Heston Blumenthal's first London venture has proved a huge success with both critics and the public alike. Kerstin Kühn checked it out
It has been an incredible year for new restaurant launches in London. But among the plethora of high-profile openings, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal definitely stole the show. Housed in the Mandarin Oriental hotel and the celebrity chef's first venture outside the village of Bray in Berkshire, it marked a whole new direction, not just for Blumenthal, but also for the capital's restaurant scene. Dinner has been an almost unanimous hit among the critics and won numerous awards, among them a Michelin star just nine months after opening.
The food at Dinner, a collaboration between Blumenthal and Fat Duck group executive chef Ashley Palmer-Watts, pays homage to Britain's historic gastronomic past. But at the same time it's a very contemporary menu full of modern cooking methods and techniques. It's a deconstruction of the conventions of our kitchens from the past few hundred years featuring dishes inspired by recipes dating as far back as the 14th century.
"All of the dishes are inspired by the past in some way," explains Palmer-Watts. "It might just be one element rather than the whole dish." A case in point is the roast scallops (£16) served with purple sprouting broccoli and borage, as well as cucumber hearts and the 1820s inspired cucumber ketchup. The latter is made with gellan, a gelling agent that sets exceptionally fast at ambient temperatures and allows for outstanding flavour release according to Palmer-Watts. "It keeps the very clean and fresh flavour of the cucumber," he explains.
The restaurant's most iconic dish is, of course, the meat fruit (£14.50). Dating back to Tudor days, this used to take the form of minced veal and pork shaped into an apple. At Dinner, it's a mandarin (a nod to the hotel) in the form of a deliciously creamy chicken liver parfait coated in mandarin jelly. "It's by far the most popular dish, we go through about 1,000 of them a week. We've even had people ask if they could order them for parties," says Palmer-Watts.
One of the more unusual starters on the menu is the broth of lamb (£14.50), which is inspired by a mutton broth recipe from the 1730s. Comprising a very clear, rich, intensely flavoured lamb consommé made with a cold herb infusion, bonito flakes and white soy, it is served with crisp nuggets of lamb sweetbreads, shredded celery and blanched radish and turnip. In the middle is a slow-cooked egg which, with its silky texture, brings the whole dish together beautifully.
Meanwhile, the historic element in the slow-cooked pork belly served with spelt (£30) is the Robert sauce, one of the earliest compound sauces systematised by Marie-Antoine Carême in the early 19th century. The dish is a perfect example of how the food at Dinner brings together the past and the present. While the sauce - made with smoked bacon, tarragon mustard and English herbs - gives the dish its historical relevance, the pork belly is cooked in a thoroughly modern way. The meat is brined for 24 hours in a 25% salt solution, before being cooked sous-vide for 30 hours at 60°C, warmed in the water bath and then coloured on the plancha. The accompanying rich spelt risotto comes covered with a sheet of lardo and deliciously light crackling, making it a pork lover's dream.
On to desserts and brown-bread ice-cream (£9.50) - a homage to the 1980s classic - delivers bursts of savouriness from the salted caramel and malted yeast syrup. But the best seller at Dinner is the tipsy cake (£10). "We go through about 125 portions of this a day," says Palmer-Watts. And it's no surprise: wonderfully fluffy and light, yeasty hot brioche is covered in sugar and alcohol (brandy and sauterne) and served with spit-roast pineapple covered in a spicy caramel sauce.
Dinner is a restaurant inspired by the historic food of yesteryear executed by a thoroughly modern kitchen. After breaking the boundaries of molecular gastronomy, Blumenthal's gone back to the past while, at the same time, serving his diners a taste of the future.
Sample dishes from the menu
Hay Smoked Mackerel (1730) lemon salad, gentleman's relish and olive oil £14.50 Savoury Porridge (1660) snails, chanterelles, garlic and fennel £14.50 Salamugundy (1720) smoked calves heart, beetroot, horseradish and walnut £16.50
Roast Halibut (1830) dandelion leaves and cockle ketchup £31 Chicken cooked with lettuces (1670) spiced celeriac sauce and oyster leaves £29 Hereford Ribeye (1830) mushroom ketchup, red wine juice and fries £32
Taffety Tart (1660) apple, rose, fennel and blackcurrant sorbet £9.50 Lychee Frozen Ice (1590) rosehip jam, barberrie granite and red currant £9 Baked Lemon Suet Pudding (1630) lemon caramel and Jersey cream £9.50
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA
Tel: 020 7201 3833
By Kerstin Kühn
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