, that’s pretty much all I know about the cuisine – its hot stuff. Admittedly, the dry work dish was pretty spicy, but after a while we got used to it so it wasn’t too bad and I’ve certainly had spicier dishes. Still its worth noting that it was still pretty hot and the other Chinese couple next to us were certainly having difficulties; the guy asked for (and got) some hand towels to mop down his sweat.

Best bit: The HUGE menu - seeing the near life sized pictures of the dishes was a novelty.
Worst bit: The HUGE menu - it was rather unwieldy and the novelty soon wore off.

Ba Shan
24 Romilly Street
Soho, W1D 5AH
Tel: +44(020) 7287 3266

Ba Shan on Urbanspoon

Tiger Prawn Risotto with Lobster Bisque

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Linguine in bisque sauce is a dish I crave for very often so I always have a can of lobster bisque in my pantry. I thought I'd do something different this time. Instead of pasta, I used risotto. Added a bit of mustard for a kick. It's really creamy and delicious but a pain to prepare. The bisque is really viscous so I had to keep stirring to prevent it from burning and sticking to the pot. I'd cook this again if I feel I have the need for arms workout but I'd stick with pasta for a quick fix.

lobster bisque risotto
Ingredients: serves 2
  • 200g peeled and cooked prawns
  • 200g arborio rice
  • 4 shallots - sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic - crushed
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 can (200 ml) Baxters Lobster Bisque
  • About 1 cup water
  • 25g chives - cut into 1-inch in length
  • 1/2-1 tbs mustard (to taste)
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • In a pan, heat up a bit of olive and butter.
  • Add shallots, saute until translucent and soft.
  • Add garlic and fry until fragrant.
  • Mix in rice, fry until rice is translucent at the edges.
  • Add wine and mix well until liquid is evaporated.
  • Pour in half the can of bisque. Cook on medium low heat. Keep stirring.
  • When liquid is absorbed, add the rest of the bisque. Continue cooking and stirring.
  • Add 1/3 cup water when liquid is absorbed. Keep stirring.
  • Continue until rice is cooked and all the liquid has been absorbed. You might have to add more liquid to get the consistency or texture you like.
  • Stir in cooked prawns and chives. Leave to cook until prawns are warmed through.
  • Add mustard, salt and pepper to taste.
lobster bisque risotto 2

2-Day Braised Oxtail Ragu

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

It's rich, very flavourful and so very delicious! How I wish my local supermarket stock this cut of meat so I can cook this everyday every week!

I asked the wild boar to fetch me some beef bones from the butcher and he came back all excited asking me to guess what else he got. Chicken's feet, pig's intestines, rabbit...no?! Oxtail! I didn't know what to do with it. The only oxtail dish I've ever had was oxtail soup. And that's...boring. So I started going through my bookmarked recipes and came across Matt's braised oxtail ragu.

 I decided to simmer it for hours and didn't use the pressure cooker because the passata made the sauce quite thick and I had bad experience cooking such thick tomato based sauces under pressure. My pressure cooker was badly burnt - the bottom of the pot was all black! Here's a trick to get rid of those nasty black stuff (for aluminum cookers) - fill half the pot with water or until water covers all the stains, add a tablespoon of cream of tartar and heat it under pressure for about 15 mins.  You should be able to scrape off the black bits easily. Anyway, the oxtail requires long hours of simmering, the pieces were still rock hard after 1 1/2 hours of cooking.  But the long cooking process was worth it. So yummilicious!

Another bookmarked recipe checked!

Oxtail ragu 4

  • 800g oxtail - chopped into large chunks
  • 1 large onion - diced
  • 1 carrot - diced
  • 2 celery stalks - diced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 1/4 cup passata
  • 1 cup water
  • 5 sprigs thyme
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
The day before:

Oxtail ragu 1
  • Heat up a bit of oil in a large pot.
  • Sear oxtail pieces on all sides until browned. Remove and leave aside for later use.
  • Add onions, carrot and celery. Fry until soft.
Oxtail ragu 2
  • Add seared oxtail and all other ingredients.
Oxtail ragu 3
  • Bring to boil, reduce heat to simmer for about 3 hours or until meat is tender.
  • Leave to cool. Refrigerate overnight.
  • The next day:
  • Remove the layer of solid fats.
  • Simmer for another 45 mins-1 hr. Check water level every now and then. Add more water if too dry.
  • Remove bay leaves and thyme.
  • Pull meat off the bone.
  • Season with salt and pepper.
Oxtail ragu 5
  • Enjoy with some pasta!

It's Not All About the Kimchi - Koba [Restaurant Review]

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Reviwed by the Wild Boar

Koba, london 02

For reasons outside my control, I found myself sitting in front of a table with a built in grill with the aroma of kimchi and grilled meat in the air. Admittedly, it was a very nice table, in a nice looking restaurant, with pleasant waiters, but I was actually planning on eating something else. Well, at least the restaurant chosen was one that received fairly good reviews on Urbanspoon.

Koba, london

We started with medeum kimchi and moduem namool, an assortment of kimchi and seasonal vegetables (funny how all year round we get the same ‘seasonal’ vegetables). I thought the kimchi was decent but I thought the cabbage kimchi lacked sufficient fermenting, although the PigPig preferred it this way with a less sharp taste. Overall not too bad, but it’s a shame how London restaurants charge extra for something which is usually complimentary in Korea (according to my Korean friend anyway).

Koba, london 03

The pace of food appearing was very quick and the yook hwei was something I was looking forward to. Essentially slightly frozen beef ribbon sashimi with julienned pears mixed with sesame oil and a raw egg yolk – I can understand that it’ll sound disgusting to some, but the sweetness of the pear together with the aroma of the sesame oil with the beef usually makes for a great combination. At least, it did in Ran anyway, this version didn’t seem to include enough seasonings for my liking and the pears weren’t sweet enough.

Koba, london 05

Another one of our staples (we actually always order pretty much the same dishes in every Korean restaurant) is pajun or Korean pancake with spring onions and seafood; the seafood being limited to mainly squid with a couple tiny shrimp. I thought this pancake was pretty good with a nice crunchy base and nice filling that wasn’t floury at all. It also went quite well with the mild sweetened soya seasoning.

Koba, london 06

Similarly, the jabchae or stir fried vermicelli with beef was also very flavourful. It seemed dryer compared to Ran’s, but I didn’t think it was necessarily a bad thing as it was still very tasty.

Koba, london 07

With the starters out of the way, we’re now moving onto the barbecued meat section. To go with the meat we also ordered sangchoo (fresh lettuce and soy bean paste) and pamoochin (sliced spring onion with chilli and vinegar).

Koba, london 08

The BBQ meats:
Koba, london 09
  • So hyeosliced ox tongue with salt and pepper – I thought this was a bit chewy, certainly far different to the tongues I had before in Ran or indeed Selfridge’s salt tongue sandwich.
Koba, london 10
  • Deungsimsliced sirloin beef – pretty decent standard meat, went very well with either the lightly sweetened soya sauce or the salted sesame oil depending on your preference.
  • Bulgogimarinated sliced sirloin beef – as above, but already seasoned. I felt the marinade was nice, but on the light side for me.
  • Kalbi marinated beef spare ribs – this is one of my favourites, as the marinade meant more flavour and the spare ribs had a slightly chewier texture.
Koba, london 11
  • Daeji bulgogi sweet and spicy pork – essentially pork belly marinated with the Korean red paste, sadly not enough marinade was used so it was a bit lacking in taste.
Koba, london 14

Instead of plain rice to eat with the meat, we ordered two bowls of yookhwei dolsot bibimbap (steamed rice with raw beef and vegetables in a hot stone bowl; the beef cooks from the heat of the bowl). I thought this was pretty standard but nothing special.

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Overall, the bill came up to £32 each for a party of five. This also included a round of drinks and two Hite beers (really nice and light, similar to Asahi). The PigPig had a ginseng drink which was quite nice with a strong taste of red dates but sadly quite light in ginseng taste.

Koba, london 04

While reasonably delicious, unfortunately in a direct comparison the food pales in taste when compared to Ran.

Would I eat here again? Nah, I’ll stick to Ran.

11 Rathbone Street,
Tel: +44(020) 7580 8825

Koba on Urbanspoon