Change is good, so they say. However, regulars of the legendary Bibendum restaurant in Chelsea might disagree. After years in which three people – design supremo Terence Conran, founding chef Simon Hopkinson and head chef Matthew Harris – were responsible for everything from the atmosphere to the menus, Harris has left and has been replaced by Peter Robinson, late of the Old Butchers in the Cotswolds.
The change has seen a subtle revitalisation of the menu. There is now a stronger Mediterranean influence, with some dishes of a more Italian bent on offer, and it has undergone a subtle renovation. The dining room is beautiful as ever; staff are as friendly and charming and the small touches remain. The butter, for instance, continues to arrive in Michelin man saucers, a nod to the building’s former incarnation as the Michelin building.
In order to test the kitchen’s strengths and weaknesses, my wife and I adopted a novel strategy. She would order dishes newly on the menu, whereas I would stick to the old favourites. Her starter of sage and ricotta gnudi (a Hopkinson classic) was the sort of thing that people write poetry about. Conversely, my escargots, while fine, seemed slightly less exciting than before. Perhaps I’m just getting cynical. The tables were turned for the main courses, though. Fillet steak au poivre was perfectly cooked and beautifully presented, although the pommes frites could have done with being a tad crispier. Her monkfish, meanwhile, was pleasant but unexceptional.
Pudding-wise, a chocolate fondant with salted caramel ice cream was satisfying, if slightly predictable. All in all, then, if we’re being brutal, the quality of the cooking is probably a notch below what it was under the Harris heyday. Yet the difference between ‘outstanding’ and merely ‘excellent’ is a slight one, and Bibendum still offers one of London’s most civilised dining experiences. In a world of pop ups, queues and small plates, there is something reassuring about this level of comfort and quality.
81 Fulham Road SW3; bibendum.co.uk
Dinner for two around £150
One of the best dining rooms in town, with top-notch food
What to eat…
The classic dishes are lobster, steak au poivre and the like, but the pasta ought to be sampled too
What to know…
Fine wine connoisseurs will be pleased by the newly introduced Coravin system, offering a chance to try exceptional wines by the glass
Words: Alexander Larman