Dinner by Heston Blumenthal @ Mandarin Oriental

Dinner at Dinner was, frankly, long overdue. H had performed a minor miracle and secured us a table waaaaay back when it first opened but for one reason or another it was donated very reluctantly through clenched teeth concealed by a thin smile to the willing recipient Greedy Diva. Since then I’ve been itching to pay it a visit. So, what better way to start a New Year diet than with a meat fruit? (no, really…)

We started with a hiccup in more ways than one with cocktails in the Mandarin Bar. A delightful waitress came and took my order then turned on her heel and left. No drink for H apparently. Once resolved by a passing waiter, the drinks were pretty good. Not memorable enough for me to remember what I ordered other than the fact that mine came in a martini glass with the longest stem in the world. Ever. H’s Apple Martini was pretty and packed a punch.

In all honesty the bar was a bit underwhelming and not “unbelievably cool” as per its website. Personally, I’d go to Bar Boulud instead for an aperitif or just have it at the dinner table. I’m also not impressed by the £5 “late licence charge” for non-residents after 10.30pm (although granted we weren’t charged for sticking around after dinner).

Moving swiftly on to the main event. Various online reviews of Dinner had commented on hostile waiting staff but we couldn’t have found this to be further from the truth in the restaurant itself. Our waiter was really keen to explain the history behind the dishes and how they had all had a team outing to Hampton Court Palace with Heston to see how dishes were cooked back in the bad old days.

Two dishes on the menu seem to be almost obligatory at Dinner, one being the meatfruit entrée and the other being the tipsy Cake pudding. Both were duly and promptly ordered. The tipsy cake needs to be ordered at the beginning of the meal for there to be time for the pineapple to roast and the cake to bake so there is a decision making onslaught early on.

The savoury porridge which apparently dates from c.1600 was interesting and was described as containing, snails, chanterelles, garlic and fennel. I’m not sure what more to say about it to be honest as I found it to be rather lacking in flavour which was surprising given garlic and fennel being on the ingredient list. The texture was all quite sludgy with little bite. I like to think I’m pretty imaginative when it comes to food however it was quite a frightening shade of lurid green. The snails could have been mushrooms and vice versa on the basis of taste and texture. I don’t regret trying it but would be intrigued as to how many repeat orders that particular dish gets! One final gripe before this post becomes more positive, but the way to make a £15 starter look bigger isn’t to top it with lots of cress.

Now you see a mandarin…..

…… and now parfait, magic!

The meatfruit was amazing. Make that AMAZING. It looks JUST like a mandarin- until you prod it then it is all cold and jellyish! I love the idea of reviving the 16th century tradition of concealing one food as another in a kind of trompe l’oeil fashion. The orange (peel) is a mandarin flavoured jelly which tasted just beautiful with the smooth, rich pink chicken liver parfait inside.

As a main course we shared the rib of beef which was a beautiful, marbled piece of meat served with its accompanying bits on a wooden board and it was cooked to perfection. (that said if it was specifically beef I was after I still haven’t found anywhere that beats Hawksmoor Seven Dials) The rib was served with the iconic triple cooked chips- great if you’re a fan of super crispy chips. One of the real highlights of the meal for me was the mushroom ketchup served with the beef. Our waiter explained that apparently mushroom ketchup originated in Asia and was imported into and embraced by the British. When it made the trip across the Atlantic Ocean, for one reason or another tomatoes replaced the mushrooms and the rest was history.

Brown bread icecream with salted butter caramel and malted yeast syrup. Salted caramel remains flavour of the day on lots of London menus and I love it (although perhaps not as much as Nigella Lawson) and it was the redeeming feature of this dessert. The brown bread ice cream was not sweet and not savoury but floated somewhere odd in between. Wouldn’t order it again.

Tipsy cake with spit roasted pineapple was by far and away the highlight of the meal for both H and me. The yeasty, gooey,  pudding arrived in its own cast iron ramekin topped with a golden sugary crust. Each mouthful melted releasing sweet custardy ooze. The pineapple was simply a revelation and Ive been trying to recreate it at home ever since. The length of roasting means that the pineapple just falls apart without any of the stringy, chewy down sides that pineapple usually entails. Cannot praise it enough.

Decor is sleek and modern with a feeling of space from the high ceilings. I loved the jelly mould lights on the wall and the fact that you could see the kitchen at work.

The clientele on a Sunday evening were pretty mixed between business and pleasure and groups vs couples but one guy stood out for me. In what world is it acceptable to sit at a table of six and have a large Bluetooth mobile thingy flashing in your ear throughout? The woman on his right got a bit of a look in conversation wise but who knows what his left hand dining companion had done to offend as he was out in the cold. To make matters worse, by the time we left the restaurant the Bluetooth had been exchanged for ipod headphones. Just bizarre.

If I was being hyper critical (which, let’s face it I generally am) I would say that the breads on offer at Dinner are hard to the point that they err on the side of dental destruction and many dishes are quite salty. I’m usually quite a fan of salt but found myself glugging the water down on more than one occasion.

In summary I’m very glad I tried Dinner and think it is a great eating experience but don’t think I will be going back there. Not unless you could go and just order the meatfruit and tipsy cake that is.  The menu has been the same for quite some time now so I think it will be interesting to see how long they can keep up a full diary of advance bookings without having to make some changes as many of the dishes seem to have more novelty value than longevity of repeat appeal.

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