Saturday, 15 February 2014

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London, UK


In today's post, I will be resurrecting my Good Food Month 2013, Euro edition series that I started but never really got going (which due to a combination of me being busy with other things and me being lazy, stands at a measly total of one post at The Ledbury thus far).

Any way, I will be writing about the lunch my wife and I had at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal (or is that Lunch by Heston?), which is located at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in London. This was our last big meal of the trip, so we were hoping to end our gastronomic trip through Europe on a bang! Funnily enough we started and ended our trip with meals at Heston restaurants, starting with Fat Duck (which will be subject of a future post) and ending with Dinner, just to show you how much of a Heston fanboy I am :) 

View of Hyde Park: we witnessed the best and worst of London weather from sunshine to rain
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal is Heston's second restaurant and was opened in 2011. Soon after opening its doors, Dinner received a whole host of accolades and awards, receiving a Michelin Star in its first year and a second star in 2013. Also, Dinner is ranked seventh in the San Pellegrino 50 World's Best Restaurants 2013 list. The kitchen is headed up by executive chef of the Fat Duck Group, Ashley Palmer-Watts. Palmer-Watts is often remembered as the guy that Heston gave a job to at Fat Duck years ago just so Palmer-Watts would stop pestering him. Working his way through the chef ranks, Ashley Palmer-Watts now heads up the Dinner kitchen and has devised the menu in conjunction with Heston. 


Dinner is a much different restaurant to Fat Duck, which fits more of the description of a fancy, special destination, haute cuisine restaurant. Dinner is a bit more pared back with a relaxed yet elegant dining room that overlooks Hyde Park. The restaurant can seat 120 diners, compared to only 45 at Fat Duck. The service at Dinner was one of the most pleasant we have received at any restaurant.  The wait staff were warm, genuinely friendly, attentive and highly knowledgeable.  Just a joy to interact with! The same could not be said about Fat Duck, as we found a few of the wait staff there to be a bit cold.


Besides science in food, Heston is also known for his enthusiasm for history and his admiration for the great chefs before him such as Antonin Carame, the father of French haute cuisine. The 3-course menu at Dinner is based on historical British dishes following extensive research conducted by food historians and the British Library.

There is also a set 3-course lunch menu for £38. The set lunch menu also allows you to choose one, two or three matching wines, which is a great option for those that get overwhelmed by a full set of matching wines but want to sample a wine or two. My wife decided to go with the set course lunch with vegetarian options and a matching dessert wine. I decided to choose from the normal menu as I wanted to try the signature dishes at Dinner, such as Meat Fruit.

Sourdough bread and butter
To start off our meal, we were served sourdough bread and butter, an essential part of any meal at a fine dining restaurant. This bread had great flavour and a really nice crust, as to be expected. I made sure not to load myself on bread, as I was going to have Meat Fruit, which comes with a slice of grilled bread.  

Entree

Lemon salad (c.1730): Smoked artichoke, goats curd & candy beetroot
Lemon salad was my wife's first course from her set lunch menu. How pretty does this salad look!? I love the pinks, purples and greens of the vegetables on the white plate. This was an outstanding salad that was fresh and had clean, classic and well executed flavour combinations. The sweetness and earthiness of beetroot was an obvious winner with goats curd. There was a restrained balance of fruitiness, bitterness and acidity from the lemon slices, that worked so well and cuts through the goats curd. My wife is not normally a fan of artichoke, but she found a way to enjoy these ones. She thought their charred and smoky flavours worked brilliantly in this salad.         

Meat Fruit (c.1500): Mandarin, chicken liver & foie gras parfait, grilled bread - £16
Obviously, for entree, I ordered the Meat Fruit, which is one of Heston's most famous signature dishes. This was one of the most highly anticipated dishes from my entire trip. Did it deliver? Hells yes!

The detail on the mandarin is just incredible, from the shape and size of the fruit to the little dimples on the skin. I don't blame those from the Middle Ages (the era from which this dish was inspired from) for biting into this expecting it to be the real thing! 

Inside the meat fruit is a parfait made from a combination of chicken liver and foie gras. The serving is actually quite huge, so you end up slathering a heap of the parait onto the grilled bread. I was in raptures after my first bite. Best parfait ever! So smooth, so rich, so creamy, so yummy! Nothing better than parfait with a very crispy grilled bread! And the tanginess from the mandarin jelly works wonders with the parfait. A waiter brought over a second piece of grilled bread the moment I finished my bread, as if he had anticipated what my next request would be. Now that's service!

How can anything in this meal top the Meat Fruit? Believe me, it only gets better! 

Mains

Braised celery (c.1730): Parmesan, artichoke and smoked walnuts
In place of the 2 non-vegetarian options on the set menu, my wife had the braised celery course that appears on the normal menu for £24. If there is another vegetable that my wife has an aversion to, it is celery. So how would she be able to enjoy a celery dish?  Easy, get Heston to come up with the recipe and magic is bound to happen! The celery had none of that raw celery taste my wife doesn't like and was softened in vegetable braising juices. Each celery stick was topped with a delectable and rich Parmesan cheese sauce. The cheese sauce was gratinated and had a lovely golden brown and slightly crisp top. To balance out the richness and smooth texture of the cheese, there were cubes of apple, smoked walnuts, slices of pickled candy beetroot and a dressing of walnut vinaigrette. This course was certainly a welcome change from all those carb-based vegetarian options out there at other restaurants (such as pasta, risotto, potato gnocchi).

Black foot pork chop (c.1820): Spelt, ham hock, turnip & Robert sauce -  £30
I was not sure what to order for main, so our waitress recommended the Black foot pork chop. She did such a good sell that I ordered it despite never ordering pork chop in a restaurant. When this dish was brought to our table, it was so incredibly fragrant, that even my vegetarian wife commented that the dish smelt amazing.  

My first bite into that pork chop with that Robert Sauce and my taste buds were delighted and my mind was blown away! The pork chop was perfectly cooked, not the slightest bit dry or tough (one of my fears wit pork chop) and was really tender. The caramelisation of the pork chop gave the meat some incredible flavour! And that Robert sauce, wow! This dish is all about that sauce and how perfectly it complements the pork chop. I have no idea who Robert is, but this Careme-inspired sauce has the most superb depth of flavour. The sauce is made from a reduced and concentrated pork stock and had a slight sweetness from caramelised onions and acidity from mustard. I just need more of this sauce, I could have jugs of it!

The pork chop also came with a fragrant mushroom spelt risotto, which was nice enough, but it didn't matter as almost anything would have tasted good with the pork chop.

Fries - £4.75
We also ordered a side of fries at my wife's insistence as she is obsessed with all things potato. These are not Heston's signature triple cooked chips, but are good enough to satisfy my wife's cravings.    

Dessert

Sambocade (c.1390): Goats milk cheese cake, elderflower & fig
My wife's dessert course in her set menu was the Sambocade, an early English cheese cake from the Middle Ages. First of all, I loved the presentation of this course - the charcoal powder on the side of the cheese cake made it look like a block of goats cheese.

This is just a plain old, boring cheese cake, right? Wrong. I don't think I can recall a better cheese cake (maybe the cheese cake at Waku Ghin compares). The cheese cake was amazingly light and the goats cheese flavour was very pleasant and not overpowering. There was a runny centre of apple and elderflower which provided a strong textural contrast to the creamy cheese cake. And love the sweetness of sticky roasted figs.        

My wife ordered the matching wine for this course, which was a 2012 Moscato d-Asti Bricco Quaglia from La Spinetta in Piedmont, Italy (£7.50). Neither of us are wine connoisseurs, but we pronounce this as the best food-wine pairing! The Moscato had a nice sweetness without being syrupy and the honey notes were a perfect complement to the goats cheese. I don't normally see how wine can enhance the flavour of food, but this pairing showed me how it can be done.

Tipsy cake (c.1810): Spit roast pineapple - £13
And onto my dessert, tipsy cake, which is the signature dessert of Dinner by Heston. As you walk into the restaurant, you can see the pineapples they use in this dish being spit roasting in the open kitchen. The flavour of the warm pineapple was superb. The rich, sticky, golden coloured pineapple had an intense sweet and caramelised flavour that goes so well with the tipsy cake. One spoonful of the tipsy cake, which was a warm, fluffy brioche soaked in custard and brandy, was enough to send me into raptures (again). It was incredibly moreish and I loved the ka-pow of the brandy, which surprised me at first. This was the most freaking delicious bread and butter pudding you will ever find!          

Like a kid at the ice cream store: ice cream being churned right before our eyes
It was as if I wasn't having enough fun already, then one of the waitresses comes over and asks whether we would be interested in having liquid nitrogen ice cream! Did you even need to ask, of course I would!

After a little bit of a wait, another waiter trolleys over this device, which is a custom built device for churning liquid nitrogen ice cream. Wow, how cool is this! According to our waiter, this is one of two such devices in the world. 

The way this works is as follows: you pour in the ice cream mixture, then you pour in the liquid nitrogen and crank the wheel to churn the ice cream and voila, ice cream is made! You then get to choose a topping from freeze dried raspberries, hundreds and thousands, hazelnut and apple popping candy to enjoy with your ice cream on a cone. Watching this spectacle take place made me feel like a kid choosing their favourite ice cream from an ice cream van.

Liquid nitrogen ice cream - £7.50 each
The liquid nitrogen ice cream was quite amazing. The flavour of the ice cream was traditional British custard and vanilla. The ice cream was soft, smooth, creamy and so delicious! The topping I chose was apple popping candy, which were delightfully fun, and my wife chose hazelnut. The ice cream cone was thin, crisp and coated in sugar. And once you get to the bottom of the cone, there is a little treat in store: a little scoop of stewed apples.

Petit four
To conclude the meal, we had a petit four of Earl Grey infused chocolate and caraway biscuit. Seriously one of the best petit fours ever! The ganache had an amazing and complex flavour profile of bergamot, black tea and the dark chocolate, with had a perfect balance of sweetness and bitterness.  

What a way to end our gastronomic trip through Europe! Our meal at Dinner by Heston absolutely blew my mind away! I did not expect this meal to be this amazing going in. How exciting could a 3-course menu really be? I felt the same type of buzz and excitement as I would after an outstanding degustation menu at a 3-Michelin star restaurant. The food was absolutely incredible, the service was top-notch and there were theatrics, what more could you ask for!

Many people have asked me whether Fat Duck or Dinner by Heston is better. I don't think you can really compare them as they both offer different experiences. If I was to recommend one of them to other people, I would be more likely to suggest Dinner. Not only is it much easier to book, it is a much more accessible dining experience with less fuss and just dishes out damn good food in a relaxed environment. Don't get me wrong, Fat Duck is mighty fine; it's just that I would recommend Fat Duck to just the most dedicated of foodies, given its £195 price tag.

Finally, there may be reason for us all to rejoice as there are rumours floating around that Heston could be coming to our shores. Heston is rumoured to open a restaurant in the Crown Complex in Melbourne where his great buddy, Neil Perry, is the culinary director. Nothing has been announced, so it is pure speculation at this point. Heston has already expressed interest in the past in rolling out the Dinner by Heston format to other countries, so perhaps Australia will be first country Dinner by Heston (or similar) will open outside the UK. Definitely one to keep an eye out for!

Verdict
Highlight: It is impossible to pick a favourite dish. I adored Meat Fruit, my pork chop main, the Tipsy Cake and the liquid nitrogen ice cream. I think I just named all my dishes! 
Lowlight: This meal marked the end of my delicious Euro trip.    
Overall: Dinner by Heston's historical British menu will wow your taste buds like no other. Plus you will experience the theatrics you come to expect from a Heston restaurant. Best three-course meal ever! 9.5/10 (Outstanding)

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
Address: Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA
Contact no: +44(0)20 7201 3833
Website: http://www.dinnerbyheston.com/

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For more posts about my food adventures during my trip through Europe, click on the following link: http://foodmab.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/food-highlights-from-my-euro-trip.html