Him Indoors and I very recently celebrated our 2nd English Wedding Anniversary. You see, we had 2 weddings. For some people, this could lead to confusion and panic. After all, that is two cards which have to be bought well in advance, two dates which have to be remembered on pain of death! However, we have found this is an excellent excuse for having two BIG meal blowouts a year! Our 2nd Indian Wedding Anniversary was celebrated at Le Petit Maison, the superb Southern French restaurant which proudly declares "Tous célèbres ici" (everyone is famous/a celebrity here). So following that wonderful meal up was always going to be a challenge. We decided to haul out the big gun; Mr Heston Blumenthal.
I've always had a soft spot for Heston. Maybe it's because I grew up in Heston, maybe it is Heston's utterly driven, borderline geeky pursuit of food perfection. I don't know. I always enjoy watching him create his masterpieces on TV. Especially his brave attempts to construct food equipment from the most unlikely objects. So when Him Indoors said he had managed to book us in to Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Knightsbridge, I was delighted.
We arrived, and the place was animated and happening. It only got busier as our time there went on. This place seems to be a magnet! Tourists, businessmen, family groups and couples of all ages and races were there. It would appear that Heston's reputation and appeal has transcended all boundaries.
What did we eat?
Meat Fruit is described as "Mandarin, chicken liver parfait & grilled bread" and was inspired by a recipe from c.1500. Coincidentally, it costs £15.00! But as with so much of the molecular/super-innovative food of today, the description doesn't properly prepare you for the reality. What you get is a perfect, smooth chicken liver parfait, rolled into a ball and covered in mandarin jelly. How the jelly tastes so good, and yet manages to mimic the skin of a mandarin so perfectly is probably one of Heston's biggest secrets. And if he tells you, he may have to kill you! The grilled bread is a sweet toasted brioche. My only criticism of this super dish is why only the one slice? More bread, please!
Rice and Flesh is described as "Saffron, calf tail & red wine", and is inspired by the oldest of the Old English recipes which influences the menu at Dinner (dating back from c.1390). To put that into context, Geoffrey Chaucer was alive then. And English was not English as we know it, but was 'Middle English'. If you want to have a look at how different the language was back then, check out Chaucer's Prologue to the Canterbury Tales here: http://www.librarius.com/cantales/genpro.htm (Good luck! I studied it for A level English Literature and spent a fortnight trying to translate it!) The dish is a slightly al dente rice dish, made from a type of risotto rice, gently flavoured with saffron. It has the creamy taste and saffron flavour of a Risotto Milanese, but the bite left in the rice is intriguing and somehow (sacrilegious as this may seem to risotto lovers) totally right for this dish. The calf tail, stewed in red wine has been slow cooked to perfection. All of which will set you back £16.00.
The Roast Turbot, inspired by a dish from c.1830, is described as being served with "Leaf chicory & cockle ketchup" and is a steep £36.00. The turbot is superb quality, and perfectly cooked. However, I was slightly disappointed with the dish as for me the cockle ketchup was overly sour and did not go well with the leaf chicory. When eaten with some of your side dish, the ketchup is mellowed. But to serve something with such a strong tang with such a lovely piece of fish doesn't quite do it for me. It was totally edible, so don't get me wrong here.
The Black Foot Pork Chop served with "Hispi cabbage, lardo, ham hock & Robert sauce" is from an original source recipe from c.1860. The on-the-bone chop was a lovely hunk of pinky meaty deliciousness. What is Robert sauce? I don't really know. It's thymey and mighty tasty! Compared to some of the other main courses, it is pretty reasonably priced at £30.00
When it came to puddings, I just couldn't choose. The menu is varied and everything sounds superb. Thankfully, my exceptionally polite and helpful waiter suggested I went for the Tipsy Cake. This is one of the dishes which has come to be commented on by quite a few other reviewers. Based on a recipe from c.1810, it is made from spit roast pineapple, lovingly cooked for three whole hours. Actually, when you arrive, before they take you to your table, check out the glass walled area where you can see the chefs at work. You will be able to see the precision built spit, rotating the 6 peeled pineapples whilst simultaneously raising and lowering them. It's mesmerising, and you could probably watch it for the 3 hours that the pineapples take to cook. Costing £12.00, this is a dish which delights with the boozy, sweet cake which I can only liken to a brioche, but seems almost to taste of custard, complimenting the caramelised pineapple beautifully in texture and flavour.
If you want the Tipsy Cake, make sure you order it at the same time as your meal. The brioche is baked especially for you, and therefore takes time.
The intriguing Brown Bread Ice Cream (inspired by a dish from c.1830), really does taste of brown bread, although sweeter and more satisfying. Served with salted butter caramel, pear & malted yeast syrup and clocking in at £9.00, is a great combination of crunch and slurp. Sweet heaven. The portion could be a little bigger, but perhaps I am being greedy!
To finish off came a glorious caraway seed biscuit with a ganache chocolate pot. I think if I had been able to sneak into the kitchens I may have slipped a couple of them into my handbag! Rich, indulgent, calorific and delightful.
After all that, I needed a lovely digestive pot of green tea. Because frankly, I was stuffed!
Dinner has a very wide selection of wines available by the glass. This means with the help of the sommelier, you can match your wine with each course very precisely. It is worth bothering with this, particularly since you are likely to pick very different flavours (some of which can be very strong) in each of your courses. We found this really enhanced the quality of our experience. There is also a cocktail menu if you are that way inclined.
A word on the sides: if like me, you've read all about Heston's special 'triple cooked chips', you need to know that these are only available seasonally. So just like the true old fashioned chippies (the ones which don't buy frozen ready cut chips), the potatoes available in the Summer are not quite the right type for chipmaking. I remember having slightly lacklustre chips in the Summer at my old local chippy, and waiting for Winter to come again, bringing the tasty chips. The poor chipmaster had to put a note up in the window when the Summer potatoes came in, so many people would complain that the chips weren't quite right. Dinner have made the decision simply not to serve chips, substituting with twice cooked fries. Just so you know!
Dinner is an amazing restaurant. It IS expensive, I'm afraid. Particularly when you start to add drinks to the bill. It is the kind of place you go to for a special occasion, as we did. It is not an every day place. But we all need things to look forward to and to which we aspire. That is where this kind of 'uber-restaurant' fits the bill perfectly. If you love your food, you'll know of great local restaurants, pop-ups, street food and market stalls for ordinary treats. Save up for a trip to Dinner and it won't disappoint. Just don't expect to make it a habit. Unless you win the lottery.