Dinner by Heston, Mandarin Oriental, London:
There are events I dream of being invited to. Usually, those events involve food, champagne and something quite exclusive. While I might not have created the itinerary for last week’s ‘Above and Beyond’ dinner it really is the kind of golden ticket planning that makes me proud to be British.
The Rose Bollinger NV served for the reception on the terrace of the Mandarin Oriental, looking out over a verdant Hyde Park, was a perfect summer’s evening aperitif. James Bond’s favourite champagne brand, by appointment to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the main ingredient in the ‘stoli-bolli’ Ab-Fab’s own cocktail, Bollinger always seems to me to be the quintessential champagne of the British. I discovered from the other guests that they were on a unique and very special trip, staying at the Savoy and enjoying a trip to Wimbledon, where they had a private lunch with Stan Smith, centre court tickets and more. I might have been just a tad jealous but for the perfection of this particular part of the trip that I’d been invited to join. Exclusively for cardmembers of the British Airways Visa Credit Card from Chase in the United States, Above and Beyond is a very special loyalty scheme indeed.
I was particularly excited that the American group had been invited to ‘Dinner by Heston’. Of all the restaurants in London, it is perhaps the one which single-handedly best destroys any notion that the English can’t cook and that we have no gastronomic heritage. A two Michelin starred restaurant, all the dishes are based on our cuisine, a historical journey through English food. I’ve been to Dinner by Heston for lunch (and would recommend those with a budget to follow my example), but never had the chance to enjoy an evening meal there. This one came with a special treat in the form of an opening address by Executive Chef Ashley Palmer-Watts.
We started our meal with Earl Grey Tea Cured Salmon, a dish which is based on a recipe dating back to 1730 from ‘The Complete Practical Cook’ by Charles Carter. Served with lemon salad, gentleman’s relish, wood sorrel and Exmoor Caviar this was a light delicate dish with the lemon salad, sour wood sorrel and gentleman’s relish cutting through the salmon.
Exmoor Caviar is the only Caviar produced in the UK – produced in what was originally a trout farm, then a producer of ornamental fish for garden ponds before emerging as a sturgeon farm. Ashley Palmer-Watts told me that it was something he was really proud to serve on the menu. A great example of local sourcing.
Our paired wine was a 2015 Grüner Veltliner Lamm, the top wine from Schloss Gobelsburg in Austria. Grüner Veltliner is a distinctive Austrian wine which produces full-bodied white wines, which are refreshing and tangy. A lovely pairing for the salmon with more freshness and acidity than a Reisling.
Next up, the iconic Meat Fruit, based on recipes dating back to the 13th-15th century. Created by executive chef Ashley Palmer-Watts, this dish using the parfait developed for the Fat Duck, based on a chicken liver and Foie gras. The mixture is then carefully coated in mandarin jelly. The jelly is made with mandarin puree, mandarin essential oil, paprika extract, bronze leaf gelatine, and glucose. To get the ‘peel effect, the fruit is dipped more than once, before being topped with the only bit you can’t eat – the stem and leaf. The end result is an unbelievably smooth and silky parfait coated with a tangy mandarin jelly
The whole thing is served with grilled sourdough bread made with campaillou flour. Soft and light this was like a cross between a brioche and sourdough.
It really didn’t disappoint. I was thrilled to have tried a dish that I’ve been craving ever since I first read about it.
Served with a 2014 Château Lafaurie Peyraguey, a Sauternes which comes from an ancient estate dating back to the 16th Century. Delicious!
The curiously named Powdered Duck Breast turned out to be based on a recipe dating back to 1850 from The Modern Cook by Charles Francatelli. I learnt that it was based on slow cooked duck breast served with wafers of grilled red cabbage, smoked pickled beetroot and spiced ‘umbles’ – in this case the slow-cooked duck hearts, breaded and used as a garnish.
A beautiful plateful of earthy flavours, we enjoyed this dish with a glass of 2008 Nicolas Catena Zapata from Mendoza Argentina.
Our dinner ended with Tipsy Cake served with spit roast pineapple, another of the iconic ‘must try’ dishes on the menu at Dinner. You can see the pineapples slowly turning on their spit while you dine, there are glass windows into the kitchen which I can only describe as a structured hive of activity.
The tipsy cake itself comes from a recipe in the 1810 book by J H Walsh, ‘The English cookery book’. I’ve just found the recipe online and it turns out to be made from brioche balls which are filled with a sweet wine infused cooking-cream. The result is something like a cross between a baked doughnut and bread and butter pudding.
Carefully spit roast pineapple, smoked and glazed makes a fabulous piquant contrast to the soft sweetness of the tipsy cake.
It was served with Tokaji Aszu 5 puttonyos, from Dorgo Vineyard by Disznókö, a sweet wine with citrus notes and a definite taste of pineapple and apricot and yet another perfect pairing.
We finished the meal off with coffee before staggering home, thrilled to have enjoyed such an amazing event.
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Dinner by Heston
London SW1X 7LA