Our first proper restaurant review, of Heston Blumenthal’s new venture, Dinner. Luckily for me, one of my friends had managed to get in quick with a reservation when they opened (about three months ago) – the Tuesday after the Bank Holiday in May at 7pm was the first slot available. So quite a while to wait, and especially after hearing others reports, build my anticipation perhaps a little too much…
Dinner is situated on the ground floor of the excessively lavish Mandarin Oriental, close on Hyde Park corner. Now I’m as big a fan of a posh hotel as the next man, but the MO (do people call it that? I’m going to, because I’m lazy) is a bit stuffy for my tastes. Flunkies at every door, falling over themselves to show you the way, take your coat, carry your drink… becomes quickly very annoying. Cocktails in the bar were pretty good, but at an eye-watering £14 for the cheapest not exactly value for money. If you’re paying 14 quid, I expect a really mindblowing drink, which these were not. My Mandarin Collins was quite average. Their menu leaned towards Asian-themed modern “fusion” drinks, and was very long, grouped into themed pages each named after an oriental city. I’d have preferred a shorter list with a few house specials and some classics.
The restaurant itself is divided between a very modern kitchen, with a glass wall separating it from the main body of the restaurant, so you can watch the magic happen. We weren’t very close, or in fact facing the right way to really get a good view, but it’s a good layout. I can’t describe the decour of the dining half – obviously it didn’t make too much of an impression on me, which is a good sign, I think. The one thing I do remember is the jelly-mould lights, dotted on the walls, which were very cool indeed, and quite futuristic. Something about the ancient and the modern fusing, which I guess is the whole point…
Dinner’s concept is to present ancient English dishes to a modern audience, and can be seen as the next step in the continuing trend of the rehabilitation of traditional English cooking. You can’t move in London now without tripping over another restaurant aping St John and all, serving partridge and trotter pie, sweetbreads, tongue etc etc. Dinner, however takes more a haute cuisine route, and although one imagines that Heston’s signature kitchen-as-lab methods are going on the background, they’re not to the forefront in the presented dishes. The dishes are describe as “historically inspired” and although each is given a date, and on the back of the menu, the reference to their original publication, there’s very little to tell how strictly the recipes have been adhered to.
First course – I had the meat fruit, which as the name suggests, is meat in the shape of a fruit. In this case, chicken liver pate in the shape of a large mandarin. The outside was coated in a sweet mandarin jelly, perfectly even which gave way to an intensely rich and very smooth chicken liver pate. The pate was quite superb, and nicely offset by the sweet jelly, but really most of the pleasure in this dish is the presentation.
My favourite from our starters was the “rice & flesh” – calf tails in rice, very similar to the modern Italian risotto – i.e. “loose”, thin and liquid enough that it doesn’t hold its shape on the plate. It was a beautiful golden cream colour from the saffron used, and a mouthful of rice gave an intense explosion of beefyness. I think it’s probably the richest beef stock I’ve ever tasted. The actual bites of tail were almost there as an afterthought to that amazing stock.
For my main course, I had the Black Foot pork chop. In all honesty, despite the deliciousness gone before, I was feeling slightly disappointed by this point – far too much reading and watching Heston’s whizz-bang experimentalism had primed me for a gastronomic adventure to dazzle the senses. I didn’t get that. But when I’d stopped thinking about it, I realised I was halfway through the best pork chop I’d ever eaten.
Perfectly cooked, moist in the middle, lightly charred on the outside, and served with a mound of cabbage glued to the plate with a clear, thin square of refined pork fat. I had chosen well – I tasted my companions mains and mine was definitely the best. The powdered duck left me a little cold, too much fennel for my taste. The Black Angus sirloin was excellent, but at the end of a day a steak is a steak, and equally good examples can be found all over London. The triple cooked chips that came with it, however, were incredible. Again, far and away the best chips I’ve ever eaten.
Dessert time came at last, and I had opted for the lemon suet pudding – which was superb, the pastry so short, giving up the lemony goo inside, and accompanied by a rich caramel and Jersey cream. The tipsy cake also warrants special mention – everyone who’s been to Dinner seems to have it, and it’s definitely worth it – slow spit-roasted pineapple paired with a light and fluffy sweet brioche-like cake.
The wine list is huge, but as they say “aggressively priced” – not a lot below £30 a bottle. Still, we went with the sommelier ‘s recommendations, and the two bottles we had were excellent – including a curve ball US wine from Washington.
All in all, with tea, coffee, the cocktails and a glass of dessert wine for one of us, the total bill came to around £110 per head – which I thought was remarkably good.
So, don’t go expecting wild, off-piste cooking. Do go and savour some incredible ancient English recipes brought up to stunning date.