Dinner, by Heston Blumenthal

‘Rice and flesh’

The expectations game is a sticky one.

Ever since Dinner, by Heston Blumenthal opened in January keen punters like us have quivered to get a booking. A taste of Heston, without the train ride to Maidenhead? Yes please.

There are additional lures; historical English dishes in the plush surroundings of the Mandarin Oriental hotel. The mere, tempting mention of ‘meat fruit’. Pineapples that rotate on custom designed spits. Scads of space, online and in print have been devoted to worshiping at new temple for wizardry and indulgence.

This is another one. Sort of.

We arrived the four of us at 2.25 pm on a Bank Holiday Monday. We were celebrating the 30th birthday of one of my oldest friends.

By 2.37 pm we are still standing at the vestibule entrance to the bar of the Mandarin Oriental, at a sign marked ‘Dinner’. The sly little smiles and jokes among ourselves for ‘yes, we’re having lunch at dinner’ and ‘do you think we’ll need dinner, after dinner?’ were spent. Now we just wanted to sit.

We’re then taken to the bar, where we cool our heels while others around us order drinks festooned with more gaudy fruit and straws than you’d find on a display at an agricultural show. We also want to drink- but at our table.

It’s 2.57 pm before we’re sitting and manage to flag down a waiter. It’s 3.05 pm before we order drinks. At 3.12pm, we’re watered; English Sipsmith martinis for the lads (£18), a more prudent Campari over ice for me (£7.50) and a glass of Ruinart for the beauty across the table.

There’s not much other frippery needed. The menus are already sitting at our places, they concertina out. There’s a three course set menu for £28. It’s good value. That’s not the path we’re taking today.

The menu includes a historical reference for each dish. This is the philosophy, and the point of ‘Dinner’. While the kitchen is run by Ashley Palmer-Watts, the concept expands on Heston’s fascination with England’s culinary heritage; traversing recipes from the Master Cooks for Richard II, through to ‘Cod in Cider; a recipe combination first published in 1940.

On the flip side of our menu there’s more detail on the etymology of each dish.

While there are some plates which echo the sort of gleeful pyrotechnics we’ve come to expect from Heston (and witnessed first hand with bacon and egg ice cream, the Nitro Grove and Sounds of the Sea at Fat Duck) there’s also a strong focus on just bloody good cooking.

‘Rice and flesh; circa 1390 (£16.00) may read crudely on a menu, but arrives as a Van Gogh sunflower yellow bowl of loose saffron risotto, with a wreath of ragu.

Savoury porridge (£14.50) is a riot in a bowl, a shockingly green slurry of grains, stained by parsley, topped with chewy nuggets of snail and tangles of raw fennel and wild mushrooms.

And then the final starters for the table are two orders of the famed meat fruit (£13.50).

It’s a piece of charred and well oiled bread. And a mandarin. Which when you puncture with a fork reveals a soft centre of ludicrously smooth liver parfait and a thin casing of mandarin jelly.

It’s sexy, entertaining and beautiful.

To me the aggressive char of the bread shouted over the citrus murmuring of the mandarin. Eating the remaining parfait just on bread sent to the table revealed a subtler and quite different dish. Though both were something I’d happily devour everyday. A genuine specimen of style and substance. This is the Heston we know and love.

Main courses veered from more bistro style creations, such as the Pork chop with Robert Sauce (based on Carême’s residency in London), through to more adventurous and aromatic ‘powdered duck’.

The boys both opt for pork, shunning the big Angus steaks with mushroom ketchup. The pork is Black Foot. It’s the size of a man’s outstretched hand. It’s sweet and bears a fine collar of fat (for flavour). There’s a mound of cabbage beneath and a puddle of sticky sauce.

The powdered duck on the other hand, is a show stopper. Two duck legs are gently cooked until they loll from the bone. There are notes of cinnamon in the skin and  slow cooked segments of fennel  provide additional things to chew over. The two sides; a twee pot of sticky gravy and a bowl of mash that was like potato infused cream take it to another height of indulgence.

Desserts are a highlight. We sampled all on the menu, bar one.

I’d like to say we didn’t order the ‘Frozen Lychee Ice’ after its strong endorsement from the floor staff because our lack of comfort supporting tautologies in menus (frozen ice?), but really, it was the Tipsy Cake’s fault.

We couldn’t leave it behind. Throughout the entire meal we can whole pineapples, carved as hedgehogs, rotating on a spit, turned by watch cogs. They’ve been lovingly basted in caramel. And they’re coming alongside with a batter cake that proudly calls itself tipsy. And while five desserts between four is just passable, six totters on gross.

We opt for a slice of the dark chocolate bar, shiny as a pit of tar. It places nicely with passion fruit, tangoing between oozingly dark and refreshingly zippy.

We include serving of the brown bread ice cream, striped like a honey bee with gooey malted yeast syrup and a salted butter caramel.

There’s a lemon suet pudding, which delivers on the short and crumbly carapace you’d expect from such a fat laden case, but fails a little on the centre filling. It doesn’t ooze the lurid yellow lemon curd quite like you’d hoped.

And then there’s the tipsy cake. Which is glorious, puffed and boozed in a squat little po t- we fight our forks over the last segments.

There were some minor quibbles in the meal  beyond how long it took us to find our way to our table; perhaps it was the holiday. Perhaps it’s being part of such a large hotel. Perhaps we were right royally spoiled when we went to Fat Duck and have come to expect an obscene level of service.

The wine list at ‘Dinner’ is a bit of a quandary; it’s impressive, but is skinny reading between table wine at £20 and £50 (from there it goes up and up). And a request for help to match a wine for mains within £50 -$70 proved a struggle. We agree that we don’t ‘t need the wine to be  bosom buddies with both the  pork and the duck – it doesn’t even need to be the same bottle for the whole table- wines by the glass would have been fine.  But needling us towards a bottle that’s more than £20 over our ceiling (and suggesting anything less will be a disservice to the food) sticks like a craw in my throat.

And our lads were a touch  disappointed by the lack of meads, sacks or interesting ales. They’d convinced themselves that a restaurant with such a historical claim would boast some.

Here are a few other tiny things worth knowing before you go.

Some of the sides are comically small. For £4.50 a side salad is the size of a grapefruit. We jokingly pass it around, sure to only take two leaves each. We’d suggest that a group larger than a pair of you orders two.

The round tables can feel impersonally large, better suited to business banter than intimate sweet nothings.

And at the very end of the meal we received an Earl Grey custard as a petit fours,  tacky in texture like condensed milk. It’s awkward to eat with the fingers of caraway shortbread snapping inside the cup, leaving you to ferret them out with your fingers.

But all in, these are minor things to mention in the course of a stellar meal. So why would I do so?

Because if you don’t opt for the £28 set lunch, Dinner can be expensive. Because it’s so hard to get a booking. And because it’s got Heston’s name on it.

I told you the expectation game can be a difficult one to win.

I think we’ll call this one a draw.

Dinner, by Heston Blumenthal

66 Knightsbridge
London, SW1X 7

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal on Urbanspoon

  1. I really enjoyed reading this review! Sommeliers who try to upsell you really get on my tits. It is so unnecessary!

  2. I've wanted to visit Dinner ever since it opened, and have read pretty much all the reviews going…sounds like you had a great time, even if it fell down on a few things, and all those desserts look absolutely divine. What a shame about the wine list – I hate it when restaurants fail to offer options within a sensible bracket, especially when they'll do a set offer on the food!

  3. *sigh* Oh but for a mouthful of Heston's food! Sadly we missed out on dining at The Fat Duck but this gives us a much better change. The side plates do sound funny though (grapefruit sized salad :P).

  4. I have a big problem with expectation as well. I didn't think Tetsuya's was all that because I'd built it up too much.

    The food looks good though. You might have tempered my expectations enough that I'd enjoy it.

  5. Lucky you! You tried all the desserts?! You crack me up – love it. Hey, I guess if bookings are hard to come by, might as well live it up.

  6. The meat fruit was out of this world and we absolutely loved the tipsy cake too!

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