Upstairs, Downstairs and where the two meet
There are restaurants where it’s clear that compromises have been made. Whether due to money, time or stress, or some unfortunate combination of all three, a restaurant’s premises, location or menu sometimes aren’t quite what its proprietor and chef would have liked them to be. I’d be very surprised indeed if any compromises have been made at Hide, the successor to the now-closed Dabbous in Fitzrovia. From the curvaceously Gaudi-esque staircase to the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Green Park, Hide looks like a million bucks. There are plenty of neat little touches to its interior, from the handsome fittings in the bathrooms to the USB power banks tucked away in drawers underneath every table.
Even so, Hide’s pre-opening marketing set off my Spidey sense by touting the restaurant’s hatefully ostentatious elements, such as the alleged private dining room with its own car lift. Y’know, the sort of things that appeal to the exiled warlords, shyster plutocrats, would-be Bond villains and the other one percenters that pass for locals in this part of town.
And yet I found myself won over by the menu at Hide, well one of them anyway. The roughly U-shaped mezzanine, called Hide Above, has a nine-course tasting menu. The ground-floor Hide Ground has a separate a la carte menu. Although there are some obvious similarities in technique between the two, one proved to be far more satisfying than the other.
The tasting menu at Hide Above
Although you can just about see the kitchen through the partially-frosted windows on the mezzanine at Hide Above, it’s not the visual focus here as some other restaurant kitchens are. If you’re fortunate enough to get a window-side table, then you can take in the expansive views over Piccadilly and Green Park. If not, then the soothing blonde woods of the furniture and fittings as well the soft-ish lighting, the view over the ground-floor tables and the free WiFi will have to keep you distracted. Not that much distraction is needed – the gaps between courses were short, with everything evenly paced.
A thin mushroom soup was the perfect way to start a meal – light yet teasing the tongue with an earthy umami.
Pork and duck charcuterie came wrapped around the sanitary ends of a fake bone and feather respectively, just in case you’d forgotten that meat comes from animals. Both were exceedingly fine, the pork with a sweet umami similar to what you’d find in a Chinese lap cheong wind-dried sausage. The duck captured the earthy denseness of the bird well.
Crisp, crunchy crudités were fine, but paled into insignificance next to the sumptuous selection of breads. Almost every one, with the obvious exception of the crisp piadina-ish flatbreads, were soft yet gently elastic. Tearing each bun and slice apart produced the sort of erotic fluffy carb trails you only usually see in highly edited M&S commercials. The aniseed-ish, raisiny roll was a particular favourite.
Dumplings with celeriac as the skin and avocado as the filling sounds like an Instagram vegan’s fevered wet dream, but don’t let that put you off. The crisp yet sweet and pliable celeriac exterior was a textural marvel. The lightly creamy morsel of avocado inside wouldn’t have been as enjoyable without the lashings of ‘soup’ the dumpling came in. Its gentle sweet herbiness was truly remarkable in its own right, but even better when taken with the avocado. A true delight from beginning to finish.
Lightly chewy cubes of raw tuna were sashimi-esque, but the small cubes didn’t do the fish any favours texturally. This dish was rescued by the creamy sweetness and gentle heat of the nuanced wasabi and the umami tang of caviar. The two toppings got along like a house on fire.
Mushrooms fortified with egg yolk was essentially the cream of mushroom soup we all need, but never get. Unctuously creamy and comforting, yet never cloying, it was a seamless blend of ovoid and fungus.
Slices of cured plaice, an unusual treatment that I’ve never seen before, bore an unsurprising resemblance to gravlax. While enjoyable enough in its own right with a meaty chewiness and herby sweetness, it didn’t have anything that a good gravlax doesn’t. Apart from perhaps a greater level of sustainability.
Sitting in a bowl underneath the plate of plaice were oddly crab-like flakes of squid. Any doubts were soon assuaged by the creamy umami of the bouillabaisse-style broth and peppery sweet rouille, both neatly complimenting the light meatiness of the squid flakes. It might not be a traditional bouillabaisse, but I don’t really care that much when the result is so boldly, profoundly delicious.
Crisp turnip and crab were bound together in a sweet, vegetal sauce. The crab was oddly soft and yet still managed to evoke enough of the sea to avoid being a straight dud. Although far from bad, the odd texture of the crab and the somewhat muddled flavour combinations in this dish means it was ultimately unconvincing.
Gamey goose cooked rare was the only red meat dish of the evening, but it came smothered in chopped, fried kale for some reason. The frying made the kale resemble the fried, chopped and salted cabbage often passed off as ‘seaweed’ in many Chinese takeaways. Even if it didn’t have this unfortunate association, the kale was just out of place next to the otherwise well-prepared slices of goose. The maple-like sweetness of the birch sap was a bit too much though, especially when taken with the celeriac cream, overpowering the goose. An unbalanced, unsatisfying and misguided dish.
A shrug-inducing dollop of ice cream was noteworthy only for being served on a hefty big rectangle of ice. There were even frozen flower petals inside the ice block, suggesting that possibly more thought had gone into this over-engineered plate substitute than into the ice cream itself. There are skewed, skwiffy priorities. Then there’s this unintentional joke at the kitchen’s expense.
It’s always an odd tasting menu where you can choose between two main desserts – the usual point of a tasting menu is that the chef has used their expertise and judgment to choose the cream of the crop for you, rather than delegating that job to you. I ended up choosing both desserts, rather than picking one or the other, and ended up wishing for a Cornetto instead.
The coconut five ways sounds like a sordid after-dinner activity in the toilets at the nearby Novikov, but was actually a deeply dull assortment of vaguely coconut-flavoured confections. From meringue to sponge and ice cream, none of it was particularly appealing. When the tastiest thing on this plate was a drizzle of caramel at the bottom, then something has gone very wrong indeed.
A stacked selection of limp choux pastries filled with an unconvincing almond cream was notable more for looking like a miniature marzipan pope than for tasting good. Everything changed when the cold brew jasmine tea on the side was brought into the mix – its distinct floral aroma meshed with the pastry and cream to produce a sweet smokiness somewhat akin to an Earl Grey. This dessert would’ve been much poorer without this tea.
The petit fours were similarly bifurcated as the desserts that preceded them. A marshmallow pustule on a liquorice stick was deeply forgettable. Only the pleasingly bittersweet chocolate leaf had anything good to say for itself.
Weekend a la carte at Hide Ground
While I’m still convinced that the best way to serve carabinero red prawns is to do so as simply as possible, there’s still much to recommend Hide Ground’s somewhat more convoluted preparation. The lip-smacking umami of the broth, apparently prepared using the prawns’ own shells, neatly segued into the delicate sweetness of the quivering crustaceans. A few crisp greens and drops of a herby concoction emphasised that quality even further. The kitchen at Mãos should be taking notes.
Thinly sliced lamb charcuterie was true to the animal, alive with funk and fat, but without a hint of grease and didn’t overpower the palate or outstay its welcome.
I had already discovered that Hide’s baker can knock out some top-notch bread, but that point was driven home again by the pillowy soft flatbread that tore apart like tissue paper, leaving elastic carby trails in its wake. Although the wrinkly morels scattered on top weren’t quite aromatic and funky enough, they were still texturally pleasing. They also had plenty of earthiness to compliment the gently fatty lardo and bitter herbs, easily making a hatrick.
Steak tartare arrived ssam-style, each wrap held together by miniature clothes pegs – almost as if Ena Sharples had given it the once over at the pass. Although far from bad, this is steak tartare designed for Instagram – it looked better than it tasted. The fruity sweetness of the floral garnishes was pleasing, but also bold enough to push whatever qualities the raw beef might have had into obscurity. This was one of those rare meat dishes that could easily have been done just as well with seitan, tempeh or an aptly chosen tofu.
While the octopus wasn’t quite as firm and springy as the version available at Santo Remedio, it was superior to the tentacle served at the nearby Ella Canta. The smokiness of the dark crimson then pale tentacle was aptly complimented by the sugary tannic sweetness of grapes, the bittersweet herbs and the lightly creamy labneh-like yoghurt. The dish wrapped itself around my affections and just wouldn’t let go.
Burrata served warm wasn’t quite milky, creamy or elastic enough. And yet it wasn’t a dud due to a combined lemony zestiness and the floral sweetness of basil. Then there was the sumptuous prune-like sweetness of the confit tamarillo, which added another layer of richness. Against all that, a somewhat duller than usual burrata was almost a blessing rather than a drawback. Almost.
Acorn-flour cake was, for all intents and purposes, a rum baba. The sponge was corpulently rich, every squidgy seam and fibre soaked in rum so that it tore apart like wet silk. Despite its heaviness, a mild nuttiness still managed to shine through the boozy tang. While eminently enjoyable, its unapologetic heft and swagger makes this autumnal/wintery dessert feel rather out of place as we start entering the warmer months.
Soft serve ice cream is a good way of cleansing the palate after such an in-your-face dessert. The barley flavour was reminiscent of Hawksmoor’s cornflake milkshake, but more malty – a quality emphasised by the bittersweetness of the fine-grained chocolate crumbs underneath. The bottom layer of adzuki beans were surprisingly tame though, adding only a bit of late-stage vegetal sweetness and nuttiness.
Weekday a la carte at Hide Ground
Chicken liver parfait was wispy to the point of weightlessness, yet it still had an unmistakable creamy earthiness. The tart fig chutney proved surprisingly complimentary, but what really caught the eye were the doorstop thick slices of brioche. Despite their elephantine thickness, they were surprisingly tame tasting. This was quite fitting though, allowing the chicken liver parfait to remain the centre of attention.
The quality of the baking in the kulcha-esque flatbreads was just as good as it had been before, but the quality of the toppings doesn’t always do the carbs justice. Sweet, gently zingy herbs deserved a similarly high-quality ricotta, not the drab flecks that turned up instead.
That wasn’t the weakest of the topped flatbreads though – that dubious honour went to the ‘sesame labne’. That, unsurprisingly, turned out to be tahini for all intents and purposes and yet its profound nuttiness didn’t manifest until late in the game. The pickled veg weren’t sharp or tart enough, either. Shame.
Baron Greenback was taken aback by the quality of the chestnut parcels. I was similarly impressed – delicate yet sturdy ravioli-style parcels were fit to burst with a profoundly nutty, gently creamy filling. It blended in effortlessly with the thin yet distinctly earthy duck broth – unsurprisingly reminiscent of some Japanese soba broths.
Grilled clawless langoustines resembled crayfish, especially in their plump firmness. While pleasing enough, despite the meh rosemary and truffled cream on the side, I couldn’t help but pine after the more delicately textured yet infinitely more flavoursome langoustines sometimes available at Brat.
The steamed turbot is one of the alternate options on the tasting menu upstairs at Hide Above and is also available a la carte at Hide Ground. Wherever you end up, don’t pass up this dish up. Delicate yet meaty, milky yet ending with a clear aftertaste. Crisp greens were exceptionally well-chosen, balancing a salty evocation of the sea with an almost basil-like sweetness. The lip-smackingly moreish broth, apparently made from the bones of the fish, neatly bound everything together. Turbot is enjoying something of a renaissance in popularity across London’s restaurants, from Mãos to Brat and Duddells. Hide’s steamed version is easily one of the best.
Somewhat inevitably, the skrei cod couldn’t quite compare to the superlative turbot. It still wipes the floor with most other cod dishes though, its meaty flanks topped with a neatly browned, caramelised crust. A nutty and umami broth came dotted with quinoa-like toasted buckwheat and delicate, quivering little mushrooms, all of which added enviable layers of flavour to the fish. Sumptuous.
Barley soft serve ice cream was just as good as it was before, which also meant that the adzuki beans were just as underwhelming as they had been before.
Oops. I forgot to take a photo of this one. But that’s OK, you already know what it looks like.
Eggy creamy custard was whippy yet tinged with the smokiness of Earl Grey as well hints of saffron and a sweetness I couldn’t quite place. Despite the unnecessary if artfully crisp curls of apple, this delightful custard was eminently light yet satisfying.
Pear sorbet neatly captured the musky sweet essence of the fruit, no doubt helped along by extant pear pieces, while remaining effortlessly refreshing. It was the texture of the sorbet that was especially notable, though. Effortlessly light and evenly smooth throughout, it was almost akin to a ball of snow on the cusp of melting – except it was completely free of any crunchy ice crystals. Even though that description makes it sound like a pricey Slush Puppie, it’s still easily one of the most astonishingly accomplished sorbets I’ve ever had.
The food at both Hide Above and Hide Ground, like the decor, was refined yet light and airy. Unlike so many other spendy modernish restaurants though, the a la carte menu doesn’t feel like it’s playing second fiddle to the tasting menu. Indeed, in many respects, the a la carte menu at Hide Ground was far more consistently accomplished than Hide Above’s tasting menu. The latter felt as if it was constantly contorting itself to find new ways of being clever, on-trend and worthy. Freed from that self-imposed straightjacket of its upstairs sibling, Hide Ground felt more at ease with itself in its expertly chosen and prepared seafood, charcuterie, bread and vegetables.
In short, skip the upstairs tasting menu in favour of eating a la carte downstairs. Hide Ground isn’t perfect either and it’s still unavoidably expensive, but the precision, bold flavours and quirky character of its menu are worth every penny.
Address: 85 Piccadilly, London W1J 7NB
Phone: 0203 146 8666
Opening Hours: Monday-Friday 07.30-midnight. Saturday 09.00-midnight. Sunday 09.00-23.30.
Average cost for one person including soft drinks and service charge: £120 approx. for the tasting menu; £85 approx. a la carte; £100 approx. a la carte if you push the boat out
Rating: Hide Ground – ★★★★★
Hide Above – ★★★☆☆