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!



  1. I don't know if I could eat pigeon - no matter who cooked it.... But as for the rest? Sooooo want to try it all! Do you think you might try recreating some of the Heston dishes you've tried when you get home?

  2. Certainly gave me a few ideas regarding flavours. And I'm planning on giving the meat fruit a go - I think that some of the things that I learned in my molecular gastronomy class a few months ago will help me make the gel that goes on the outside. The filling is very do-able. Stay tuned :)