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August 19, 2011 10:13 pm
Mikael Jonsson has just opened his first restaurant at the age of 44.
It is called Hedone, from the Greek word for pleasure, and it is located in a former Lebanese grill and nightclub on Chiswick High Road, west London.
After 25 years believing that his allergies would stymie his dream career as a chef, Jonsson is likely to derive as much satisfaction from Hedone as anyone fortunate enough to eat there.
We went one evening with an old friend who has spent the past 30 years in a quiet village in Devon. He looked at the menu and, with a large grin on his face, declared, “How exciting.” Everything we ate and drank lived up to that adjective.
Hedonism here means either a five-course menu for £45 or an eight-course menu at £60, with two meat main courses to choose from, aged Angus beef or squab pigeon. The maîtresse d’ coped admirably with the request from two fish eaters to have the turbot instead, and a series of excellent dishes ensued.
We all began with a small egg cup filled with an umami flan, more a custard in the French sense, topped with a seaweed coulis that proved a stunning appetiser. Some opted for the gazpacho with a chilled dill flower cream, others a slow-cooked egg with Scottish girolles. Then came a trio of highlights: small, thick rounds of Dorset wild turbot with almonds, a symphony in white; one thick slice of well-aged beef; and for me, the star of the show, an Irish abalone, opened, sliced, steamed and then cooked briefly in its own juices so that it had all the flavour of the sea but none of the usual rubberiness.
And all this before the aroma of the lemon madeleines that filled the room as they were taken out of the oven at 10.45pm.
It is possible to see and describe all this because Jonsson has created his corner kitchen in full view of his customers. Tall, red-haired and bearded with the requisite large hands that can prise the meat from a rib of beef or take a live lobster and put a knife swiftly through its back, Jonsson is clearly enjoying himself.
He is also softly spoken, prepared to accommodate his customers’ particular demands and ferociously determined to find the very best produce. For Jonsson, cooking is not so much a passion as “an obsession, a drug almost” that has been with him since he was a boy growing up in his native Sweden. “I baked my first sourdough loaf when I was eight,” he told me. As a teenager, this interest culminated in a stint in the kitchens of Johanna, in Gothenburg, then Sweden’s most respected restaurant. But allergies, particularly eczema, blocked this career path.
Jonsson then turned to the law and business school, and a successful entrepreneurial career eventually took him to France where he could, at least, indulge his love of food and wine. Four years ago, a change in diet, which Jonsson described as the elimination of sugar, wheat and man-made oils, restored his health and allowed him to dream at last of opening his own restaurant.
“It was either going to be in Paris or London,” he explained. “The former appealed because of the produce and the contacts I had there already but I was very wary of the labour laws. London I knew would be more receptive to my style of cooking but I never thought that I would be able to find the quality of produce that I have been able to source.”
Jonsson has been stunned by the beef he has been able to buy from O’Shea’s in Knightsbridge and the speed with which fish suppliers have responded to his demands.
“I told them that I want the fish so fresh that if there were a vet here by my side he could make them swim again. It is criminal, I think, for a fish to be still in rigor mortis because it has been caught so recently but then put in a polystyrene box and covered in ice. It simply ruins the fish.” The abalone, dived for off the coast of Ireland, came to him via a Japanese supplier, while he extolled the qualities of the scallops he is buying, dived for off the Dorset and Cornish coasts.
Rents and rates in central London led Jonsson to this unlikely suburban location. But he has spent his £300,000 sensitively. The room is comfortable while the views of this obsessive Swedish chef engaging with his brigade, and moulding them, and his produce, into the paradigm of the restaurant he has long dreamt of, are exceptional. It is all so quirky that somehow Chiswick High Road seems Hedone’s logical home.
More columns at www.ft.com/lander
301-303 Chiswick High Road, London W4, 020 8747 0377, www.hedonerestaurant.com
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