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