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  1. Wealth
July 12, 2013

Mikael Jonsson of Hedone’s Quiet Food Revolution

By Spear's

Mikael Jonsson, an unassuming Swede and former lawyer, is quietly, thoughtfully and rather brilliantly cooking up a culinary revolution

Mikael Jonsson, an unassuming Swede and former lawyer, is quietly, thoughtfully and rather brilliantly cooking up a culinary revolution

LAST AUTUMN THE food world was stunned to hear that a little-known restaurant called Hedone on Chiswick High Road in West London had won a Michelin star. ‘He-what?’ cried the munching fraternity. Hedone, which is a Greek word for pleasure, had been opened just fourteen months previously by a Swedish-born cook most people had not heard of, and there were mutterings that this man had no professional culinary experience and was by all accounts some kind of maniac.

What Mikael Jonsson is, I now discover, is a former lawyer (of the litigating kind) who had spent the majority of his life physically, but not mentally, repelled by food. A fanatical amateur cook, he opened a restaurant having never cooked in a restaurant. But what he was, and is, is an entrepreneurial type — obsessive to say the least — who rustled up enough money to do what his heart told him. 

I arrive to meet him at 10am and spy him at a corner table, swirling, sniffing, tasting and negotiating wine. As I wait for his meeting to finish I look around this unremarkable place, with bistro-type décor, no white tablecloths, some 30–40 covers and an open-plan kitchen with maybe five chefs.

When my time comes I eye up this ginger-mopped Swede with his scraggy beard, serious eyes and occasional cheeky, bordering on demonic, grin. He takes me downstairs, where there is a rather different private dining room — long table, white table cloth, floor-to-ceiling bookshelf wallpaper — and a room with a very large oven.

‘This is my small bakery,’ he says gleefully. ‘I’m making proper sourdough here, with no added commercial yeast. I do the bread myself, I don’t trust anyone else.’ He’s experimenting with using sourdough to make croissants, and I’m a willing guinea pig. They are seriously good: buttery with different textures throughout. They look a tad overcooked though, which I dare to mention. 

‘If anything they could have done with another ten minutes,’ he says. ‘I like bread to be a little bit burnt here and there.’

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So what of this man who came from nowhere to open a place that has also just entered a list of the world’s best restaurants at number 70? Having considered — from his home in Sweden — Paris or London for his venture, he opted for Chiswick.

‘It was extremely difficult,’ he says — a phrase he slips into the conversation repeatedly. ‘I had no real experience, had never cooked with the kind of equipment I had bought and I could find neither any staff nor suppliers who would take me seriously. It was a long struggle. Nobody can understand how painful it was.’ 

He started with two young French cooks who needed a place to stay in London more than a cheffing career, and went about cooking the sort of food that is on the menu today. We’re talking flame-grilled red mullet with potato-skin emulsion and beef juice, liquid Parmesan ravioli and puddings of warm chocolate and powdered raspberry.

‘I foresaw when we opened that I would need a good three months before the critics came,’ he says. They came in two weeks. Fay Maschler raved about it and, says Jonsson, ‘the phone started to ring every 30 seconds. In fact I had to pull it out of the socket.’

‘That was really painful, because we weren’t ready,’ he reflects. ‘Twenty covers was painful, and all of a sudden three of us had to do 30.’ Then AA Gill came, was ecstatic, and the phone went nuts again. But he started to cope, although he was surprised at the reaction. ‘I didn’t think we were that good,’ he says. 

‘Everyone had said we were crazy and it was very difficult and I was drowning because I couldn’t even get credit from wine suppliers,’ he says. But those same suppliers are now knocking on his door and now his customers are not just lapping up his food but they are spending a great deal on wine.

It’s not an economic trend, he believes. ‘We are unique,’ he states. ‘We are different from everybody else. We do everything from scratch here, nothing comes here ready-made. I try to get my fish before they go into rigor mortis. I look for fresh beef — a week to ten days after slaughter — that is extremely marbled. And there is so little of it you have to grab it.’ 

Illustration by Rebecca Buckland

Capital offence? 

As to the London food scene, he is circumspect about its position in the world. ‘I like the Ledbury, I like Jason Atherton and I see that London has tremendous potential to become a gastronomic capital, but we’re still way behind Paris.

‘Those who think we are ahead have no idea what they’re talking about. You simply cannot get the quality of produce that you can find on a Parisian street corner in this city. There are lots of young chefs with talent but there are too many places in London selling mediocre food at a price point that means people don’t complain.’ 

And what of his food intolerances? ‘I couldn’t touch food,’ he says. ‘I was allergic to literally everything.’ His solution, having suffered throughout childhood, was to revert to what he reckoned his ancestors ate.

‘Cavemen, those living on the Pacific islands, those who had no health care or dentistry, had no cavities in their teeth,’ he explains. ‘So I ate red meat, fat, bone marrow and not much veg. I lost 28 kilos in seven months and all my allergies disappeared.’

Jonsson points out the levels of sugar and polyunsaturated fats that most people consume today and comments: ‘The human body has not managed to adapt in such a short period to a diet that includes so much grain. And we are coming very close now to an awakening. The views about what we should be eating and avoiding are getting close to the mainstream and it’s a house of cards.’

There’s a revolution stirring in a bistro-type gaff in Chiswick. ‘Listen up, London,’ Jonsson seems to be saying. ‘You might learn something.’



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