Bla, bla, bla .. half a month or so after my meal at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. Food critics and bloggers have been talking “Meat Fruit”, “Salamagundy”, “Beef Royal” and “Tipsy Cake”. As I had been lucky enough to secure quite a few bookings before Dinner by Heston became much hyped and much loved, I had the opportunity to try out dishes that were not oft mentioned in the media. And, that’s what I’m giving you in this post: almost all the dishes from the A La Carte menu.
(1) Rice and Flesh
Saffron, Calf Tail, Red Wine
This, to put it simply, was a version of saffron risotto with a garnish of calf tail cooked in red wine jus. The risotto was perfectly al dente with a nice velvety texture. The earthy and warm flavour of the saffron fused nicely with the cheese. The calf tail, though there wasn’t much, was meaty and bold. I’d say, half a piece could probably flavour two spoonfuls of the risotto.
(2) Roast Marrowbone
Parsley, Anchovy, Mace, Pickle Vegetables
Arguably the best marrowbone dish I’d come across. Usually I find a marrowbone dish – with marrowbone as a main ingredient – distressingly sick. But, here, the tiny medallions of gelatin-texture marrowbone encased in a well polished bone were given extra crust and flavour by the crispy anchovy and mace topping. The leaves, which I couldn’t quite identify, had this wonderful, distantly minty flavour to cleanse the palate. However, the real highlight, to me, of this dish was the pickle vegetable – onion and cauliflower – which was quite similar to piccalilli but without mustard. Its well balanced sour-and-saltiness not only worked wonder warding off the unappetising grease but provided another dimension of texture. Baby gen lettuce also added freshness.
(3) Broth of Lamb
Slow cooked hen’s egg, Celery, Radish, Turnip, Sweetbread
This was the strongest starter of the bunch, along with the Savoury Porridge with Cod Cheeks and the Meat Fruit. The clear broth – the French would call it consomme – had this wonderful tea-like dark colour but crystal clear. Rich and deep. Wintery sort of flavours that gave up the glimpse of fresh spring in the distant. There was this wonderful and underlined aroma of thyme and (probably) chevril coming through. I did not find it too aggressive, though. The cubes of radish and turnip, however, did not add much flavour, only texture. There were occasional bursts of intense sweetness from the little bulbs of shallots. The sweetbread deep fried in breadcrumb was heavenly meaty and despite submerging in the broth was still unbelievably crunchy. Last but not least, the egg! THE EGG!!! I found in bizarre, in a good way. Probably cooked sous vide? When I picked the yolk, it burst but did not run places. It formed itself like a gelatin, floating in the broth and refusing to mix with it. It, accordingly, became another dimension of texture. Pearls of yolk within the broth. Could you imagine that? Flavour-wise, it also added a whole lot; it added substance and, of course, indulgence of protein.
(4) Hay Smoked Mackerel
Lemon Salad, Gentleman’s Relish, Olive Oil
I won’t attempt to explicate the dish as it was not mine. I was only allowed a sweep of leftover relish. It had this candied lemon flavour with the sourness and bitterness coming first and close second and then the mild aromatic sweetness. Look-wise, I mistook it for Salamagundy with fish instead of chicken. Perhaps I should add this was not the smoked mackerel as we understand today. It was rather raw-looking. Think, probably, smoked salmon but with mackerel.
For the rest of the starters – Meat Fruit, Scallops with Cucumber Relish, Savoury Porridge with Cod Cheeks, and Salamagundy – please go have a browse on my previous post for Dinner by Heston Blumenthal here. There are all the starters from the A La Carte menu currently served at the place.
(1) Spiced Pigeon
There were a lot of pigeon breasts on the plate! Cooked almost rare but with the skinny slightly crispened up, the breasts oozed wonderful spicy aroma. Interestingly, the flavours of the those spices did not seep through to the meat. The gamy flavour was well retained, accordingly. Intense jus and nicely paired with the artichokes. Definitely one of the strong dishes.
(4) Braised Celery
Parmesan, Pickled Walnuts, Apple, Onions
This was my dish. I was so curious when I asked for it. And, it came looking, on the one hand, like a Salamagundy, yet on another, very phallic and mental! The smell of celery could be detected metres away but on the first glance it was nowhere to be seen. Tucking in, the whole stems of braised celery were hidden under the almost sponge-like bed of parmesan cream cake. You might as well think of this as a lasagna! The aroma of the parmesan undercut that of sharp celery well, while the mild saltiness of the cheese as well as its luxuriant texture digressed me from the thought of myself eating massive stems of celery. The pickle walnut slices and the pieces of apple balanced the dish of with their individual varying degree of acidity. They, too, added texture. The salad lifted the dish up from being a little too heavy. Quite a good and surprising dish. I was not sure if I loved it but I didn’t mind having it again.
(5) Roast Turbot
Cockle Ketchup, Leaf Chicory
As much as I love Dinner, this was the dish I was unsure of. I felt the turbot was underseasoned and relied wholly on the “ketchup” to enhance its flavour. I also found it bizarre that the turbot did not smell of anything. Usually when any roast dish came, you’d be able to smell it. On this occasion, I couldn’t. The “ketchup” – clear gelatin-like, almost-slimy-looking gravy – made of almost raw cockles, chopped pickle gherkin and caper was two dimensional: acidic and salty. In fairness, the gelatin texture loosened up and became liquid as I was eating it. As for the cockle, it did not seem to do much to my palate. There was something about its texture, too, that was not quite amusing to eat. Unlike all other dishes, I found this dish lacking contrast in texture and flavours.
(6) Beef Royal
72 Hours Slow Cooked Short Rib of Angus, Smoked Anchovy and Onion Puree, Ox Tongue
One of the most popular dishes and it was right to be. There came the massive piece of beef toppled with many goodies to resemble a fortress. If I hadn’t read the menu properly, I would have thought it dated back to the Middle Ages! My other bib let me have a bite and WOW! The beef was, well, extremely, superbly, ridiculously tender. You hardly had to chew it. This was good, no? Rightly to say, the beef was tender perfect but – quoting my other bib – half way through this dish, he did not feel like he was eating a piece of beef. Just some really soft thing with all the beefy flavours. And, it’s not like having a melt-in-ya-mouth Wagyu, either. The texture was a little too technologically modified, which I believe will appeal to many but leave the real beef eater craving for more. That said, the outside was nicely charred and, again, served with an intense, well herbed jus. Lots of texture to add chewiness and bites. Also intense richness from the onion and anchovy puree.
For other main dishes of Black Foot Pork Chop and Turkey Pudding, go have a look at my first Dinner post here. There are about three dishes we have not had – Cod in Cider (you can have a look at TheCritCouple), Wing Rip of Black Angus to share (at Gourmet Chick), and Sirloin of Black Angus (which is pretty much the same dish as the Wing Rip, just a different cut). At the time of blogging, the Turkey Pudding has been taken off the menu. I was told it the kitchen could not achieve the same consistency of the dish. It’s a shame as it was one of the strongest dishes!
(1) Baked Lemon Suet Pudding
Lemon, Caramel, Jersey Cream
This dish was also taken off the menu. The kitchen claimed it was to be further developed. That said, they made an exception and made us a portion!! This was not a heavy pudding but one with a hell lot of lava-like caramel inside. Flavour-wise, it had this tart-au-citron kinda taste. Pleasantly citrusy but also quite sweet.
(2) Poached Rhubarb
Rosehips, Rhubarb Sorbet
My favourite dessert! Tangy and perfectly poached rhubarb in Campari was well matched with one sweet rosy flavour. There was some sweetness from the very light caramel underneath the sorbet (if I did not get this wrong) and the cream balanced off the sharpness nicely.
(3) Tipsy Cake
Spit Roast Pineapple
Yes, I blogged about the tipsy cake but only based on the feedback from my other bib. Finally, I got to eat it! It was a heavy dish – thrice the size of other dessert dishes – and it was heavily sweet. The sugar and brandy was combined and baked with brioche. The result was this condensed milk like flavour but with a full note of booze. The pineapple was perfect. Juicy, sweet and with a lovely caramelised skin. This, at times, seemed to follow a similar cooking/ingredient pairing with a rum baba. And, personally, I love a perfectly made rum baba more as it is a lot lighter and less sweet. That said, it was a great dish to share, but I couldn’t quite eat it all myself!
(4) Chocolate Bar
Passion Fruit Jam and Ginger Ice Cream
This was not far off from a chocolate praline but with a rich, acidic but sweet layer of passion fruit jam inside. The glossy veneer of dark chocolate coupled with the mousse within was WAY TOO RICH. If you are in for really dark chocolate treat, this is the dessert for you. This explained why I loved the rhubarb, I guess? The ginger ice cream, by itself, was perfect. But, it did not help balance off the bitter and aggressive chocolaty bar as I had hoped. Personally, I think the more subtle, but elegant piece of Chocolate praline dessert called Louis XV at Gauthier Soho was far more superior.
(5) Taffety Tart
Rose, Fennel, Lemon, Blackcurrant Sorbet
I would want to think this was a three-Michelin-starred dessert. It was precise and complex, but it worked. First of all, there was this super orgasmic texture: crunch, bite, creamy, silky, ice-creamy, lightly sticky gel. Not sure if my wording makes sense. It appealed to the nose – the rose gel, the fennel and the citrusy lemon – and to the tongue – citrusy, aromatically sweet and aggressive tangy-ness from the blackcurrant. I was not very good at this and, as lame as it might sound, I’d like to have another go at it so I could explicate the flavour a bit more :-9
(6) Lychee Ice
Lychee Many Ways!
A sorbet dish. More of a palate cleanser than an actual desserts, especially when you compare it to the taste bud mesmeriser Tipsy Cake or Taffety Tart. Lychee – a novelty fruit for many Westerners – has this intensely sweet, mild acidic taste. The fruit was prepared many ways: velvety numbing sorbet, granita and the bonus of fresh crunchy white meat. A beautiful tint of red to resemble its skin on the plate.
For the other dessert of Brown Bread Ice Cream, check out my previous post here.
So, after sampling almost all dishes at Dinner, did my perception of the restaurant change much? I must say, it did a little bit. There are super stunning, “innovative” dishes but there are also dishes that border on being traditional. Of course, one could argue dishes at Dinner are developed from the tradition and history, but I’d say, some “tradition” can be more “innovative” than others. That said, the style of cooking and approach of Ashley is clear. The flavour, as it turns out on many of our plates, is bold, manly and confident. To some, this is a drawback as there are quite a few heavy dishes on the menu, while the lighter options, it seems, are still not very light. My advice? Be prepared. Skip your lunch or fast a little if you’re opting for a Tipsy Cake. There are things I am keen to find out, such as the selection process from the historical cookbooks and the adherence to the authentic recipes. But, this is mainly because I have eaten at quite a few places where the recipes are also historical, though not of a British origin. Just my own curiosity, really.
On my way out, the lady front of house offered us a detour of the private dining room. Et, voila! The udder chandelier ….
And the nitro ice cream machine currently available only for the chef’s table and the private dining room…
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