I thought this bit of history referenced by the chef himself will give you a glimpse into the arcane nerdiness this experience gets into.
It is never easy naming a restaurant. On this occasion, I wanted something that represented our menu that is inspired by historic British gastronomy, so I searched for a name that had a bit of history but was also fun.
In the past, the main meal -dinner-was eaten at midday, before it got too dark. But affordable candles and, later, gaslight saw dinner shift. By the mid-1800s people were dining later. People working in the cities were taking a ‘lunch’ to work and having their main meal at 5.00pm when they got home, while in rural areas the main meal was still taken at midday.
Even today, depending on where you are in the British Isles, ‘dinner’ might be served at lunchtime, suppertime or, indeed, dinnertime!
This made ‘Dinner’ the natural choice for its typically British quirky history and linguistic playfulness. If nothing else, I hope it’s easy to remember.
It also has a very novel concept if you look past just tasting the food, but learning about how he basically reproduced this food using recipes from 1800’s England, this is a worthy experience. With Heston Blumenthal’s fascination with historic gastronomy, the savory ice creams of the late 1800’s, the theatre of the Tudor dining experiences and the dishes of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland all resonated with his unique approach to cooking, you see that obsession with food was not a modern phenomenon.
So it is inarguably in a posh part of town and set inside the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hyde Park. The reservations are still notoriously difficult to get a hold of, and of course, it has the cache of Heston Blumenthal, the mythical chef who started the UK institution of fine dining known the world over. The food was all very tasty, with some molecular trickery, but for the most part, it was just solid, conservative and traditional styled dining. It was in a dining room that was kind of dark and too loud, with servers that were running around frantically and a bit difficult to get a hold of. Not bad service, they were kind enough, explained items well, but it was kind of a hurried event.
There is no tasting menu, you just pick the courses a la carte, which killed the joy for me as we were in by 830p and out by 1030-11p. I prefer the seated at 7p, rolled out the door in a wheel barrel past midnight. This is more the type of place you want to come to for a business dinner, or before drinks, or before a play, etc, as it is straightforward and to the point, not a lot of time wasted like in 12-course tasting menu format. Had I anticipated this ahead of time, my expectations would have been adjusted to the empty feeling I had upon leaving this place. However, it is #34 in all the restaurants in the UK, and #36 in the top 50 in the world. Since our friends Erika and Mark let us stay at their flat, the least we could do is treat them to dinner here.
Here was the first dish we had “Rice and Flesh”, which was a saffron risotto with calf tail, and red wine. The texture was great, calf tail was like miniature ox-tail with a nice savory mouth-coating texture that went well with our 2009 Chateau Neuf de Pape. We only got one bottle of wine for the entire table as we got completely shit faced at Erika’s house drinking 1999 Cristal followed by some Taittinger rose. We had to pace ourselves for what was yet to come.
Then “Meat Fruit”, which was a ball of chicken liver pate coated with mandarin jelly that looks like an actual mandarin on the outside.
This was followed by some breaded chicken oysters in a sauce called Salamugundy, which is a recipe from the Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary by John Nott printed in 1720. This was sitting on a bed of bone marrow and horseradish cream.
In case you don’t know what this is, you have probably eaten it before not knowing it was a special sought-after piece. There are only two in each chicken, so to make a dish with like six of them just screams decadence.
Don’t they look like oysters?
Here was the roasted Turbot with Mussels and seaweed ketchup, which is basically like a tomatillo/green tomato emulsion with seaweed. There was also so grilled fennel, which appeared to be in season at this time. Excellent tenderness of the fish, perfectly grilled.
The dish above was called Frumenty. This is a Medieval porridge dish that was originally made with dolphins. WTF?!
Given that animal activists would bomb this place if he stuck to the letter of the recipe, they replaced it with an octopus that was first cooked sous vide, then grilled. The octopus was mixed into a smoky broth, made from a seaweed from the Kent coast, mussels, shitakes, and dashi. It was also garnished with pickled lemon and slices of pickled Buddha’s hand.
Powdered Duck Breast with cherries. It was made with smoked beetroot, cream of juiced red cabbage, red berries, apple, star anise, and spices. Look at that ruby color. The sauce was like a jammy dark red Cab. I almost needed a Syrah or Cornas for this dish, it over-powered the CDP. On the side were pieces of braised and grilled red cabbage, pickled cherries and a leaf of chard. Tender umbles – the offal, or inner parts of an animal, in this case, the heart, which I love. This was probably the most complex umami dish of the night and probably my favorite.
This is a proper grilled Iberico pork chop. I don’t know why I never see this cut of meat in the US, is it because of the proximity to Spain and access to this cut of perfect Iberico pork? This was the second night in a row that we had this meat, and I was not complaining. The mushy peas, traditional British staple, with the grilled and caramelized fennel with blackberries was a virtual forest floor of aromatic vegetation perfectly accommodating this fat pig. The only thing I can imagine would make this better would be if I starved myself all day, came in, sat down, ate this and only this and walked out. Had I done this, I would feel complete satisfaction, but after all the other savory food we had, I was starting to get nauseous, which kind of fucked up my appreciation for the dessert.
Here is the famous Tipsy cake with a spit roast pineapple slice. The cake is made of brioche buns soaked in a brandy caramel sauce. The surface area created by the spiraling of the pineapple that is roasted on a spit leads to these crevices of sugared/roasted creme brulee’d goodness.
Brown bread ice cream. I love this concept due to the fact that it really captured that malty/yeasty flavor of the bread with the caramel layered on top, contrasted by the acid/zesty apple in between. It was like a nice old sherried whisky.
Egg in verjuice was the most eye-catching dessert.
This was basically a sweet concoction of verbena and coconut pannacotta with a coffee parfait and verjuice, which is a highly acidic juice made by pressing unripe grapes, crab apples or other sour fruit. In the Middle Ages, it was widely used all over Western Europe as an ingredient in sauces or to deglaze preparations, whereas modern cooks would use either wine or some variety of vinegar. This has become much less widely used as wines and variously flavored vinegar became more accessible.
The dessert has been inspired by a recipe by Patrick Lamb which was originally published in his 1726 book Royal Cookery. That’s nearly a 300 years old Easter Egg. It looks like a soft boiled egg when you crack it open. The shell of the egg is made using white chocolate and lemon thyme. It rests on a nest of honey and citrus flavored katafi, which I have known my whole life by the name of knafeh. If you have never had knafeh before, you are missing out on something very important that you need to try before you leave this earth. It is my all-time favorite Middle Eastern dessert. I was happy that it has finally entered into the realm of molecular/Michelin dining.
This is Knafeh. Look at that melting cheese under that hay like fried dough with rose water syrup. That is some fucking sinful debauchery.
All and all, as far as the 2-star rating, it certainly has the demeanor of a place that could even be 3 stars, but the rushed service, cramped and loud dining area might prevent that. It certainly has the food-nerd level of uniqueness but lacks the theatrics of other places, such as in my last post, The Man Behind the Curtain, which certainly in my mind merits 2 solid stars even though it only has 1. Dinner By Heston in my mind is like a weak 2-star rating for the aforementioned reasons. Also, primarily because there was no tasting menu. I’m sorry, I am just used to a 4-hour bonanza if I am traveling somewhere just for the food, not the main course, dessert and then, “check please”. Luckily we able to remedy this by getting extra plates and we all just shared with each other.