Saturday, April 30, 2011

Review - Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

It was the eve of the royal wedding in London and the city was buzzing. We were too, but for an entirely different reason - we had a reservation at Heston Blumenthal's new restaurant, Dinner. As we sped through the crowds of people and the Union Jack bunting towards the fabulous Mandarin Oriental Hotel our excitement was palpable.

The concept for Heston's new venture is simple - to preserve and celebrate English culinary history by preparing old recipes, some from as early as the 14th century and serving them in a modern way for modern diners.

Walking into the hotel, you are blown away by lush opulence - but Heston has chosen a pared down, quite simple style for his dining room. Light filled and with a view of Hyde Park, the simple wood tables (sans table linen) and leather finishes give the restaurant a lovely sense of space. Staff in long elegant grey aprons oversee the dining room while the chefs work in the open kitchen, which you can see from the dining area depending on where you are sitting. No tizz here - a relief, because you can relax and just settle right in to enjoy the whole experience. It is a beautiful space and a perfect setting. I loved the quirky "jelly mould"'lights that were dotted around the dining room.

The stylish dining room overlooking Hyde Park

The open kitchen where you can watch the chefs at work

So, to the food...... Our Dinner experience began with one of Heston's signature dishes - meat fruit. Fans of the TV series "Heston's Feasts"will recall the creation of this dish in the episode that covered food from the middle ages. It is an absolute triumph of taste, form and texture - the mandarin jelly a perfect foil for the impossibly velvety rich meat filling. I have never eaten anything with such a sublime texture - as the first dish on the menu, it was setting the bar very,very high.

Meat Fruit (c.1500)Mandarin, Chicken Liver Parfait
served with Grilled Bread

The second entree was a delightfully light and fresh tasting dish of roasted scallops, cooked to perfection and presented with an amazing "ketchup'' of cucumber. The flavours were extremely subtle and light on the palate, with the slightly astringent addition of borage - a herb we do not use often in Australia - that has a lovely cucumber-esque flavour that worked beautifully in the dish.

Roast Scallops (c.1820)Cucumber Ketchup and Borage

A large selection of the mains on offer centred on meat and game - first, we chose the spiced pigeon with artichokes and ale. The pigeon breasts were moist and succulent with a delicious aromatic character that worked so well with the perfectly prepared young artichokes. The ale gave the dish a lovely slightly honey character that was just beautiful. A stand out dish for me, without a doubt.

Spiced Pigeon (c.1780)Ale and Artichokes

Next came a beautifully cooked sirloin of Angus beef, served with rich slivers of bone marrow that melted into the flesh like butter. Swoon. The marrow lends a richness to the meat that blended beautifully with the red wine jus that was provided seperately in a jug, to dispense as desired. The addition of a mushroom ketchup from a 17th century recipe made this dish really shine. Simple, but perfectly executed. It was served with triple cooked chips (Heston fans will recognise these from his "Search for Perfection" TV series) Is it possible that Heston has created the perfect chip? I think the answer is yes.

Sirloin of Black Angus (c.1830)
Mushroom Ketchup,Bone Marrow 
served with Red Wine Jus and Triple Cooked Chips

Triple cooked chips - the crispiest, most delicious chips in the cosmos!

On to dessert, and another of the restaurant's signature dishes - Tipsy Cake. A 17th century recipe that marries a stunning custard filled yeasty pudding with slow cooked pineapple and caramel. Swoon worthy. Back in the day, pineapple was a rare and exotic ingredient and to serve it was a show of wealth and position. I certainly felt like a queen eating it. 

Pineapples being rotisseried for inclusion in the Tipsy Cake
- they are cooked and basted in caramel for 4 hours

Tipsy Cake (c.1810)Spit Roast Pineapple

Our second dessert was a knockout - a pretty and delicate looking suet crust that contained a molten heart of caramel and lemon. Served with a jug of pure Jersey cream, it was heaven on a plate.

Baked Lemon Suet Pudding (c.1630)
with Lemon, Caramel and Jersey Cream

Finally, we enjoyed an amazing white chocolate and Earl Grey tea ganache served with a buttery caraway seed shortbread. Creamy and so aromatic, it was a perfect end to the meal.

White chocolate and Earl Grey Tea Ganache
with Caraway Shortbread

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal is a must do if you are visiting London. Although housed in the magnificent (and very posh!) Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge, it lacked pretention but delivered on quality and substance. Special mention should be made of the exceptional service - the staff were outstanding - knowlegeable, friendly and true professionals. From the initial booking process, the service throughout the meal, to the final farewell at the door, the whole experience was just wonderful. They even knew we had come all the way from Australia and they certainly made it worth the trip.

I love the idea that Heston has chosen to preserve and celebrate the cuisine of his English ancestors in such a glorious way. The menu is very accessable (he saves the really way out stuff for his iconic restaurant, The Fat Duck) so I think his potential diners are a much wider audience than those who would consider going to The Fat Duck. And people are going in droves - we were told that Dinner is booked out until August. Price wise, it is a lot cheaper than the Duck - although by no means cheap. The meal with wine and pre dinner drinks came to 200 pounds. But he does offer a 3 course set menu for 28 pounds. My feeling though, is that if you have managed to get a reservation, then a la carte is the way to go, so that you can choose what you like.

We walked away into the London spring sunshine warm and satisfied with big smiles on our faces - our Dinner experience an experience to remember. And I think I love Heston a little bit more.

In two days we are driving to the village of Bray where we have a reservation at the iconic Fat Duck - one of my " things to do before I die" experiences that fills me with so much excitement. My next report will be a review of The Fat Duck, so stay tuned. Until then - Bon Appetit!


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Gourmet Goddess gets hitched!

Well everyone, it is now official - Andrew and I were married last Saturday 16 April. Our wedding was simply magical - and more wonderful than we could have ever planned. We are still getting feedback from our loved ones who are saying that it was the best wedding they had ever attended - and one of the most unique. I think the best description of the day that captures the atmosphere was from my dear friend Victoria, who said that it was like an enormous "love bomb" went off in the room. There was so much joy and so much positive emotion and Andrew and I both felt so blessed to share such a beautiful moment in our lives with all of our nearest and dearest.

We had the amazing experience of being married by Andrew's mum Kate, who is a marriage celebrant, which gave such a personal touch to our ceremony. Our marriage included an ancient Celtic "Cup of Life" ritual, A beautiful Pagan blessing and the vows to one another that we created ourselves. There was also plenty of music provided by our muso friends - including a rocking wedding march played on electric guitar by Vaughan - and a beautiful rendition of "Here Comes the Sun" as we signed the wedding register, by our friends Greg and Damon. Being Beatles fans, we went for Beatles inspired wedding favours, which Andrew designed and that we had made for the occasion - they said it all really.....

All of our guests got one of these

Food wise, for our wedding, we wanted to avoid the whole alternating "beef or chicken" formal option that most sit down wedding receptions seem to have (or at least most of the ones I've been to!) and we also didn't want to go for a buffet, as we wanted our guests to be served at their tables. We came up with a great idea that gave our guests the variety of a buffet, with the table service and sense of occasion of a formal sit down dinner - the solution was tasting plates. For the main course, we chose a selection of delicious food to cater for a variety of tastes and had the platters served at the table, where people could graze on whatever took their fancy. A perfect solution that was also very sociable, as our friends and family shared platters, drank wine and enjoyed each other's company in a relaxed way. It was like a big shared family table that included everyone.

We held our wedding and reception at the same place - a Georgian mansion surrounded by acres of parkland that is currently the home of the NSW Writer's Centre in Rozelle. It meant no extra travelling and we could flow from the ceremony to the reception seamlessly. We opted to serve our entrees as canapes, with drinks right after the ceremony. It was a great choice, as we could mingle with our guests before sitting down to dinner. We allocated guests to their own tables, but chose not to allocate actual seats at the table, allowing people to sit with whoever they wanted. It took a lot of pressure off, not having to do a seating plan as such, and it encouraged mingling and a more relaxed atmosphere.

The Bride and Groom

We decided early on to scrap the whole idea of a wedding cake (ludicrously expensive and really, who wants wedding cake when you have just eaten a full dinner and had bucketloads of champagne?) instead we chose to serve three different desserts to the tables in canape form - again allowing our guests to choose what they wanted - they could have one dessert or all three if they felt like it.

Our caterers, The Roo Brothers (yes, the name is an Australian take on the famous French culinary figures, The Roux Brothers) were absolutely brilliant. As well as creating gorgeous food, John Paul and his great team were also incredibly flexible and open to what we wanted to create. Everything went so smoothly and without a hint of fuss and their communication with us was outstanding. The wait staff on the night were brilliant - friendly, efficient and professional.  And best of all, we got great feedback from our guests about how much they loved the food. If you are looking for a caterer in Sydney, we highly recommend them. Visit their website for more information:

So, what did we actually serve you ask? Here is what Andrew and I, along with our 70 guests, enjoyed on our wedding day.....

Our Wedding Menu
16 April 2011

Entree Canapes

smoked eggplant and herb tartlet
with sour cream & parmesan fondant and red pepper chutney

pomegranate malasses glazed duck
on a sesame seed praline with lime zest

pork belly
with sweet sherry glaze and apple compote

seared tasmanian scallops
with truffle pea puree

Sharing Platters

risotto cake
with mushroom, asparagus and parmesan

lime and lavender corn fed chicken
with a pomegranate glaze

wattle seed and juniper berry crusted beef
with baby vegetable and wild rocket salad, topped with Illawarra plum jam

king fish
with a brandy and saffron buerre blanc


salad of butternut pumpkin, tatsui, red onion and cherry tomato
with poppyseed and lime dressing

salad of rocket,pear,walnut and parmesan
with a balsamic glaze

asparagus and green beans

Something Sweet.... 

creme brulee

raspberry sorbet

lemon tarts
Menu highlights for me were the Tasmanian scallops, the creme brulee and the beautiful Kingfish.
We are now in the process of the final packing for our honeymoon and getting ready to jump on our 9.30 flight to Paris tonight. We will be away for 5 weeks, enjoing the most romantic city in the world, as well as London - where we have manged to secure a reservation at Heston Blumentahl's iconic restaurant, The Fat Duck - as well as his new restaurant, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. After that we are driving up to Liverpool for a bit of a Beatles pilgrimage, then on to the rollicking town of Glasgow for a few days soaking up the amazing art scene there, as well as their live music. Our journey will then take us further north to Inverness, where we get to spend a week with my gorgeous sister and her husband (also called Andrew!), then a weekend on the Isle of Skye before driving south again to London - but not before stopping off in Cumbria to stay in a real castle, the amazing Augyll Castle in the Lakes District. Our final few days overseas will be spent back in Paris, before flying home.
So, there is a lot on the agenda. We will be taking a laptop with us and I'm sure that I will be checking in with you all from time to time while we are away, hopefully posting a few pics too - so visit GG from time to time to see what we are up to. When we arrive home, I will be sure to tell you all about our adventures (particulary the food ones) in more detail - but until then, Bon Voyage until the end of May!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Exotic and Aromatic

Okra is one of those ingredients that doesn't seem to pop up on Australian menus very often. Lots of people seem a bit nervous about how to prepare this exotic looking vegetable, however it is eaten all over the world. You will find it in all kinds of cuisines - particularly in Africa, South America and the Carribean. Okra is actually related to the hibiscus flower, growing in particularly well in in hot climates. I really love the slightly herbaceous flavour and the soft, yeilding texture of the okra pods and they really soak up any spice or flavouring that you cook with them.

One of my favourite ways to serve okra is with a heavily aromatic mixture of spices and minced beef. The dish packs a huge flavour punch and is beautiful served with nutty brown rice. Now is the perfect time to cook okra, as it is in season and easy to find. Choose pods that are bright green and firm - smaller pods will be more tender than the larger ones, so I tend to go for the smaller size.

The generous use of spices in this dish marry so beautifully with the okra, and the result is a delicious exotic but super easy dish to prepare. If you have never tried okra before, this could be a nice introduction.....

Aromatic Beef with Okra

You will need: 300g minced beef, about 10 pieces of okra, 1 red onion, 1/2 red capsicum, 1 medium zucchini, 2 tablespoons vinegar, 1 cup beef stock, 3 cloves garlic finely chopped, 1 red chilli finely chopped, 1 tin diced tomatoes (choose a good quality Italian brand), a handful of fresh dill, 2 teaspoons cumin powder, 2 teaspoons coriander powder, 2 teaspoons sweet paprika, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon powder, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

Method: Slice the okra diagonally, so that each piece becomes two pieces. In a bowl, combine the okra with the vinegar and a few pinces of salt. Mix it through well with your hands and then set the okra aside.

Chop the red onion, zucchini and capsicum into small cubes. Heat a splash of olive oil in a pan and add the onion. Cook on a moderate heat until it begins to soften. Add the cumin, coriander, cinnamon, paprika, chilli and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes until the aroma starts to release.

Add the minced beef and cook very thoroughly until it is browned. Drain the vinegar from the okra. Add the okra, zucchini and capsicum to the pan, combine and cook for another few minutes. Finally, add the tomatoes and the beef stock. Simmer for about 20 minutes, until almost all of the liquid is absorbed. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed. Also feel free to ramp up the chilli for an extra spicy version.

Just before serving, stir through the fresh dill. Serve with rice (I prefer brown rice for this, it has a great nutty flavour)