The new year had barely passed when I heard through the grapevine that Heston Blumenthal was opening a restaurant in central London, at the Mandarin Oriental to be exact. I have to say that I am generally slow in catching on with the latest news in the restaurant scene, and I was probably one of the last food bloggers in London to hear about this. But as they say, it’s better late than never, and I thought, since M is usually even more clueless about things like that, I could plot out his birthday dinner and never have him foil the surprise. I made a reservation via Open Table immediately after hearing about it, and managed to score a table for two on M’s birthday. By that time, it was a two-month wait for a table already; news had clearly spread fast and I was just glad that M’s birthday wasn’t until March.
It was painful to keep this secret to myself. I was so excited about Dinner that I actually feared yelping in joy in my sleep. You see, M and I love what Heston Blumenthal does. We haven’t dined at Fat Duck (but recently, after at least 160 phonecalls to a seriously hot line, we finally got through and I’m happy to say that we’ll be having lunch at The Fat Duck on 9 June), and had nary an idea of what we will be in for at Dinner. The numerous playful science-based molecular gastronomical wonders he came up with on TV (check out his shows) however, had us eating out of his hand, and I could only dream of M’s birthday surprise whilst keeping the secret to myself. For two whole months, mind you. That’s the longest I’ve gone without spilling some bloody juicy beans to M.
Fast forward two months later, we were having dinner with some friends when they started talking about Dinner. I almost choked. My eyeballs must have been the size of tennis balls but no one seemed to know that Dinner was a taboo subject. I was hoping the conversation would fizzle out, but it only got more and more impressionable. Soon, M too, was aware of Dinner. Bummer. I had to act nonchalant for a few more days, and yes, I pretended to not know anything about Dinner. I had hoped that our friends’ report on how the reservations have become a three-month wait, would throw M off the trail if he knew that I was as clueless as he was. It worked!
As I’m too much of a chicken to drive in London, I keyed in the address of the hotel and the GPS woman voice instructed M to drive towards Knightsbridge on his birthday. During the car ride, I tried to tease him and asked him if he knew where we were going, and he didn’t! I was quivering with delight and excitement when I knew that my plan worked, and that I didn’t talk about Dinner in my sleep. When we finally arrived in the area, he figured it out eventually because of all things, he had remembered that Dinner was at Mandarin Oriental. I was still trying to stall the surprise as we were walking from Berkeley to Mandarin Oriental, and told him I was only taking him for a ride; we were dressing up for Spaghetti House. He didn’t buy it of course, because he knew I would never, ever step into Spaghetti House. Oh wells, I thought Operation Birthday Surprise was pretty much a success anyway.
Now let’s move on from me clearly feeling chuffed about a super well-kept secret to the food, shall we? Dinner was overall a great experience. We had three courses each and I would say this is one of the most consistent meals we’ve had in a long time. On many occasions, we were often wow-ed by the appetisers, only to be let down by the main courses, or vice versa. But Dinner fared well on the cards throughout the meal and we left feeling very happy about the food and service.
I had gone to Dinner armed with recommendations from friends who have scored earlier reservations, so ordering was a no-brainer. I went for the Meatfruit, Powdered Duck and Tipsy Cake, while M had the Salamagundy, Sirloin of Black Angus and Brown Bread Ice Cream. Some of these dishes may sound odd to you; that’s because Heston and the head chef, Ashley Palmer-Watts, use recipes that surfaced in culinary history and put a modern spin on these medieval dishes (the numbers you see on the photo represent the periods during which these recipes were invented).
The Meatfruit was one dish that I was really looking forward to. Filled with the silkiest chicken liver parfait and encased in a mandarin jelly, the Meatfruit was fashioned into a very lifelike mandarin. It was a work of art and much too pretty to eat; I waited for a few good minutes before tucking in. The first bite was a revelation – how can something that looks like a bloody orange taste like anything but? It was a beautiful and witty combination – the savouriness of the parfait wasn’t weighed down by livery-flavours (which I can’t stand, the only ones I’m happy to relish are from seared foie gras…), but was instead lifted by the citrusy mandarin. The thinly sliced and crispy grilled bread was a predictable but befitting accompaniment to the Meatfruit. I was very reluctant to share this with M.
M’s Salamagundy consisted of chicken oysters, bone marrow and horseradish cream. It sounded like a perfect, rich dish and it was. What I really liked about this was how tender and well-seasoned the chicken oysters were. I have to say that this dish was a tad oily as the kitchen was a little heavy-handed with the bone marrow, but otherwise, there were some great flavours here that made for some serious lip-smacking.
So far, so good, it seemed. M and I shared a private joke based on the meals we had, that if the starters were good, the main courses were sure to terrorise, so I was actually a little doubtful of the Sirloin of Black Angus. I mean, I had the best steak ever in at Peter Luger in Brooklyn, NY, and I wasn’t convinced that another slab of steak could top that. A stingy morsel that M gifted proved me right and wrong. Whilst I still preferred Peter Luger’s version, Dinner’s was a fine-dining twin of what good steak could be. Very tender (albeit painfully small portion, but this was quickly forgiven as it was so well executed), perfectly seasoned and so very juicy, M was in love with it. I was infatuated with the triple cooked chips too, easily the best chips I’ve ever had. They were thick, crispy and fluffy, all at the same time.
I had the Powdered Duck, which was, for the lack of a better word, powerful in that it challenged my very own preference for Chinese-style duck. I have never liked duck in any other cuisine, not even duck confit. But this was cooked very well. I suspect it was cooked sous vide because it was so very tender. I found it funny that it had a bit of an Asian twist though, because I swore I could taste the usual Chinese marinades we use in our daily cooking, so perhaps I still like Chinese-style duck anyway. The Powdered Duck was served with an incredibly smooth and buttery potato purée and smoked fennel, which gave the sweet-ish duck marinade quite a pleasant kick.
Following robust starters and main courses, we were eager to see what Heston and team might pull out of the magician’s hat. I’ve heard plenty about the Tipsy Cake, which was a combination of roasted pineapple and brioche that has been fed repeatedly with booze (I think the waitress said it was port). The pineapple was nicely caramelised on the outside, and remained very juicy despite its time on the open fire. The brioche lent an incredible touch to the pineapple; it was buttery, alcoholic and so very rich, flavours of which married well with the toffee-ish and citrusy pineapple.
We also had the Brown Bread Ice Cream, which came with olive oil biscuits and salted butter caramel malted yeast syrup. I thought this was a fantastic dessert. I could see why some people would hate it, but for everyone who does, there will be another who loves it, and that would be me (M too). It is a clever play on flavours and textures. We would expect brown bread to be the biscuit part of the dessert, but the surprise hits you when you savour a spoonful of the ice cream. It’s clearly the flavour of brown bread, enhanced by the malted yeast syrup, and you wonder how brown bread gets reincarnated in the form of ice cream. Then came the crunch of the olive oil biscuits, which should have carried the flavour of brown bread. Sounds confusing, no? That’s because it is, and oddly, the flavours and textures worked brilliantly in my opinion.
We finished off with some earl grey and white chocolate served with a crispy caraway shortbread and we really enjoyed this. It was an alternative take on the traditional tea and biscuits; basically you dip the spiced-up biscuit into the ganache, and voilà! Insanely good….
So yes, some parts of the meal were full of surprises, and that made me love Heston and team even more. Some dishes did more to satisfy the palette than to wow us; nonetheless, with the magical touch on a few of the more unconventional dishes such as the Meat Fruit and the Brown Bread Ice Cream, we are really looking forward to our meal at Fat Duck come 9th June!
You may also want to check out photos of our epic meal at The Fat Duck!
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal is located at:
Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park
66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA