Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal is, almost without question, the top table (excuse the pun) in town right now. Much like at Fat Duck in Bray, the place where Mr. Blumenthal made his name, getting into Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental is a mission and a half. I had tried on many an occasion since it first opened last year, but to no avail. Thankfully, reservations here can be made online, unlike at Fat Duck, where you have to endure a reading of Alice in Wonderland while holding the line for an inordinate amount of time - and that's assuming you can even get through to be put on hold in the first place! Anyway, I digress. Reservations at Dinner are made available online at 9am on the first day of the preceding month, so I figured there would be no better chance than on New Year's Day to secure a table for dinner in February (yes, this review is very delayed!). I logged on just a tad late at 9:07am on 1st Jan, and already all the tables at my preferred 7:30pm timeslot had been taken, but I did manage to book for 6:45pm on a Friday evening. Result!

One long, cold, dark month later and the day had finally arrived. I actually wore a smile on my face on the way to dinner that evening, such was my level of anticipation and excitement. First impressions - the dining area is rather large, making the nightly full houses even more impressive, and the atmosphere not too formal or stuffy, striking a good balance between refined and friendly. After a couple of nights of no jeans-jacket required-tie appreciated meals in Paris, this made for a refreshing change. There are no tasting menus here either (although after 11, largely uninspired courses at Guy Savoy in Paris just a few days earlier, I think we would have given it a miss even if there was one).

Meat Fruit (c.1500): Mandarin, chicken liver parfait & grilled bread

For the uninitiated, the concept here is of British cooking - but from the days of yore - hence a year of origin is listed for each of the menu items. Now, the Meat Fruit (c.1500): Mandarin, chicken liver parfait & grilled bread is, almost without exception, the star Dinner appetiser on the blogosphere, but with two people at our table already choosing it, I went for a different option, or two different options, in fact, having been persuaded to get two starters - Savoury Porridge (c.1660): Cod head, smoked beetroot, garlic, parsley & fennel and Roast Marrowbone (c.1720): Snails, parsley, anchovy & mace, pickled vegetables.

Savoury Porridge (c.1660): Cod head, smoked beetroot, garlic, parsley & fennelRoast Marrowbone (c.1720): Snails, parsley, anchovy & mace, pickled vegetables

The savoury porridge was a tad underwhelming - the cod head was lovely, and the dish decently seasoned, but there were no fireworks here. The marrowbone and snails were better, sort of a “souped-up”, more refined escargot bourguignon preparation, but still I awaited the first wow factor dish. That came, of course, in the form of the much talked-about Meat Fruit, which I was able to try a little bit of. The mandarin - in fact a jelly encasing a chicken liver parfait - was so well constructed it was practically indistinguishable from the real thing, and then gave way to the most incredibly smooth, rich and nigh on perfect parfait (I apologise for my negligence in not getting a photo of the parfait inside the mandarin - it was a regrettable oversight). The earthy parfait mixed with the sweet mandarin jelly, on top of the grilled bread, was simply a feast for all the senses, and immediately I could see why this dish had garnered such praise - for once, it was entirely warranted.

Black Foot Pork Chop (c.1820): Spelt & Robert sauce

Onto the mains, and I had a Black Foot Pork Chop (c.1820): Spelt & Robert sauce. The meat was well seasoned and the sauce delicious, but the pork chop was a tad dry, and tough - it could not compare to the outstanding pork chop I had at Cambio del Tercio last year. A special of Slow-cooked Pork Belly, with the same sauce and garnishes as my main, on the other hand, was a revelation. The meat was melt-in-your-mouth tender and moist, and as those were the only two criticisms I had of my dish, this one was a near-perfect plate.

Cod in Cider (c.1940): Chard & fired mussels

Another main of Cod in Cider (c.1940): Chard & fired mussels was absolutely gorgeous too - the sauce that accompanied it full of depth, complexity and subtlety, and absolutely delicious.

Chocolate Bar (c.1730): Passion fruit jam & ginger ice cream

For puds, my Chocolate Bar (c.1730): Passion fruit jam & ginger ice cream was decent, similar to the Louis XV made famous by Ducasse, and last sampled at Gauthier Soho, and to the Hedone Chocolate richly enjoyed just a few days earlier. The use of passion fruit jam here was a different touch, but didn't work nearly as well as the combination with hazelnut at Hedone. Another dessert, arguably the one Dinner is most famed for, the Tipsy Cake (c.1810): Spit Roast Pineapple, featured a delightfully fluffy and light brioche. It was awesome.

Tipsy Cake (c.1810): Spit Roast Pineapple

In a nutshell...
There is no disputing the fact that Dinner by Heston Blumenthal is a good restaurant. For once, an eating place actually managed to live up to the hype. No small praise, especially given the incredible hype that surrounded the 3 Michelin Star chef's London outpost, long before it even opened. But one's perception of how good this place is would have been markedly different, depending on the dishes one ordered. Go with the savoury porridge, pork chop and chocolate bar and you would have experienced a very decent, above average meal, but one decidedly lacking in fireworks. Order the Meat Fruit, Pork Belly special and the Tipsy Cake, on the other hand, and you might leave proclaiming this one of the best meals you have ever had.

So some work, clearly, still to be done then on the 'peripheral' dishes, but already there is much to commend at Mr. Blumenthal's latest endeavour. The rating below definitely has some upside potential, and a second Michelin Star cannot, and should not, be long in coming.

8.5/10

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7LA
+44 (0)2072013833
Average Price: £60
1 Michelin Star

Square Meal Dinner by Heston Blumenthal on Urbanspoon

Fala Fills, London

Fala Fills

Fala Fills is a stand in North End Road Market serving freshly-made falafel wraps. The falafels were made on site and immediately deep fried, which, I imagine, can result in quite a queue on a busy day. Even on this day, there was a bit of a wait for the falafels to be fried, as the two people ahead of me had ordered seven wraps in total. My Medium Falafel Sandwich was good, with crisp, tasty falafels, zingy salad, and crucially, bread that was not too thick. It was, however, slightly short on sauce, and hence just a tiny bit drier than I would have liked.

Medium Falafel Sandwich

In a nutshell...
Not quite the equal of Mr Falafel, which for me retains its self-anointed title of “best falafel in town”, but still very good.

7.5/10

Fala Fills
Pitch 35, North End Road Market, London, SW6
Average Price: £3
Worth noting: Closed Sundays

Hedone, London

Hedone

Hedone's owner and executive chef Mikael Jonsson's journey was an unusual and interesting one. Initially trained as a chef, the Swede went on to pursue a career in law, during which time he started writing a food blog. But the call of the kitchen proved too strong to ignore, and late last year he took the plunge, going from ingredients-obsessed food blogger, to ingredients-obsessed restaurateur.
The menu here, in keeping with Jonsson's focus on only the freshest and best ingredients, changes on a daily basis. You have the option of 4 or 5 courses depending on the number of starters you select - both options comprised just one main, and one dessert. There was also a 7-course tasting menu on offer, but we stayed with the 5 courses, or at least I did - the others in our party went with 4.

But before our first course, came an amuse bouche simply entitled "Umami". And it was indeed rich in umami, the sixth sense of taste introduced to the general conscience by the Japanese, and most commonly referred to as a savoury taste; featuring a silky smooth custard topped with a delicious secret sauce, which was also used later to great effect in the duck egg dish. But more on that in a bit.

Poached rock oyster, watercress jelly, beetroot

Onto the first of my three starters, and a Poached rock oyster, watercress jelly, beetroot was lovely - the watercress jelly and beetroot combination adding a freshness to the oyster that ensured it didn't feel too fishy. As it turns out, I've, rather unusually, had three oyster dishes within the space of 5 days, affording me an excellent opportunity to draw comparisons - Hedone's came in between the brilliant preparation at Passage 53, and the considerably less inspired concoction at Guy Savoy (both in Paris).

Cévennes onions, pear shavings (with Périgord truffle)

Next, Cévennes onions, pear shavings (with Périgord truffle), was rather interesting. Minus the Périgord truffle, which was
a £15 supplement, this was simply a dish of onions and pears. To serve a dish with such basic ingredients takes guts, and confidence in one's abilities as a chef. It wasn't confidence that was unfounded. This was a clever combination that just worked, the pear shavings providing a touch of freshness and sweetness - the perfect counterbalance to the onion. There was a good sauce to tie everything together too, but the truffle was not the strongest, and didn't add much.

Duck's egg "Meurette"

My third starter, Duck's egg "Meurette", was even better than the two that had come before it. Rich, hearty and full of flavour, it was a perfect winter's dish, especially ideal on a night that was, easily, the coldest of the year.

Roasted Sika deer, beetroots, apple, deer juice

Onto the main course, and I opted for the Roasted Sika deer, beetroots, apple, deer juice. The deer was a nice change from the usual meats so commonly trotted out at restaurants but the star of the dish, quite surprisingly, especially for me, were the beetroots and apple which were sweet and imbued with a beautiful smoky flavour. I, ordinarily, have quite the distaste for beetroot, but not on this occasion. Another main course of Roasted Shetland lamb, smoked mash potatoes, wood sorrel, which I had a taste of, was reasonable too, though I found the lamb a bit chewy for my liking. Again, however, the star of the dish was not the meat, but rather the accompaniments, in this instance a glorious mash potato so smooth and creamy it was less of a mash and more of a potato cream or foam. Call it what you want, it was superb. A third main course, Pan fried wild Dorset seabass, spiky artichoke, pomegranate, which I did not try, was apparently rather poor, striking the only sour note in an otherwise very pleasing meal.

Apple Millefeuille, caramel ice cream

Our party of four ended up with just two varieties of dessert. The Apple Millefeuille, caramel ice cream boasted a delightful, light and flaky pastry, and was complimented well by the ice cream which, especially praiseworthy for anything featuring caramel, was not too sweet.

Hedone's chocolate

My dessert, Hedone's chocolate, was a gorgeous chocolate and hazelnut cake with a chewy praline base. It reminded me very much of the Golden Louis XV I had at Gauthier Soho almost exactly a year ago, but this pudding was just a touch on the lighter side, and probably the better for it.

In a nutshell...
Well, I dare say, Jonsson's decision to move from behind the computer screen, into the limelight running the pass at the open kitchen in his own Chiswick eatery, was, resoundingly, the right one. A chef of such talent would have been wasted just writing about food - that's a job best left to people with no cooking ability whatsoever, such as yours truly. But for the one blot on the copybook, the fish course, this would have been a meal with absolutely nothing to fault. Why, then, no top-rating for a meal that was, just about, flawless? Because, while all the dishes were of a good quality, not one was great. Nonetheless, for the consistently high standard of cooking, a Michelin star surely beckons...

7.5/10

Hedone
301-303 Chiswick High Road, London, W4 4HH
+44 (0)2087470377
Average Price: £60

Hedone on Urbanspoon

Spice Market, London

Spice Market1

Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the New York superchef by way of Alsace, France is unarguably one of the most acclaimed chefs in the world, with restaurants across the globe in London, Paris, Shanghai, Las Vegas, and of course, New York, where the flagship of his empire, the 3 Michelin Star eponymous Jean Gorges restaurant sits atop the Trump Hotel overlooking Central Park.

Spice Market in the W Hotel near Leicester Square is in fact Vongerichten's second stab at the London market, following a failed and rather short-lived attempt to mimic the success of his (now shuttered) New York City Vietnamese fine dining venue Vong, with an identically entitled establishment at the Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge.

Spice Market, on paper at least, would seem to follow a similar template to Vong - it, once again, comes to us on the back of a well-established, same-name New York City restaurant, and also draws from the cuisine of the East, this time citing the street food of South East Asia as its inspiration. Clearly, if Vongerichten has learned anything from his previous London endeavour, it will have had to have been below the surface.

I must confess, I always approach upmarket pan-Asian restaurants such as Spice Market with a degree of skepticism - having been born and raised in Malaysia, I know only too well the great delights of the region's street food, and also that it's the kind of food that doesn't transport well out of its natural habitat - the street. Add to that the fact that most of these street food vendors spend a lifetime, generations even, perfecting just one dish, and Spice Market serves not just one speciality dish, or even fare from just one country, but rather from the entire region, and you begin to understand where my doubts arise from. Nevertheless, I endeavoured to keep an open mind on my visit.

The decor and ambience at Spice Market is right on the money. The room is cool and chic, yet cosy and welcoming - the booth where the four of us were parked for the night surprisingly homely; the atmosphere buzzy but not too loud; the service friendly, personable and not in the least bit too formal.

We went for the tasting menu - £48 for ten courses, with dishes served "family style", i.e. for sharing. The first set of dishes to arrive, which I guess we can term the appetisers were:

Shaved Tuna, Chilli Tapioca, Asian Pear and Lime
Lobster Summer Roll, Sriracha Emulsion
Spiced Chicken Samosas, Coriander Yoghurt
Charred Chilli Rubbed Beef Skewer, Thai Basil Dipping Sauce

Shaved Tuna, Chilli Tapioca, Asian Pear and Lime

The first dish I tried was the tuna, and I was very pleasantly surprised. Cold and refreshing with a touch of spice, this was a delicately balanced, unusual preparation that actually worked, and hinted at the promise and potential that might exist in a kitchen with access to all the wonderful and varied flavours that make up Asian cuisine. Perhaps I was wrong about Spice Market after all.

Lobster Summer Roll, Sriracha Emulsion

I eagerly sampled the next of the starters, the lobster summer roll, clearly a slight variation on the perennial Vietnamese favourite...and it didn't take long to bring me right back down to earth. The use of thick, firm chunks of lobster rather than the more common thinly sliced prawns, served no purpose other than to inflate the price of the dish, and to diminish one its key qualities - its soft, pillowy nature. Couple that with the far-too-sour, jelly-like substance that could also be found in the filling, and we were left with a reinvention of a classic that fell several rungs below the original on which it was based.

Spiced Chicken Samosas, Coriander YoghurtCharred Chilli Rubbed Beef Skewer, Thai Basil Dipping Sauce

Things went from bad to worse with the samosas which were insufficiently crisp, overly stuffed and lacking in flavour - never mind the very agreeable version recently enjoyed at Roti Chai, go into any random Indian takeaway anywhere in the country and I suggest you would have a more than even chance of finding a better version there. As it turned out, that wasn't even the worse of the starters - I had unwittingly left that for last - the beef skewer had a weird texture, and again, lacked any real taste, be it a nice char, or a bit of spice, both of which one might not unreasonably be entitled to expect from a "Charred Chilli Rubbed Beef Skewer", I dare say.

The next set of dishes featured:

Cod with Malaysian Chilli Sauce, Thai Basil
Baby Corn and Broccoli, Lemongrass, Chilli
Char Grilled Chicken, Kumquat Lemongrass Dressing
Ginger Fried Rice

Cod with Malaysian Chilli Sauce, Thai Basil

And unfortunately, things did not get any better. The cod was said to showcase a "Malaysia Chilli Sauce" - now I'm Malaysian born and bred, but I certainly did not recognise the sauce. My best guess is that it was an attempt at a "sambal" or chilli and curry paste - if that was indeed what it was, then it was an incredibly poor approximation of the real thing. Authenticity aside, this was also the third consecutive dish with a "blandness problem" - never a good thing.

Char Grilled Chicken, Kumquat Lemongrass Dressing

The baby corn and broccoli tasted like a typical Chinese vegetable dish in oyster sauce, with nary a hint of the advertised chilli, or lemongrass. The char grilled chicken actually had a char to it, and that in itself marked it down as one of the better dishes on this night, so low had the bar been set by what preceded it. It also had a reasonably appetising sauce, sort of like a Malaysian "kerabu", a sweet sour salad, dish but even on this relatively successful plate, the flaws were all too apparent - the lack of balance in the flavours making for a far too intense (sour) experience.

Ginger Fried Rice

Finally, the ginger fried rice, and arguably the worse indictment yet of the restaurant's lack of expertise with (Asian) cooking. Many a Southeast Asian dish (the Indonesian nasi goreng in particular), will feature a fried egg served on top of fried rice, a component that actually adds a great deal to the dish - the runny yolk giving the rice a lovely fresh, eggy taste and fragrance just before it is consumed. One presumes that was the same effect the chef here was endeavouring to achieve, but the yolk on our egg was not in the least bit runny, so when mixing it with the rice, as we were advised by our server to do, all we were doing was mixing in a dry omelette, which hardly had the same effect. That wasn't even the worse of it either - the fried rice was...clumpy! Has no one told the New York superchef that rice needs to be boiled then left to stand for a few hours for the moisture to dissipate before it can be fried?! More than anything else, this was an unfathomable, and unforgivable misstep.

Proceedings were concluded with two dessert offerings:

Ovaltine Kulfi Banana Brulée, Spiced Milk Chocolate Sauce
Thai Jewels and Fruits, Crushed Coconut Ice

Ovaltine Kulfi Banana Brulée, Spiced Milk Chocolate Sauce

The former was a reasonably enjoyable, albeit a tad too dense, chocolate dessert; the latter a below average rendition of the Thai favourite, "Tap Tim Krop".

In a nutshell...
Of the 10 dishes that made up the tasting menu, only one warranted an above average score. The tuna aside, everything else was either improperly composed, un-balanced, under flavoured, ineptly prepared or a combination of all four. The food was abundant, with none of the minuscule portions that frequently pervade tasting menus; and for that the restaurant deserves to be commended, although at a whopping £48 a pop it was still far from good value.
Given the success of the New York original, I can only presume that the London outlet was a very poor replica. Otherwise, the success of the Spice Market brand is completely beyond me. It says here that the London Spice Market will soon be going the way of Vong. And if Jean-Georges was ever to consider a third attempt at running a successful London outlet, may I suggest that he spares us anymore of these woefully inadequate Asian-themed restaurants and sticks to what he knows best by bringing over his flagship French restaurant.

3.5/10

Spice Market
W Hotel, 10 Wardour Street, London, W1D 6QF
+44(0)2077581088
Average Price: £40-£50

Spice Market on Urbanspoon

Angelina, Paris

Angelina

Angelina was recommended by a friend as a "must visit" typical salon de in Paris. In fact, I believe her exact words were, "everyone should experience Angelina at least once in their lifetime". As it turned out, Angelina was right next door to our hotel, Le Meurice, and managed to garner a further recommendation before we got round to sampling its delights - from one of our taxi drivers, who echoed my friend's sentiments that the chocolate drink here was, quite simply, the best in town.
We went for afternoon tea on the second day of our visit to the French capital, a bit surprised at being able to walk straight in having spied the lengthy queues there every time we had passed by the day before. I suspect we managed to get in, entirely by chance rather than design, at an opportune in between time, after lunch but just before tea, as the queues had returned by the time we left some 30 or so minutes later.

Le Chocolate à l'ancienne dit "L'Africain"

We, needless to say, ordered trois Le Chocolate à l'ancienne dit "L'Africain", and also got a few cakes to share:

Le Mont-Blanc Meringue, Chantilly Légère, Vermicelles de Crème de Marron - Meringue, Sweet Whipped Cream, Chestnut Puree Vermicelles

Le Mont-Blanc: Meringue, Chantilly Légère, Vermicelles de Crème de Marron - Meringue, Sweet Whipped Cream, Chestnut Puree Vermicelles

Millefeuille à la Vanille Bourbon Fine Pâte Feuilletée Caramélisée, Crème Légère à la Vanille Bourbon - Thin layers of Caramelized puff pastry, Bourbon Vanilla Cream

Millefeuille à la Vanille Bourbon: Fine Pâte Feuilletée Caramélisée, Crème Légère à la Vanille Bourbon - Thin layers of Caramelized puff pastry, Bourbon Vanilla Cream

and, from the new collection,

Carla Mousse Aux Marrons Glacés, Gelée de Myrtille, Cheesecake à la Crème de Matton, Biscuit Sablé aux Marrons Glacés, Glaçage Chocolat Blanc et Marron - Marron Glacé Mousse, Blueberry Jelly, Chestnut Cream Cheesecake, Shortbread with Marrons Glacés, White Chocolate and Chestnut Icing

Carla: Mousse Aux Marrons Glacés, Gelée de Myrtille, Cheesecake à la Crème de Matton, Biscuit Sablé aux Marrons Glacés, Glaçage Chocolat Blanc et Marron - Marron Glacé Mousse, Blueberry Jelly, Chestnut Cream Cheesecake, Shortbread with Marrons Glacés, White Chocolate and Chestnut Icing

The chocolate drink was über rich, but yeah, it was good, if not quite as good as advertised. It's not something you could drink on a regular basis, mind, or even something I could finish on the day, so thick and heavy was it, but it was certainly nice, and well worth trying. Amongst the cakes, Le Mont-Blanc was Angelina's signature dessert, and was lovely; the Millefeuille was disappointing - too much heavy cream and pastry that was far from light enough; but the best was the Carla - a delightful chestnut mousse atop a chestnut cream cheesecake, a crunchy meringue base, finished with a coating of white chocolate and chestnut - beautiful.

AngelinaAngelina

In a nutshell...

I can't say I loved the chocolate drink - it was good, but also far too rich, dense and heavy for my liking, so much so that only the first couple of sips were really enjoyable. The cakes were above average, but nothing all that outstanding; and given the prices, it lacked in the refinement I would have expected. It was fine for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I don't know if I would return too often, even if I lived just around the corner.

6/10

Angelina
226 Rue de Rivoli, 75001, Paris, France
+33(0)142608200
Average Price: €15

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