Friday, 17 June 2011
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
It's been just over a month since our meal at Dinner and since then I've enjoyed observing (especially on Twitter) what a magnet this restaurant has become, but also how very much people seem to enjoy it. It seems to be a rare example of somewhere living up to the hype. I found it easy to make the booking online (albeit for 9.30pm), but I did make an effort to do this just before the key reviews came out. A number of years ago I ate at the Fat Duck (loved the bacon and egg ice cream) and at the Riverside Brasserie in Bray Marina (another Heston project in the early Noughties and where I first had his triple cooked chips), but I haven't made it to the Hind's Head. I was, of course, absolutely delighted to hear that Britain's most exciting chef was opening a restaurant in London, headed by Ashley Palmer-Watts, allowing us to enjoying his food without trekking out to Berkshire.
Trying to keep the excitement levels under control, we arrived at the restaurant on a buzzy Friday evening and were struck by the calm, friendly welcome. We were steered to the bar where we ordered glasses of Grüner Veltliner before almost immediately being shown to our table. Having done my homework, I had a good idea of what I wanted to order. My husband was happy to go along with these choices, so we ordered the already fabled Meat Fruit and Broth of Lamb for starters. Our main courses were Black Foot Pork Chop and Sirloin of Black Angus, with a side dish of buttered carrots with caraway. Tipsy Cake and Brown Bread Ice Cream were what we settled on for dessert.
As much as we'd have loved to spoil ourselves, we selected a good value bottle of Côtes du Rhône 2008 from Roger Sabon to go with the main courses and inquired about something to partner the Meat Fruit as we still had some Grüner left. A glass of Vouvray les Argiles 2009 by Chidaine was suggested which turned out to be a bit too dry and mineral for the dish, despite its elegance and verve.
As the food is served, you realise how the deceptive the menu is, almost to the point of being dead-pan. There is also a lot of tantalising historical information about the dishes and the original source materials, with practically a bibliography on the reverse of the menu. We've kept ours as it is fascinating.
The Meat Fruit (c 1500, mandarin, chicken liver parfait and grilled bread) is a remarkable dish. Slice into this 'mandarin' and the rich, satiny parfait is revealed beneath a fine orange flavoured jelly. So clever. The sourdough toast that accompanied it was perfect. Fabulous.
My husband's Broth of Lamb (c 1730, slow cooked hen's egg, celery, radish, turnip and sweetbreads) was a revelation.
I find myself using descriptions I'd otherwise use for fine wine for this dish. On the palate it was light, subtle and quite springlike, with fresh, lifted flavours, especially of the celery and radish. However, on the finish (once you'd swallowed) the flavour of the broth itself took over – long and complex, with a delicious savoury intensity that went on and on. The textures were amazing: there were small deep-fried breaded nuggets of sweetbread and a slow-cooked egg, decadently gelatinous, as well as the crunchy vegetables. We asked how long the egg had been cooked for – one hour at 61°C in the broth, apparently. It was wonderful.
When main courses were served (which we were planning on sharing), the Black Foot Pork Chop (c 1860, pointy cabbage, Robert sauce) was placed in front of my husband and I had the Sirloin of Black Angus (c 1830, mushroom ketchup, red wine jus and triple cooked chips).
My husband was bowled over by the chop (my preference, if I'm honest) and I thought the sirloin was another remarkable, deeply satisfying dish and absolutely packed with flavour. Indeed, too much flavour (especially the powerful mushroom ketchup and the red wine jus) to be able to taste the chop properly. High praise, though, from hubby who described it one of the best dishes he'd ever eaten.
However, the sirloin was a dream-come-true for meat lovers, as it was finished off with three pieces of bone marrow, topped with toasted crumbs. Another amazing combination of flavours and textures. Even the carrots were spectacularly good, beautifully scented with caraway and the chips were, of course, superb. By this point we both felt that this was jaw-droppingly good food (although I wish I'd tasted the chop before the steak). The Côtes du Rhône stood up admirably to this onslaught – its vibrant, youthful spicy fruit, complex underlying minerality and sleek, supple tannins ideal for our hunks of meat.
We moved on to desserts – Tipsy Cake (c 1810, spit roast pineapple) and Brown Bread Ice Cream (c 1830, salted butter caramel, malted yeast syrup). We'd already caught site of the pineapples twirling sedately on the magnificent spit in the kitchen, with spiral grooves cut into them, looking like something from a grand country house kitchen. The result was delicious – luscious, juicy fruit with a dark caramelised exterior. The cake was a bit baba-like, but with a tighter texture. It had a crunchy sugar coating and was doused with boozy light caramel sauce. Overall, the dish was beautifully balanced – the richness firmly kept in check by the pineapple's acidity.
The Brown Bread Ice Cream was yet another unexpectedly good dish that seemed to comprise of caramel in different forms. The ice cream sat on a fudgy base, with chewy chunks of salted caramel (with a savoury complexity), crunchy pieces of toasted oatmeal and little pieces of diced apple. Again, exciting flavours and textures were conjured up using surprisingly commonplace ingredients. This was cooking of the highest order.
We shared a glass of Szamarodni Tokaj 2006 by Szepsy (the sommelier's recommendation – she explained that she used to work at Nobu in Budapest). This complimented both desserts nicely, although we'd have been just as happy with the much less extravagantly priced Pacherenc du Vic Bilh by Brumont.
We had a little 'freebie' of white chocolate ganache with a caraway biscuit for dunking. The Tokaj was particularly good with this and helped stand up to what was pretty much fudge in a cup, like dulce de leche. I found it a bit too rich at this point in the evening (but still managed to polish it off).
It was an extraordinarily good meal, fairly priced given the quality, at about £100 per head (though watch those wines!). The restaurant felt relaxed and well in its stride and not at all self-conscious. Highly recommended.
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park
London SW1X 7LA
Tel 020 7201 3833