England 2014: Food Post – Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

Welcome to the first of a few posts that will segue from my travel diaries, all devoted to food.

I spent a pretty penny on this trip on some special meals, and this post is the first: the Two Michelin-starred Dinner by Heston BlumenthalLocated inside the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, Dinner opened in 2011 as The Fat Duck’s city sibling, with a historical slant. Its approach to food is that every dish has been made in the past – decades, sometimes centuries ago. Given my food history interests, plus the fact that I didn’t have to travel out to Bray (and spend over £200 per person) at The Fat Duck, Dinner was perfect for me!

Every menu is "sealed" by a Dinner logo, and inside each one is a different historical factoid you then get to keep.  (iPhone 5)
Every menu is “sealed” by a Dinner logo, and inside each one is a different historical factoid you then get to keep. (iPhone 5)

Reservations at Dinner open 90 days ahead on a rolling basis, and as you can imagine, book up almost instantaneously, so I had my alarm set for exactly 3 months prior to July 31st, and as soon as it became available, I booked us in for that evening. Sure enough, when I checked back the next day to perhaps move the reservation a bit later, it was already booked out! So if you want to go to Dinner — schedule it, stat. 

Light fixtures on the wall are gelatin moulds! (Nikon S9700)
Light fixtures on the wall are jelly moulds!

We were brought to our table by a lovely host who, coincidentally, grew up in Winchester, so when we mentioned that we’d been there earlier in the day, he was quite delighted! Our seats weren’t quite by the window but close enough to afford us some natural light. The aesthetic of room is clearly upscale without being too formal – I didn’t take photos throughout the room as there were other diners seated already and I didn’t want to intrude. We had three separate servers – one was our main server (you’ll meet him later), another was a history specialist who explained the concept of the restaurant, the history of the dishes, and took our orders themselves, and the third was our wine server / sommelier (there were several throughout the dining room). Aside from them, there were several others who expedited food, and of course, the managers who walked the floor in their sharp, tailored suits, supervising the whole show. Everyone was kind (without being fake about it), and knowledgeable – every question I had was answered. After looking at the menu for what seemed like forever, we finally made our decisions, and thus, with a glass of delicious Riesling in my hand, our meal began.

Fresh, warm, crusty sourdough with housemade butter flecked with sea salt. (Nikon S9700)
Fresh, warm, crusty sourdough with housemade butter flecked with sea salt. (Nikon S9700)

We tucked into the bread above and had a slice apiece, and it was heavenly. The butter was rich and delicious, and as yellow as egg yolks. I did realize shortly afterwards that perhaps I ought to save space in my tummy for our actual meal, so we chose not to finish the plate (a smart decision). It wasn’t long after that before our first courses were served.

Lobster & Cucumber Soup. (c. 1730) Lobster salad, smoked onion, rock samphire & sorrel (Nikon S9700)
Lobster & Cucumber Soup. (c. 1730)
Lobster salad, smoked onion, rock samphire & sorrel

First, my sister’s dish, the lobster and cucumber soup. The plate was served with the lobster salad beautifully plated at the centre, and the chilled cucumber soup was then poured table side. The dish was absolutely perfect for summer: light and refreshing. The salad was dressed without being too rich, and the cucumber soup balanced perfectly with it. All in all, a beautiful dish – I’d gladly have it again.

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

There was no way I could visit Dinner and not have its famous meat fruit. Meat fruit originated in Tudor courts (and perhaps earlier), when it was served to royalty or very important guests at the table. Fresh fruit back then was considered lowly – the type of food to be consumed by peasants or farmers. Thus, having it served at a banquet or feast to royalty would seem insulting! But the entire joke is in fact that it’s merely an illusion. Cut into the fruit, and it contains delectable meat (in this case, chicken liver and foie gras parfait) – some of the finest, most expensive ingredients for a feast, saved for special guests.

Here's the meat fruit cut open!
Here’s the meat fruit cut open!

You can watch a video of the meat fruit being created in-house right here. The parfait is made and shaped before being dipped into a mandarin gel. They freeze it to set between coats, which speeds up the process but also creates a wonderful mottled effect on the skin – which makes it look even more genuine! The parfait was smooth, rich, and creamy – absolutely delectable! The mandarin gel’s acidity cut into the richness perfectly, and the crusty grilled bread was the perfect vehicle for it. A wonderful start to my meal!

Hereford Ribeye (c. 1830) Mushroom ketchup & fries (not pictured)
Hereford Ribeye (c. 1830)
Mushroom ketchup & fries (not pictured)

As with pretty much any fine dining restaurant, our cutlery was changed after every course, and our water glasses were never empty. The service was present without being obtrusive, which was great. By the time our entrées arrived, the place was pretty packed.

For my sister’s entrée, she chose the ribeye, cooked medium rare. The meat was tender and absolutely flavourful. A few tough pieces here and there, but they were very few and very far between. This mushroom ketchup was absolutely to die for. In the 19th century, tomato ketchup was not very known at all! Mushroom ketchup was commonplace, as were ketchups derived from mussels, oysters (which back then were cheap street food, not the expensive delicacies they are today), or even various nuts! I forgot to take a photo of the fries (delicious and straightforward) that came along with this dish, but really, the meat and mushroom ketchup was all I needed.

Chicken cooked with Lettuces (c. 1670) Grilled onion emulsion, spiced celeriac sauce & oyster leaves
Chicken cooked with Lettuces (c. 1670)
Grilled onion emulsion, spiced celeriac sauce & oyster leaves

My entrée came as a surprise. As I couldn’t decide between two, I left it up to our server to choose. Instead of telling me his selection, he wanted it to come as a surprise for me, and boy oh boy, was this surprise delightful! The chicken was brined for a long period of time (I’m hesitant to give a figure as I can’t recall now, but it was a definite long while), and then was cooked sous vide style, before getting a final brown overtop beneath the salamander. The celeriac sauce beneath it was absolutely delightful (I’d eat it on toast!) and the lettuces alongside were perfectly cooked – tender, but not mushy. The chicken was one of the moistest I’ve ever had in my life, and the flavour each component brought to the table married so well on the palate. A complete treat. I polished it off in no time.

And now, for the grand finale(s), our desserts!

Brown Bread Ice Cream (c. 1830) Salted butter caramel, pear & malted yeast syrup
Brown Bread Ice Cream (c. 1830)
Salted butter caramel, pear & malted yeast syrup

What a beautiful and incredibly odd dessert this was! My sister decided to go for it because it was so unique, and I’m glad we had it, but I honestly can’t describe how I feel about it. Our server was quick to explain that it was an absolute must to have every component of this (cut down from top to bottom) in every mouthful, and he was right. At first glance, you might think that the salted butter caramel was the drizzle, but it is in fact the entire base – the drizzle atop is malted yeast syrup! I tried dissecting it and trying bits here and there, and some of it absolutely did not work on its own. The malted yeast syrup especially was just… very… yeasty. I know my palate was going crazy with the ice cream because it was asking me, “Why does the ice cream taste like this?!?!? Ice cream shouldn’t taste bready!!!!” Together, the mixture of every possible temperature and texture was fascinating. It was – again – an absolute delight to try and make sense of this dessert from a technical pastry chef standpoint, but not quite one I would order again just as a restaurant patron.

Tipsy Cake (c. 1810) Spit roast pineapple
Tipsy Cake (c. 1810)
Spit roast pineapple
Partaking in my tipsy cake. (Nikon S9700)
Partaking in my tipsy cake.

This dessert, on the other hand, MAN OH MAN, I would give up one of my ribs to have this magically appear at my table right now! This dessert is the only one on the menu that needs to be ordered at the same time as the appetizers and entrées because it’s baked fresh to order every single time. In the adorable mini Staub is fresh, buttery, rich brioche. While it bakes, the brioche is basted (smothered? drowned in?) a mixture of Crème Anglaise, Sauternes, and brandy (hence the name tipsy cake). If you watched the video earlier of the meat fruit being made, you will have also seen the pineapples roasting on a vertical spit (like shawarma!). I was worried at first, to make the commitment to order this at the very start of my meal, as I wasn’t sure how heavy it would be or how full I’d be after everything I had. Fortunately, I hadn’t felt like ten tons were in my gut after the first courses, and this tipsy cake, daunting though it looked, was not as heavy as I expected it to be, either! Beneath that crunchy top, the Anglaise and boozy mixture soaked through the brioche, and coupling that creamy goodness with the fruit was well-balanced. It was warm and comforting and I’d gladly make this here at home for Christmas dinner!

Post-dessert "Tea": Earl Grey & Dark Chocolate Ganache Caraway seed biscuit
Post-dessert “Tea”: Earl Grey & Dark Chocolate Ganache, caraway seed biscuit

We had a second dessert after that, but let me skip ahead really quickly to the “tea” they served at the end that would usually go with any after-dinner coffee. In a little shot glass was a small, very rich and very delectable amount of earl grey chocolate ganache, with a caraway biscuit on the side. The chocolate was absolutely delicious – the tea infusion was present just from the scent of it, and it melted on the tongue perfectly. The biscuit had the perfect toothsome bite to it, but man oh man, the caraway. I think there was enough caraway in my biscuit alone to make a loaf or two of caraway rye bread! I found the amount of it a bit much and so I didn’t finish that, unfortunately, but it was a nice chocolatey treat to end our meal with, nonetheless.

Before we end, however, we did have a second dessert, like I’d said. It wasn’t on the menu, and instead gets offered to you by your server (or you can ask for it, of course, now that I’m telling you it’s there). I walked by the trolley when we first arrived without thinking much of it during our whole meal, but when our server brought it up, I immediately nodded and said “YES!” without hesitation (and without knowing how much it cost – thank goodness it’s only £7).

Here we go, ladies and gentlemen, the pièce de résistance of the night…

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (iPhone 5)

LIQUID NITROGEN ICE CREAM, MADE TABLE SIDE!

After our desserts were cleared away, our server wheeled the trolley over to us and began. I fortunately had my camera at the ready, and my little GorillaPod tripod set up on the table, so rather than ramble and explain it to you here, here’s the video of the entire event:

 

Two happy campers at the end of a delicious meal with their delicious ice cream!
Two happy campers at the end of a delicious meal with their delicious ice cream! (iPhone 5)

The ice cream was amazing. Absolutely the best ice cream I’ve ever had because the mouthfeel was perfect. There were zero ice crystals, just perfectly frozen and churned ice cream, and the apple pop rocks I had were awesome, too! 

All in all, from the service to the atmosphere to – most importantly – the food itself, I would give my experience at Dinner a solid A. I would revisit Dinner again in a heartbeat… perhaps a long, long heartbeat in which I can save up a substantial amount of money once more (this was no cheap meal!)… but a heartbeat nonetheless. Dinner is most definitely its own entity under Chef Ashley Palmer-Watts heading, but is also a sweet visit for Londoners or tourists who don’t quite want to trek out to Bray (or drop a fat wad of £££) for The Fat Duck. 

We called it a night after this, returning to our hotel with full (but not overstuffed) bellies and happy hearts. In under 24 hours, we’d be off on another culinary adventure! 

Tune in next time for our visit to St. Paul’s Cathedral, our meal at Duck & Waffle, the Museum of London, and the Tate Britain!


Follow Along on my England 2014 Journey!

DAY 1: Travel & Settling In Bath 
DAY 2: Cheddar, Glastonbury, & Wells with Mad Max Tours
DAY 3: Salisbury, Bath, & Razorcat Tours
DAY 4: Touring Oxford with Oxford City Walk
DAY 5: The Houses of Parliament & Winchester
DAY 5: FOOD – Dinner by Heston Blumenthal (You’re on this page right now!)

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