Rather a lot has been written about Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. Really, what I should do is paste a link to Jay Rayner’s review and simply write “what he said”.
But this is theoretically a journal of my “food related experiences” [hmm, that sounds even more wanky than I feared when I started this 7-8 months ago] so I ought to at least document that I’ve been. Because I have, and it was great.
The restaurant is in the Mandarin Oriental, Knightsbridge. You may have read that the room clearly remains a hotel restaurant despite £6.5m of decoration. True. But I thought it was also a smart, yet informal and comfortable space that fostered a buzz (maybe that’s because Heston was in the room for a time (and a few other celebs for a bit longer)). The tables are bare wood, the serenely calm kitchen is encased by a cool glass box, the bespoke light fittings, wall mounts and chairs ooze quality (as they ought to for the price) and regardless of the fact people pay loads of money to stay the night above it, I would still rather sit here than many of the stuffy, carpeted and table-clothed rooms throughout central London.
Dinner’s signature dish is a physical and literal play on words. With (surely) some deference to the host hotel chain, the Meat Fruit is a mandarin that’s not a mandarin, but a fruit shaped ball of chicken liver parfait encased in the most perfect mandarin coloured, pimpled and tasting jelly. This would be impressive even if it didn’t taste fantastic. But it is as fine as any poultry parfait you’ll taste and the delicate sweet citrus outer is the perfect complimentary flavour. London Eater’s photo of this gives you a great idea of what I’m talking about (as always his other images are rather good too).
As I suspect many diners do, we ate the Meat Fruit in addition to our starters, mains and desserts. The rest of the food on offer is undoubtedly less playful: don’t go thinking the menu will include the weird and wonderful inventions Heston puts on TV. That said, the broths, seared meats, fish and puddings are each inspired by mostly forgotten old British recipes and are still the result of subtle technical wizardry. The ones we selected were a delight to eat.
I had lamb broth with a slow cooked hens egg (the result of the slow cooking was the most perfect poached egg). This was served with little cubes of turnips and radishes, sections of pickled shallots, and sweetbreads delicately coated in deep fried breadcrumbs. I suspect it was just the broth that was inspired by a British recipe book written in 1730 titled the Complete Practical Cook; the combination of delicate broth, oozing egg and crispy offal felt (pleasingly) Japanese. Salamagundy (blobs of bone marrow sitting on sweet chicken oysters and served with horseradish cream, caramelised strips lengths of salsify, and various salad leaves) was a load better than your average chicken salad. A novel assortment of disparate ingredients; which is exactly what it should be.
Spiced pigeon with ale and artichokes is a winner of a main course. I think at least a couple of fat pests must’ve been bagged from Trafalgar square to make this beautifully pink and meaty dish. Hands down the best pigeon I’ve ever had, and probably the nicest artichokes too. I can’t imagine any of the other 8 options would beat this. Indeed, though the 72 hour slow cooked short rib of Angus beef served with a smoked anchovy and onion puree was intriguingly soft and chewy (and certainly super tasty), a further 72 hours after the meal, I’m still getting spiced flying rat flashbacks. In a good way.
Some rather funky pineapples turning on a spit roast (which was built, probably entirely unnecessarily, to a watchmaker’s specifications) are on view in the kitchen. These are for the “tipsy cake” – a dessert that’s worth the 30 minute advance order. Imagine a cross between a rum baba and a bread and butter pudding. Then imagine something waaay better than than the best you’ve ever had of either of those. It’s an inexplicably cloud-light custardy brioche served with sweet, caramelised pineapple (ok so maybe the watchmaker was of use after all).
We also had a Taffety tart. A delicate triangle of toffee apple-esque jelly, thin puff pastry and almond wafers and fennel seeds, served with strips of apple jelly, rose leaves and incredible blackcurrant sorbet (like pure Ribena). At the time I really liked it. But on reflection, maybe the tart is not the sum of its many parts. In particular, awesome though it is, the sorbet probably overpowers the rest of the dessert. I’m nitpicking, btw.
It’s worth noting that the service was spot on throughout. What I liked most was that, though young and working to this restaurant’s regime, the staff were all also experienced operators with their own individual characteristics; not robots programmed to deliver in a prescribed style. When we asked (and I urge that you do too) for any information about the food (i.e. the history or the preparation of a dish) we got instant, informed and genuinely enthusiastic answers. Never “I’ll have to go and ask”, and never a scripted and hollow response either. Attentive but in no way intrusive, our waiters and sommelier really added to the evening.
Now it is not the Fat Duck. If you go expecting every dish to be a Meat Fruit, or the best thing you have ever or will ever eat, I think you could be disappointed (but you’re probably the kind of person that’s always disappointed). I also think you should go in the evening. Northerners, embrace the Southern meaning of dinner – the room just won’t feel as good in daylight, nor will the food be as enjoyable if it’s not the last thing you do that day.
That’s it. I really liked it. So with the above minor caveats in mind, do go and enjoy.
Dinner in 3 words
Accomplished. Faultless. Historic.
Yikes, it does all add up. Starters are generally about £15, mains mostly hover around £30, and desserts £8 – £10. If you go for 3 courses, with a moderate amount of alcohol, you’re looking at £80 per head including service. Worth it.
dinnerbyheston.com – Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, SW1X 7LA – 020 7201 3833