dinner by heston blumenthal
Ordinarily, dining at a restaurant within a fortnight of its opening would be considered quick on the draw. Not so when the place in question is Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. The molecular maestro’s first project in London is helmed by Ashley Palmer-Watts, the former head executive chef at The Fat Duck, and showcases a menu inspired by British dishes of yore. Knowing that if the magnificent medieval creations in Heston’s Feasts were anything to go by, Dinner would be pretty special, so I scurried for a table when online bookings opened months ago. Unsurprisingly scores of critics (professional or otherwise) had already visited prior to my allotted 230pm lunch sitting, and having read all their accounts I was suitably amped up by the time I stood before the reception’s colour-shifting fruit display.
The first to arrive in my party of four, I glanced briefly at the menu that I had already memorised then looked up to survey the space. A glass-encased kitchen took pride of place in the room, with a series of expansive windows lining one wall and brown leather panels (some oddly ajar, exposing bare brick beneath) covering the other. There were a few playful touches to the decor (the jelly mold light fixtures being one) but the decor to me still felt a tad corporate and stilted.
Once everyone had taken their seats, the waiter sauntered over to explain the menu and announce that the Beef Royale (a 72 hour slow cooked Short Rib of Angus) that I had set my heart on was sold out. When he reappeared to inform us the popular Tipsy Cake had also run out, we swiftly placed our orders before he could lay on more bad news. Food orders taken, we turned our attention to the beverages. It was a struggle to find anything that would be considered remotely good value on the list and after much studying by all at the table we eventually settled on a bottle of Delamotte Blanc de Blancs to start, followed by an approachable Italian red, both around £90 a pop.
It was coming to 3pm and we were starved, so it was a relief that starters were quick to arrive. The Broth of Lamb chosen by two at the table consisted of slow cooked Hen’s Egg, Celery, Radish, Turnip and Sweetbread Fritters swimming in a sea of intense broth. Texturally pleasing, with expertly-fried offal (crunchy on the outside, creamy within) and supple soft egg it should have been my dream dish; yet I failed to fall completely in love with it. Perhaps the vegetable notes in the soup, faintly reminiscent of Chinese herbal medicine, was what put me off.
Still, I liked it better than the Savoury Porridge of Cod Cheeks, Pickled Beetroot, Garlic and Fennel – a somewhat less successful version of the famous Snail Porridge at The Fat Duck. The cold salad garnish and lukewarm fish-studded gruel didn’t meld harmoniously, however I did enjoy the gelatinous quality of the barely-cooked fish cheeks.
The gorily-titled Rice and Flesh (saffron risotto with red wine-braised calf tail) was well-received by fellow diner A, although he did comment on the measly portions of tail meat dotted around the al dente grains.
In addition to our individual starters we shared the much-talked-about Meat Fruit, and exquisitely crafted “Mandarin” filled with Chicken Liver Parfait and served alongside Grilled Bread which we all agreed to be the best of the lot. The silky smooth parfait paired brilliantly with the mandarin jelly, and its novel presentation (in actuality not that novel, as it can be traced back to c.1500) was an added thrill.
The mains were less quirky but well executed, with excellently-sourced produce. My Black Foot Pork Chop served with Robert Sauce was a fine porcine specimen – a tasty charred slab, juicy from the even amount of fat running through it.
B’s Spiced Pigeon with Ale and Artichokes was equally delicious, the roasted vegetables tender and meat moist, cooked to a perfect pink. Our dining companions raved about the Powdered Duck with Smoked Fennel, and thought the Sirloin of Black Angus (supplied by Jack O’Shea) with Red Wine Jus a very solid offering. Sides of Potato Purée, Carrots and Pointy Cabbage were standard, but everyone was quite taken by the chunky Triple-Cooked Chips and the umami-rich Mushroom Ketchup that accompanied the steak.
As competent as the mains were, it was the desserts that really stole the show. A crusty Baked Lemon Suet Pudding oozed a lusty citrusy caramel sauce, the sweetness of which was nicely tempered by the small pool of Jersey Cream.
The elegant lacquered Chocolate Bar was dense and sinful as pudding should be, with a tangy Passion Fruit Jam and zippy Ginger Ice Cream to counterbalance the richness.
Brown Bread Ice Cream with Salted Butter Caramel and Malted Yeast Syrup was admittedly less conventional but the salty edge was intriguing and the dish really grew on me. The thick salted caramel was particularly addictive.
Despite being the prettiest on the plate, the Taffety Tart with Rose, Fennel, Lemon and Blackcurrant Sorbet was liked least by all; the consensus being that the sorbet and jelly layer were too tart and acidic, overwhelming the other more delicate components.
A last treat of creamy Earl Grey Ganache and flaky Shortbread was presented with our coffee and tea, bringing our meal to a sweet end.
Overall we couldn’t fault the cooking but the service was both stiff and not particularly forthcoming, leaving much to be desired. Dinner also lacks the wow of Fat Duck; yes it doesn’t profess to be the sequel of the Heston’s Michelin-starred flagship but surely this should then be reflected in the prices. However the historic slant makes it worth a visit (if you can secure a table that is – the restaurant is currently fully booked until June), just don’t expect scented smoke, nitro concoctions or dinner music concealed in seashells.
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park
London SW1X 7LA
t. 020 7201 3833