Heston Blumenthal’s relatively new London restaurant, Dinner is so named to reflect its menu – an innovative tribute to Britain’s extensive gastronomic history.
A dining experience such as this, set in the home of the 2012 Olympics, perfectly complements The Gourmet Belle’s current British motif; so it is jolly fortunate that I recently enjoyed dinner at Dinner.
A real sense of occasion was firmly established the moment we rolled up to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel; the grandiose, old-worldy building that houses Heston’s swish noshery.
We were warmly greeted at the door by immaculately attired staff who swiftly relayed us through the opulent lobby and up richly, carpeted stairs to the lively Mandarin Bar.
I beseechingly glanced over at my dining companion to plead for a little aperitif, only to discover she was already across the room in animated conversation with the restaurant’s hostess, and eagerly waving me over; her voraciousness palpable. And who was I to delay the ‘Heston experience’?
I must stress up front that Dinner is not another Fat Duck. The Dinner dining experience is not intended to be the prolonged sensory extravaganza that is the signature of its sister establishment.
Dinner by Heston is simply an elegant, fine dining restaurant. Dishes are expertly prepared and delivered with a modest amount of fanfare; indeed, any ‘floor show’ is limited to the spectacle of whole pineapples roasting on pulley-operated spits behind the large glass walls of the kitchen (more on the pineapples later).
The restaurant’s interior is dimly-lit, sleek and contemporary and fitted-out in rich leather and dark wood. It is almost corporate in appearance – perhaps owing to its location in a hotel – yet the design is also reflective of Heston’s refined and precise persona.
Finishing touches are provided by innovative and carefully considered ornamentations, many of which are playful references to the restaurant’s focus on Britain’s culinary past (the custom made light fittings are antique jelly moulds. Very cool).
But, enough of all that, let’s talk about why we were really here – the food.
Although we had already spent an inordinate amount of time pouring over the online menu, it was still obligatory that we reassess each historically-inspired offering and then gracelessly swivel around in our seats to gawk at every dinner plate that came whizzing by.
Each dish on the menu is dated approximate to the time of its origin, cleverly emphasising the novelty of serving up its modern incarnation. A little fact, relating to the history of dining in Britain, is also discretely printed on the underside of the menu holder. This is impressive and discussion-provoking if, like me, you are a complete nerd (culinary or otherwise). If you are not, then a glass of pre-dinner champers should help to drown out the geeky drivel (or at least prevent you from reaching across the table and slapping the boring windbag you are dining with).
Anyway, this boring windbag eventually decided on the famed Nettle Porridge (c.1660) for her entrée.
The porridge component – a velvety emulsion of grains and nettle leaves – was packed with flavour. Moored in this sea of bright green soup, was a perfectly roasted nugget of succulent cod; topped off with smoked beetroot and a refreshing garnish of garlic, parsley and fennel. Delightful.
The nettles imparted a pleasing, tingly sensation to the dish; rousing my tastebuds and piquing my appetite for the main course.
My dinner companion (let’s call her Ms P) plumped for the Tudor-inspired Meat Fruit (c.1500) to start. It was agreed from the outset that we would (kinda) share each of our dishes and we were both really looking forward to tucking into Heston’s legendary meat masquerading as fruit.
It didn’t disappoint. To begin with, the dish is visually awesome. It really does look like a plump and glossy mandarin, right down to the dimpled skin. Said skin is actually a zesty citrus gel, which cossets a generous ball of the lightest chicken liver parfait I have ever eaten. The moussey chicken is rich and heavenly and is perfectly complemented by the subtle, fruity zing of the ‘mandarin peel’. This dish is pure Heston (in my humble estimation anyway).
All of the entrées were incredibly tempting and I would have loved trying the Roast Marrowbone (c.1720), complete with snails, anchovy and pickled vegetables; and the Rice and Flesh (c.1390), consisting of saffron, calf tail and red wine. But, we had to make way for the following courses (and I didn’t fancy washing the dishes in order to settle the bill).
So, onto the mains.
Whenever I travel, I consciously (and almost exclusively) dine on cuisine that is traditional to the locality; and I always like to try something ‘exotic’ and new (particularly if it is difficult to find in Australia).
I was pretty confident choosing a dish from an ‘old-world’ British menu, created by a thoroughly modern culinary alchemist, would fulfil that remit. Still, despite the innovative choices, I had to concede that I had already sampled most of the ingredients listed alongside the main dishes (though, perhaps not prepared with such ‘wizardry’). That was excepting the pigeon.
Now, I have always wanted to try pigeon (and can’t believe it has taken this long). But, as I am not overly fowl-fond to begin with (with the exception of duck), and a pigeon is little more than a flying rodent, I have not exactly hammered down doors to get to it. But, I figured this was an opportune time to try it; when I could be confident of its quality and experience it at its best.
Dinner’s ‘expression’ of pigeon (Spiced Pigeon c1780) is certainly an attractive looking dish. The skilfully plated bird was expertly cooked (served pink) and accompanied by delicious, ale infused artichokes.
However, I can’t say that I was enamoured with pigeon meat (then again, I didn’t really think I would be). I found it too lean and lacking in the rich flavour found in other game birds.
Speaking of other game birds (sorry, clumsy segue), Ms P opted for the Powdered Duck Breast (c.1670) with smoked confit fennel and umbles for her main. The word ‘powdered’ relates to the method of curing the duck in salt, leaving it moist and full of flavour. And this dish certainly was.
The richness of the duck was further accentuated by the intense flavours of the smoked fennel and the umbles (umbles are the liver and kidney ‘bits’ of a deer (typically) and old British cookery books often contain recipes for ‘umble pies’).
Despite my initial reservations, I was pleased to discover that the medley of strong, earthy flavours were spot on and nicely balanced out by a slick of fruity glaze.
We were advised to order the restaurant’s signature, Tipsy Cake (c.1810) up front if we wished to have it for dessert. We did. So much so that Ms P and I ended up ordering one each (instead of sharing two different desserts).
Ostensibly it is an unassuming dish; a cast-iron pot containing warm brioche and a side of the aforementioned spit-roasted pineapple. While the wedge of caramelised pineapple was nice enough (and probably hyped up a little due to the theatrics surrounding its preparation), it was the comforting, yeasty brioche, bathing in a boozy, sticky syrup, that won me over and left me feeling decidedly nostalgic.
Somewhere along the way, I managed to navigate the expansive (and expensive) wine list and select a suitable accompaniment to our range of dishes. I decided on a bottle of young red Burgundy to match the gamey meat, earthy veg and fruity sauces of our main meals. It held up particularly well against the pigeon.
Dinner at Dinner was thoroughly enjoyable and worthy of the steep price tag (be particularly weary of the aggressively priced wine list). The overall dining experience was elevated by the excellent service (which was refreshingly unselfconscious, attentive and friendly, yet not overbearing) and the little added extras, such as the pot of luscious chocolate ganache and biscuit ‘dipping stick’ we received at the end of our meal.
The ingenious entrées were the definite highlight; and while the mains could not be faulted, they lacked the same allure. The Tipsy Cake was one of the most satisfying puds I have eaten in a long while, however it felt a little too rustic and somewhat out of place amongst the other carefully crafted dishes.
All in all, the only tiny disappointment was that we were not able to order Heston’s famous triple-cooked chips as a side dish (these were only available as part of the beef main dishes…so our inexplicable desire to eat avian pests meant we missed out).
But, this was a trifling pitfall in an otherwise impressive meal. If you are planning a trip to London, get organised and try to secure a booking for your own Heston experience!
Dinner by Heston
The Mandarin Oriental Hotel
Knightsbridge, London UK, SW1
Phone: +44 (020) 7201 3833
Average Price: £34 for main meals
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