It’s too hot. I am awake at 5am. My inbox tells me that London’s only pop up avocado restaurant has been so successful it’s going to be permanent. I hide under the pillow and try to go back to sleep.
just before Brexit kills everything stone dead next year, the hottest place in town has apparently opened
At lunch in a leafy garden, where we swelter in 34 degrees, superb home made ice cold gazpacho, matched by even colder rose, fuel chatter of Brat/Sabor/Smoking Goat/Gazelle and all the other wonderful new restaurants opening up with dizzying speed around London. A dazzling, multi-hued catherine wheel of revolving doors (there are plenty of closures too) careering giddily past overkill towards saturation and then … well, what? It can’t continue, can it?
Well, just before Brexit kills everything stone dead next year, the hottest place in town has apparently opened.
Hide is a twenty million pound extravaganza spread over three floors, the top one peeping over Green Park towards Her Maj in Buckingham Palace. Word of mouth hype before it opened was almost deafening: London’s wunderkind chef, the most expensive wines on the planet, unlimited Russian backing, the choicest plot in Mayfair. It was even said there was going to be a secret car elevator to take Oligarchs to their private dining rooms! God, some people will buy anything.
In April it opened to polite, if muted applause. A few reviews were ecstatic, others not so much. Any place can withstand a lukewarm critique, but this was going to be London’s EMP. This was to be restaurant nirvana.
The background is solid enough. Ollie Dabbous arrived with a bang in Fitzrovia in 2012. The first review I read of his eponymous gaff was actually by Raymond Blanc, his mentor, but others more objective were equally celebratory. Adjacent Pollock’s Toy Museum in a converted games parlour on Whitfield Street, it was also opposite my old office, which made me one of the few people not to be overawed by the post industrial decor – the room had looked like that for years. I fell for it all immediately: the reconstituted coddled egg and mushroom, the beef tartar with cigar oil and whisky, the king crab. It was famously booked solid, but like other “impossible” restaurants, two weeknight walk-ins, willing to spend half an hour at the basement bar, can invariably be squeezed in.
Hide’s moneyman is no slouch either. Yevgeny Chichvarkin made gazillions in Russia, growing then selling a mobile phone empire before he was 35. His Mayfair offie, Hedonism, stocks almost every wine an exiled oligarch might desire. But what about that rare 2009 Romanee Conti I hear you ask? Certainly sir, yours for, say, £10K, plus the private jet to whizz it in from Honkers.
My needs tend to be simpler: it is the only London stockist of my favourite McLaren Vale Shiraz, (£19.40), plus there’s a glass wall showcasing off-the-scale vintage Chateau d’Yquem which lights up as you approach, a silent magic lantern for oenophiles they could sell tickets for.
All wines kept at Hedonism can be drunk at Hide, the list can be perused on a leather bound iPad which means bottles can be whisked to your table within 15 minutes, courtesy of a small electric van. (There’s a shorter, printed list for the stuff kept downstairs).
I finally went on a boiling Friday lunchtime, to Above, the coo, (air conditioned!) top floor where vast picture windows frame the royal trees and wilting shrubbery of Green Park, beyond a foreground of Piccadilly traffic: black cabs, delivery vans, red double deckers. My screenwriter pal was unable to resist occasionally waving to the tourists in open topped buses, showing himself to be one of Pulp’s originals. And of course they waved back. Buswankers.
As the guest, I politely opted for the set lunch, a Mayfair mix of pleasure and value, as opposed to the multi course tasting menu which, in this week’s heat, would have had me asleep at the wheel by four pm.
They knew the farmer’s name, the strain of tomato used in the gazpacho, the fresh herbs used in that morning’s Italian crispbread
£42 for three courses plus an introductory spread of “Vegetables, Flesh and Bones, Bread and Broth” a full tableload of sunny, miniaturised canapes, sauces, chilled soup, and skewered charcuterie. The breads are made every night in house. The softened, salted primrose yellow teardrop of creamily delicious butter is too. It all got Instagrammed, yes, but much more importantly everything tasted fully of itself, even the lightly pickled celery. I asked if the miniscule radish, the size zero carrots, the baby lettuce were from Green Park Tube’s branch of Marks and Spencer. They’re not, obviously, but grown to order on a Cornish farm by a former chef.
The young, happy, eager to help European staff were bursting with information. All you have to do is let them talk. They knew the farmer’s name, the strain of tomato used in the gazpacho, the fresh herbs used in that morning’s Italian crispbread.
It could all have gone a bit foodie were it not for the fact that we were there for lunch to enjoy ourselves and chat. That’s why people go to restaurants, right? Not to perv over the food. But then I had “beetroot tartar” (menu for chopped beetroot) where the accompanying horseradish cream was theatrically poured at table and yes, I Instagrammed that too. I even offered a taste to D because the cream was deliciously mellow and likeable, not that sinus clearing Sunday Roast flamethrower stuff. The beetroot was sweet, juicy and fruity. I cleared the lot, wiping the bowl clean with what remained of our sourdough.
By now, it was obvious that Dabbous has not lost any of his capacity to keep flavour paramount. Never mind the on trend vegetable forward menu, this was forward facing taste. It all looked pretty enough, but it was our tastebuds that were tingling. A main of courgette flower stuffed with king crab was – to someone who has deep fried more than his fair share of the damn things – prettily perfect, offset neatly by the accompanying miniature courgette itself. Neither bitter nor wet, it was on point, answering the eternal question of what purpose squash actually fulfils. The king crab stuffing was firm, juicy, meatily delicious, retaining sweetness and delicacy despite its featherlight battering.
Another helping of crab, concealed in a bowl underneath the plate, was light, sweet, white meat with little Jersey Royals bathed in seaweed butter. Summery seaside tastes in W1.
Being a hot day, we were unusually abstemious, a couple of glasses recommended by one of the young sommeliers, including a perfectly balanced New Zealand Riesling – Domaine Rewa from Otago – disappointingly absent from the Hedonism mothership list.
To finish, a cheese trolley of aircraft carrier proportions, awash with little glass bell jars restraining each cheese and its whiff, more science lab than restaurant, and strawberries, of which our waiter knew the variety, as well as where the cream had been clotted.
Lingering, we noticed that the subtle natural hues of the room hadn’t been sullied by loud yahoos, city financiers, or oligarchs with statuesque Russian nieces in tow, who tend to populate that strip of Mayfair connecting Sexy Fish with Novikov. Everyone seemed disarmingly normal, very probably enjoying the same set lunch as us.
On leaving, we peered in the two upstairs private dining rooms, imaginatively entitled Hide and Seek, which had their own personal rest rooms. “What’s that?” I asked a passing staff member, pointing at a third door.
“Ssssh” she whispered conspiratorially, revealing what appeared to be a large garage “This is the car elevator”.
“Oh” I said. C
Hide Restaurant 85 Piccadilly, London W1J 7NB
020 3146 8666; 85piccadilly.co.uk