Dinner at Heston Blumenthal, London

http://www.dinnerbyheston.com

Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London

Back in London, lunch with a best friend and the chance to try out a new opening – Dinner at Heston Blumenthal. It’s been pulling in the crowds and therefore some planning ahead is needed for reservations. It’s certainly a slick money-making operation for all concerned. I get a phone call 5 days before my booking to confirm (5 days!).

I’ve got a lot of time for Heston because works at being unique. He’s carved out a clear positioning for himself with a competitive advantage – cutting edge geeky gastronomy meets old english heritage. And even though he’s more and more on TV, he’s not spreading himself so thin that the food seemingly comes secondary. His mantra is probably “don’t do what Gordon does.” So this brand extension focusing on ‘old english’ really stands outs.

It’s a big hotel restaurant with double the covers I expected. The waiters are young, European and efficient to the detriment of real personality. I’m also not sure if I’m in a concept restaurant or not. We get explained the concept – British dishes ‘resurrected’ from the past, but the only other nod to it is jelly moulds as light shades. It’s not quite gelling together in the cavernous, but striking room.

Oh and the wine list is odd in terms of length & pricing. I’m well used to the concept of relative positioning – using choice & pricing to influence decision-making. It’s practiced heavily in the pricing of wine to encourage purchasing of a more expensive wine. at Dinner there’s a house wine (well priced 20GBP), then the next choice is 60GBP+. So it’s cheap or expensive, not a compromise 45/50GBP choice in sight. Mildly irritating. It encourages us to go cheap and get two bottles. Fuck it and another starter why not….

Enough of that, it’s the food that really matters. It’s good. Not fancy, just really enjoyable.

Lovely crust on the bread. The almost radioactive butter is deliciously rich & creamy with a good slug of salt. I personally can’t understand why anybody would ever eat unsalted butter, even in desserts….

I order the Rice & Flesh with saffron, calves tail & red wine

A beautifully savoury and meaty risotto. It’s a significant portion and ideal to share. The rice has good bite with little explosions of red wine & tail. Creamy & intense.

Meat Fruit:

The signature dish. The marketing men at Mandarin Oriental must be squealing with delight – people are coming here to order a mandarin…. Look I’m not about to order chicken liver parfait at a restaurant, no matter how cute it looks. It’s like ordering a cheese sandwich. Nathan does the honours instead…and it’s really something. Smooth as silk, rich with the mandarin jelly providing the balance. It’s a complete dish. It’s even got greenery. Still not going to break my role, but it’s worth the hype

The extra starter: Salamugundy: Chicken Oysters, Salsify, tongue & horseradish cream

Providing a little bit of balance to proceedings, it’s a decent mellow dish with a pleasing punch from the horseradish – more a man-salad with lots of ingredients to get excited about. But no fireworks

The mains: Black Foot Pork Chop with Spelt & Robert Sauce

A gorgeous hunk of well bred meat, served nice and pink. (if only all pork was served this way). Sauce was full flavoured with mustard and onions without it being cloying or too intense. Interesting accompaniment with the spelt and lardons. Some cabbage on the side did the veg proud.

Chicken cooked with lettuces (c.1670)Spiced celeriac sauce & cabbage

Again another dining no-no, ordering chicken, but it was recommended….The chicken, normally devoid of flavour was sensational with the lightly of spiced purees and flavoursome lettuce (yes, lettuce does have flavour). It was kick-arse, even though sous-vide cooking normally removes textural joy.

On so on to puds:

Chocolate Bar with passion fruit jam and ginger ice cream

Even if Chocolate Bars had not been invented in 1730, I’m sure we would have seen it on the menu. It’s an Alain Ducasse thing and it’s doing the rounds – layered textures of chocolate is no bad thing and this was something to send one into a chocolate coma with ginger ice cream the only thing to rescue the soul. Passion fruit jam was the merest of nods to sweetness, but it was mostly ignored in the face of excess.

Speaking of excess, I went for the final must order cliche: Tipsy Cake with spit roast pineapple

If the chocolate bar was all richness, this dessert was all sugar. If you’re going to go down a certain path then you might as well go hell-for-leather. It was great. The brioche drenched in sweet liqueur with caramelised pineapple. It was a dish that had to finished.

We finish with double espressos, a cut chocolate pot and shortbread.

It was a fine meal with excellent ingredients and cooking. All decent substantial dishes, nothing twee. I guess cooking in the past catered for men first and Heston probably had to work hard to fine some subtle lighter dishes! It’s always good to eat at a place with raison d’etre away from the normal interpretation of modern French. It’s partly why this restaurant has done so well I suppose. I’m not sure I buy the whole concept, but all the good stuff is on the plate where it belongs. That’s why it’s no flash in the pan.

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