Friday, 13th April 2018 – Hibiscus, Northampton
And so, knowing we would be out at the Errol Flynn Filmhouse later in the evening, we decided we’d have a second shot at Hibiscus, the fine dining restaurant (their words, not mine, but it is justifiable) tucked away inside the building. We’d booked in early with intent to leave ourselves enough time to test run their tasting menu, though as it turned out we ended up not doing. We still had a lovely leisurely dinner though. On arrival, we were greeted by Catherine, who had served us last time in her first week or so of work there, and who has now been promoted to assistant manager and was doing a splendid job. She remembered us, which was nice. Anyway, seated at a table by the window, we were able to get a good look at the space in daylight (there was precious little of that on offer last time, but it was February) and it still looks good, with greys and silvers blending attractively and a lovely view of Northampton Museum directly opposite and looking very spick and span these days.
A short scan of the wine list suggested that a bottle of Champagne would not be a bad thing (especially at the very reasonable prices charged) so we went for it. We were quickly supplied with bread rolls, both a white and a sundried tomato version, and some whipped butter to spread on them, so we settled in to study the menu. The tasting menu immediately took itself off the options list by virtue of having pork as a main, and chicken as a starter, both meats neither of us are keen on, so we opted for the three course menu instead.
First though came a rather fine wild garlic veloute as an amuse bouches. It did just what it was supposed to, and there was some use of bread to try and make sure none of the tasty green liquid got left in the bowl. Apparently, some diners had been turning their noses up at the offering and wouldn’t even taste it. More fool them is all I can say to that. It does go some way to illustrating the problems faced by anyone attempting to offer fine dining in this neck of the woods though. It’s also reminded me that it’s time to get out in my garden to harvest my crop of wild garlic soon though…
The starters arrived and went well with the champagne, which was a more fruit brand than I normally drink and none the worse for it. There was a strongly flavoured charred mackerel, with black olive caramel, and garnished with lightly pickled radish and fennel. It was good with a fruity dressing that counteracted the oiliness of the fish, perfectly filleted and made to look very pretty on the plate too.
Our other starter was grilllled English asparagus with several shavings of raw white asparagus, topped with what I can only describe as a perfectly poached hen’s egg, and accompanied by several blobs of the most delicious truffle mayonnaise. There was a scattering of Parmesan as well, though I admit I would have liked more.
For mains I went for the risotto. I have long harboured an obsession with risotto that has led me into all sorts of odd situations, made me some unexpected friends, and caused me to become a reasonably accomplished risotto chef in my own right. I still reckon the best risotto I have ever encountered came out of the Derby Grill restaurant in Monza, though Locanda Locatelli probably ran them a close-ish second. And here’s the only issue I had with the meal – for me, I would say the risotto was about 1-2 minutes over with the grains not as al dente as they ought to be in the very Spring-like pea and mint risotto. It was extremely tasty and pretty much shouted “summer’s almost here” in your mouth, but the texture wasn’t quite perfect. The roasted tenderstem broccoli was delicious too and I really liked the burnt baby onions which were almost sweet. Apparently it was the first risotto he’d sold all week… I do wonder about the locals sometimes!
The roasted stone bass was a complete success though. Served with a panzanella salad made with lovely chunks of ciabatta and served with a chilli and orange dressing, and a couple of plump juicy prawns, the fish and the salad complimented each other perfectly. The fish was beautifully cooked and the bread was crisply toasted and had absorbed the dressing making it sweet with just a touch of heat.
Lynne decided she couldn’t possibly manage a dessert (though she’d be willing to help me with mine), so it was two spoons and a vanilla and elderflower cheesecake, as apparently chef was very proud of his cheesecake. He had every right to be. It had a lovely crunchy base, a soft dense topping and a layer of elderflower gel to give it shine and texture. It was served with a quite delighful elderflower goats milk ice cream, some sharp, crisp compressed Granny Smith apples and a wonderful walnut crumb.
And by then it was almost time for the film. We’d drunk a large glass each of rose as well as the Champagne and come out with a bill for £117 for the two of us. It’s a bargain however you look at it. And so through to the cinema…