I'm always on the hunt for two things when choosing a restaurant in London. If it's not for a special occasion or random splurge then i always look for the underdog. That restaurant who goes relatively undiscovered and also one which represents great value for money. Antidote Wine Bar just off Carnaby Street ticks both boxes. I've been walking past this popular little restaurant for a couple of years now, always telling myself I'd pop in, but never did. Just as i decided to head down in February they'd closed for a refurbishment - just my luck. But then i heard a rumour, and got a little excited.
After a little research on the Internet i discovered that not only was the refurb revealing a fresh new looking dining room, but also that Michelin Starred Hedone in Chiswick's head chef, Mikael Jonsson would be overseeing the menus. Chris Johns (former senior sous chef of L'autre Pied) would be the one delivering this food to us fellow diners from the kitchen. The restaurant still offers its staple small plates downstairs, but upstairs a sumptuous four course meal can be had at lunch for £27, or £40 for dinner.
Once food critic Fay Maschler made her way down after the opening and blogger Chris Pople of Cheese and Biscuits divulged - everyone started to notice Antidote Wine Bar just a little bit more. Especially its bread. The bread is a recipe from the kitchens of Hedone and is baked fresh daily and delivered all the way to Soho every morning. Hailed as 'The Best Bread in Britain' i unfortunately can't agree with that accolade. Yes this sourdough is good, solidly charred underneath and has a crumpet like texture, but for me it was just a little too crisp and a little too chewy. It was good bread, sure - but perhaps this is only the best bread when it's hot and straight out of the ovens of Hedone.
I really had no idea what to expect from the new menu here, but once a little amuse bouche of cucumber slivers, sorbet and yogurt arrived i knew things were going to be special. Freezing cold, and astonishingly refreshing - what a way to start our lunch. It quite literally induced salivating and left a tingle to the tongue. With all the flavour in this amuse bouche, it strangely managed to cleanse the palate and prepare the taste buds for what was coming next.
I've never eaten at Hedone, but i do have plans to and if this is a little insight into the cooking that goes on there - then I'm sold. What may sound like a simple starter of heirloom tomato salad with barrel aged feta, was much more than that. Once upon a time i used to despise tomatoes, and i discovered the reason was not because of the texture (my conclusion at the time), but simply because I'd just never had a very good one. Antidote Wine Bar managed to squeeze some of the best tomatoes i have ever eaten on to a plate - well half a plate anyway. The feta was served as a sort of soft sorbet with shaving of ice. As it started to melt everything poured out over the plate, saturating the tomatoes. The dish was so incredibly fresh, vibrant and packing a real depth of flavour from the feta - words simply don't do this dish justice.
Our other starter was one hell of a plate of food - at least in its size anyway. A huge dish was filled with strips of suckling pig (which I'd prefer ever so slightly thicker) that had the most amazing snappy crackling that was nicely salted. The meat was flavoursome but lukewarm, instead of hot or cold. Dollops of apricot puree, glazed carrots, jus and endive made for such a mouth-watering starter. Yet again we were practically drooling on to the table. I ordered a glass of Organic natural made wine which was served unfiltered and cloudy, with its slightly green apple aroma and stark acidity it went perfectly with the pig.
The best dish throughout our meal, apart from the dessert was this stunning to look at confit duck leg, heritage beetroot and onion compote. The confit leg was by far the best example i have ever eaten. Moist and stringy inside, with incredibly crispy skin on the outside. Beetroot served as a puree, plus whole pieces which were sweet and earthy, while the onion compote somehow magically blended everything together with another touch of its sweetness. All of this gorgeous food was sitting in a thin, light gravy that was more similar to a consomme, glistening and completely clear - yet with all the flavour
Cornish pollock, mussels , spring cabbage and cobnuts was a dish i only ordered because my greedy dining companion who always orders the meat, had the duck. I have an insatiable appetite and always want to try just about everything when i dine out, so feel obliged to order something different. And I'm so glad i ended up ordering this. The pollock was so well cooked it actually made me forget the last time (if ever) i had a piece of fish cooked this well. The top of (or the base depending where you are) was beautifully crisp with a lip licking saltiness to it. Mussels were juicy, cob nuts were interesting but really didn't add much flavour and with the cabbage and vegetable smear running underneath the fish - someone was really showing off now. Serious talent lurks in the kitchens here.
When i saw chocolate moelleux on the menu i couldn't say no. It's one of my favourite desserts. But when it came out it was nothing like i was expecting. A moelleux? I'm not so sure. It was more similar to Soho's Gautier Louis XV chocolate crunch and praline slice. Whatever it exactly was, i can say it was easily one of the best desserts i have ever eaten. The chocolate outer was gleaming with such perfection i could see my reflection in it, and the inside was quite literally the inside of heaven. Decadent, chocolaty and a layer of something crunchy at the bottom. It came with a serving of lemon sorbet - that was equally as good. This dessert needed its own name.
So did Antidote Wine Bar closing down for a refurb and employing Mikael Jonsson to instruct the kitchen deliver results? Most definitely. Antidote has become one of Soho's best restaurants, offering fantastic value for money, a great selection of wines and informative (not necessarily attentive) service. There have been speculations of Antidote getting a Michelin star and while i think the food is definitely on its way, I'm not so sure the restaurant quite conforms to Michelin standards. It somehow still feels too basic inside. But who knows, the Michelin critics can be a very surprising bunch of people.