Years ago,when the world was young and I looked less like Ming the Merciless, I saved up my pennies and went to Bibendum. At that time, it was, arguably, THE restaurant in London. The Chef, Simon Hopkinson was at at the top of his game and the Conran empire was decidedly fledgling. It was everything I could have hoped for. A stunning room, formal service and food which, at the time, made a marked difference to the dining out my baby publisher's career would allow. I went back several times after that and, while it was still solid, it never quite had the same impact.
It had been at least seven years since I last went back, so tonight, when some dear dear publishing chums from Aschehoug in Denmark invited us to join them there for supper, I was more than a little curious and willing to schlep all the way across town from the Excel centre.
If truth be told, time had in fact stood still since my last visit.
The room remains entirely unchanged and one of the most beguiling in London. The service is formal but efficient and friendly and probably still represents the better end of what the Conran group can do. The food, while hardly creating any fireworks at all, is solid enough and certainly suitable for a convivial supper with good friends and business colleagues.
Once we had all arrived, we began with some excellent Belinni's. Not a drink I would ever order for myself as it is preternatuarlly girly. However, not bad at all. Perhaps I am in touch with my feminine side. Who knew?
To begin, I along with most of the table, chose the crab mayonnaise on a salad of watercress and herbs. What came was a small mound of achingly fresh white meat flanked by a nice amount of rich brown meat and a very good thick mayo. Small, but perfectly formed. Very enjoyable.
Others went for salads and one of the group went for the much more substantial option of a fried spinach & ricotta cake with a poached egg and anchovy hollandaise. An enormo portion. It would have been too much for my appetite at that time, but she seemed to get through it in good order and seemed to enjoy.
For some reason, perhaps as the only man in the group, I was handed the wine list. Often an anxious moment if one is choosing the wine for a party when one is not paying. However, on the instruction to find something "light" I found a Vouvray ( Vincent Rimbaud 2002 ) for £24 and the Chenin Blanc suited perfectly with our meals.
For my main course, I went for Ris De Veau. A very well executed dish of a large sweetbread with plump large capers and a beurre noisette. I have not had this dish for years and, at the end of a long day, it was a little rich for me. But, being a brave little soldier, I polished it off.
Other choices around the table seemed equally well executed if not pushing any boundaries. I was particularly taken with the Roast Hake with Salsa Verde and wilted rocket which was chosen by three of the group. A much underrated fish in this country but well worth the effort if you can find it.
Given that the rest of the group was all female, there seemed little chance that we would not have pudding. I was entirely unoriginal with a chocolate fondant which, while fine and coming with a lovely pistachio ice cream was not close to being as tasty and a date and almond cake with Kummel Ice Cream. The host brought us a glass of Kummel to try. I have to admit I had not ever tasted it before. A schnapps made with caraway seeds. Rather splendid. He also comped us a bowl of Basil Sorbet which another at the table had with a pinapple carpaccio.
The min tea test was aced. No teabags here, people. It came with some workaday petits. Points deducted for a failure to pass the napkin test however. Shameful
I have no idea what the bill came to it being one of the very rare times when we were being treated. I don't doubt it was close to the GNP of some latin American countries.
Still, quite interesting to go back in time like that. Made me feel like a chubby Dr Who.