The first place many eaters think of when they’re making restaurant reservations in the UK is Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck in Bray, and I was no exception. The Fat Duck is one of the world’s best restaurants and serves a fun and experimental menu that showcases Blumenthal’s creativity alongside his culinary expertise. And this is the guy who used a hot tub as a waterbath to sous vide a whole pig…why wouldn’t we want to eat there?
Cost was definitely a factor, especially at £160 (approx. $260) per person and the US Dollar being so weak, and we didn’t want to spend a huge chunk of our eating budget at one restaurant. Plus, we weren’t too keen on traveling all the way out to Bray from London just for dinner when we already had other day trips to Oxford and Warwick on our schedule.
Then I heard that Blumenthal opened a new restaurant, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, at the tony Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge, and I focused my efforts on getting a booking there. The only problem with this plan was that Dinner is one of the hardest reservations in London and was booked solid till July…or so I thought. I gave the restaurant a call and snagged a booking for a Saturday lunch, which was fine with me because we had full access to the menu (there’s a set lunch menu Mon-Fri), and in the daytime the natural light in the restaurant is good for pictures. :)
The focus at Dinner isn’t a multi-course, avant-garde tasting extravaganza but simply the modernization of classic British dishes, and on the menu, every dish has a date next to it signifying the approximate year it originated. I was glad to see this because I wanted to believe that British cuisine had been maligned by cliché stereotypes, and I was confident that Blumenthal could dispel these aspersions.
Two of Dinner’s most talked/written/blogged-about dishes are on the starter menu. The Meat Fruit looks like a mandarin orange, stem and all, but when you cut the mandarin gel “skin,” a creamy chicken liver parfait is revealed. Spread the parfait on toast and you’re in business, and don’t forget to include a little bit of the mandarin skin for a subtle citrusy note.
Meat Fruit (c.1500)
Mandarin, chicken liver parfait, grilled bread
The Salamagundy is made up primarily of chicken oysters, bone marrow and horseradish cream. The original dish was what passed for a salad back in the day, and the name generally means a hodgepodge of disparate items. In this case, these disparate ingredients make a tasty appetizer.
Chicken oysters, bone marrow, horseradish cream
My wife ordered the Cod in Cider, a relatively modern dish compared to the rest of the menu. She said it was “the best-cooked fish I’ve had since Le Bernardin” (approx. three years ago) and liked the way the acidity of the cider complemented the cod.
Cod in Cider (c.1940)
Chard and fired mussels
I ordered the Sirloin of Black Angus with mushroom ketchup, red wine juice, and triple-cooked chips. The steak was outstanding on its own, but the dollops of bone marrow topped with bread crumbs and chives on top of the steak took it to another level. The chips were some of the best fries I’ve ever had.
Sirloin of Black Angus (c.1830)
mushroom ketchup, red wine juice, triple-cooked chips
Dinner’s desserts are also getting a lot of buzz, especially the Tipsy Cake, which is basically brioche infused with creme and served in a cast iron cocotte alongside a piece of spit-roasted pineapple. If you’ve ever had grilled pineapple, I think spit roasting is much better because it’s a slower process that produces a deeper caramelized flavor.
Tipsy Cake (c.1810)
We also had the Baked Lemon Suet Pudding, which is a suet cake filled with lemon caramel pudding. I love lemon desserts, so this one was also a favorite.
Baked Lemon Suet Pudding (c.1630)
Lemon caramel & jersey cream
Service was casual and generally attentive, but they kinda forgot about me when I wanted tea at the end of the meal. I ended up just asking for coffee and the check. One really cool thing was that when we had to pay, we had the option of paying in US Dollars, which gave us the best exchange rate and eliminated at least one credit card foreign transaction fee. I assume this is because the restaurant is in a big international hotel; we didn’t get this option at any other place during our trip.
We liked Dinner a lot and would definitely go back if we had another opportunity, especially because the one dish I really wanted to try, the 72-hour sous vide short rib dish known as the Beef Royal, wasn’t available, and you know how much I love my short ribs. Still, despite outstanding meals from two of London’s most acclaimed (or overhyped?) restaurants within 24 hours of each other since our arrival, little did we know our best meal was yet to come…