Opening its door to the public this evening as of 31st January 2011 at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal was probably the most highly anticipated restaurant opening in the UK in 2010. The problem was (?) that the opening scheduled somewhat in December did not take place. A month or so later, we are having him – them – Heston Blumenthal and his right hand man Ashley Palmer-Watts relocated from the SL6 of Berkshire countryside to the SW1 of London’s poshest end. The venue of this gastronomic rendezvous couldn’t be more grand, with the former dining rooms of Michelin-starred Foliage and Park restaurant conjoined to create this spacious 140-seat dining room boasting the Medieval-looking candle chandeliers, the see-through operational kitchen and, guess what, the pineapple grill!? The place, designed by Adam Tihany, once in full operation, will be serving lunch, afternoon tea and dinner and offer al fresco dining in summer.
Heston Blumenthal is, arguably, Britain’s most celebrated chef right now. His gastrono-genius owes much to his pioneering of the molecular cooking that earned himself not just a PhD, the three red stars at his cradle The Fat Duck but also the title “World’s Best Restaurant 2005″ on the revered San Pellegrino list. Ever since, Heston remained the World’s Second Best after El Bulli (2006-2009) until Noma took over the top spot in 2010 re-arranging the gastro line and making Heston’s Fat Duck the third best place to eat on earth! With the calibre came the high expectations: my meal at the Fat Duck a few years back was sublime, dreamy and theatrical; Heston’s pub grub spin-off next door to FD called The Hind’s Head was solidly amazing; his TV series Heston’s Feasts proved entertainingly popular; and his Waitrose pie range set the new height for affordable supermarket products. This masterchef, it seemed, could do no wrong.
Seated and finally I got to see the menu I spent all day studying online!!
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, before I continued, was not trying to be The Fat Duck. Rather than serving the deconstructed memory food and childhood experience, the menu at Dinner traced back the more historic past, say, from 1390 onwards. Dishes were, for example, Rice and Flesh – saffron, calf’s tail and red wine – and Beef Royal, which took 72 hours to cook!!! On the back of the menu, we were invited to check out the historical sources of the recipes. Of course, the kitchen would not go without the modern gadgety, the kind of cooking that defined the man and many of his disciples. Therefore, this would be the marriage of the old, the traditional with the bombastically modern. It was a paradox but well it worked! Price-wise, the cheapest starter costs £12.5, the most expensive £16; £20 and £64 (to share between two) for mains; and £8- £10 for desserts. The set lunch fares better for budget diners and costs only £28 for a three course meal.
The bread, while I was waiting for the dishes I ordered. The menu itself was overwhelming and made my life difficult as I was torn between so many dishes. At the end? Well, I decided to go for a 4-course meal, so I could squeeze in that extra dish I couldn’t quite make up my mind having.
The first starters arrived. My other bib went for the Meat Fruit – mandarin, chicken liver parfait served with grilled bread – while I ordered Salamugundy, an 18th century dish the name of which I couldn’t quite pronounce. Let’s start with my one, the Salamugundy. It was composed of chicken oysters, bone marrow, horseradish cream and salad leaves. I admit, this was the dish I wasn’t so sure about of the evening. It was a cross between a salad dish and chicken pieces with dipping sauce. Looking back into history, this Salamugundy was meant to be a dish of many disparate things. Here all the combinations were top notch: fresh leaves giving crunch, perfectly cooked chicken pieces with crispy skin on, juicy bonemarrow, extremely silky and mild horseradish cream and batons of some roots I couldn’t quite make out what that added bite, and the vinegar-based jus. My only concern was that these were many things I didn’t find particularly gelling with one another. To me, the dish was lacking balance and would work better if there was a bit less horseradish cream on the plate, therefore allowing the dressing to bind ingredients together. Also, I felt if there were fewer kinds of the leaves, it would make the flavours less diverse. But, maybe it would miss the point of being a historic dish of many things?
That said, my other bib’s Meat Fruit, disguised in form of a Mandarin orange, was D-I-V-I-N-E!! Sweet with a subtle hint of zesty acidity from the jelly skin of mandarin. The parfait within the fruit was so heavenly smooth that I though I was tasting nutella. Maybe a bad association? I was not sure if there was a touch of foie gras incorporated but that did not matter it was the BEST chicken liver parfait I’d ever tasted. It went texture-perfect once eaten with the crunchy toast.
Then came the second round of starters, which I inteded to be the fish course. I had Savoury Porridge and my other bib Roast Scallops. Starting with the porridge, I thought the presentation was reminiscent of Heston’s signature snail porridge. Tasting it, it took me to another horizon. The lightly salted cod cheeks were cooked to perfection; the ribbons of shaved fennels provided a mouthful of freshness and crunch; the pickled beetroots was sweet with a hint of acidity, all of which married off well with the tender porridge that was at times smooth and tickling the taste bud. Overall, it was a refreshingly amazing dish.
The Roast Scallop dish served with Cucumber Ketchup and Borage was interesting. First, the borage? The herb neither of us came across before that rendered a taste of cucumber! Again, very refreshing. The plump scallops were nicely cooked and given contrasting textures from the marinated diced cucumber. The roasted/pan fried cucumber added another dimension of texture to the dish. Sadly, before I grabbed hold off the magic, my other bib shunned me away and accused me of food theft! Next …
The mains … at first we were raising eyebrows because there were three beef dishes on the menu and only two fish options. But, never mind, it was the Great British tradition. We just didn’t do seafood, did we? I went for a Spanish treat of Black Foot Pork Chop, Pointy Cabbage and Robert Sauce, while my other bib ordered Turkey Pudding, the dish that sounded most banal on the menu! My pork chop was sensational. The aroma of the charred meat hit first and got my mouth seriously watering, and tucking in, thiis black foot pork – of Spanish origin and fed with acorn, I’d reckon – boast the marbling effect of fat in the meat. It’s like the Wagyu beef of pork, seriously! Once cooked, the fat melted and the meat oozed juiciness and sweet grease. It was the star by itself. The Robert Sauce – made with white wine, onion, stock and mustard – was intense with a hint of fruitiness and added depth that complemented the pork so well, while the cabbage replaced the richness with a hint of neutrality. I couldn’t be happier …
Actually, I could …
I had a bite into the unassuming Turkey Pudding, which didn’t quite look like a regular pud.
It looked like this ….
A bit posh, innit?
The turkey was prepared and transformed into this gelatin thing sweet, light and subtle in term of flavours and wrapped around with this crispy sheet of breadcrumb. The pud came with coxcomb and girolle mushrooms. I am not trying to explicate the flavours as, again, I had only a bite into this. All I could say was that that one bite made my perfect pork chop not-so-perfect any more
Desserts. I felt I should finish this meal soon before I start killing my other bib for outdoing my dishes!! So I went for this Brown Bread Ice Cream, which was essentially ice cream, salted butter caramel and malted yeast syrup. It would make anybody with sweet teeth orgasm thrice. It was sweet, very sweet and indulgent. Lots of contrasting textures from the sticky caramel base, the cinder toffee look alike and the luscious ice cream. My only criticism was that the size of the dish, especially when compared to my other bib’s dessert, was tiny. And, yes, greedy diners did get very, extremely envious!!
Perhaps, it was my glaring eyes that scared my other bib off from spooning me his Tipsy Cake. His was a spongy brioche-kind-of-cake filled with condensed milk and served with roasted, caramelised pineapple. Yes, those ones that were on the sticks. I didn’t get to taste this dish but the other half kept ooouuuu-ing and aaahhhh-ing. Gosh, I wish I could beat him to death with my teaspoon!
The spit roasted pineapple slices … damn it, see that caramel crust!!!!???
We were about to finish our meal and delighted by the coming of the tea list. Our rare and favourite Vintage Puer tea, recently extinct from Yauatcha was there. The rose bud tea from Iran was a lovely choice for those not wanting to cope with caffeine in the evening. The petit four – we were surprised there was one considering there was no amuse bouche or pre desserts at Dinner – of Earl Grey Tea and White Chocolate Liquid, served with ganache biscuit, was the perfect way to end the evening. It was sweet, aromatic and very robust. A tweak on a lovely English cuppa to end one near-perfect meal
And yes we caught the happy chaps on the way out.
They were very accommodating and informative. Really wishing them all the success and also really wished I ordered that bleeping Tipsy Cake!!! AARRGGGHHHH!!!!
One warning .. the drinks are pricey but well it’s still the Mandarin Oriental at the end of the day.
My head rating says, “9 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “9 out of 10″.
DINNER BY HESTON BLUMENTHAL
Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park
Tel. 020 7201 3833