Lunch at Dinner by Heston, Mandarin Oriental, Knightsbridge:
On my wish-list since it opened in January 2011, Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant ‘Dinner’ at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, just opposite Harvey Nichols has already made a significant mark on the London Restaurant Scene, with a Michelin Star in its first year and now ranking 9th on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Listings.
The main driver for me has been a curiosity about the menu. Dinner by Heston is a tribute to historical British gastronomy. And, for me, there’s a significance about that which is perhaps missed by Brits, who are so close to the glass. According to much of the world, we don’t HAVE a gastronomy and never did. A recent survey by Hotels.com had Britain voted the worst cuisine in the world by both Americans and Australians. Now, of course I am biased. I eat out a lot in London and when I travel I don’t have the insider knowledge to always find great places to eat. But, I love our food for its rich cultural heritage, diversity of influences and wealth of produce. I respect our cuisine and particularly enjoy trying beautifully revived heritage in restaurants like Dinner by Heston. And I hope in some way this restaurant helps to bring some of that to an International audience.
Dinner is, without any doubt, an expensive place to eat. The set menu is £36 for lunch. And, in the evening, the only choice is to dine from the a la carte, with main courses are all between £25 and £40. But, in my personal experience, it proved to be worth it.
We decided to eat our way through the set lunch menu, treating ourselves to matched wines (we did ask the sommelier to be aware of our budget). And, we were in no way disappointed, although I have secret cravings now for the infamous Meat Fruit and for Tipsy Cake with spit roast pineapple.
My starter was dressed snails, with parsley, beetroot, salty fingers and red wine juice. Snails are things that in my head belong in schoolboy cookery comic books, along with frogs-legs and tripe. But, my faith in the restaurant was not disappointed by the dish, which arrived full of vibrant colours and flavours. Oh so tender snails (yes I loved them) on a puree of parsley with a mixed salad of grilled fennel, heritage beetroot and morsels of sea vegetables. This was matched for me with a glass of Ruconia Rioja Riserva.
The Hay Smoked Mackerel with lemon salad, fennel and pea shoots was, according to my companion, delicious. I tasted a morsel of the wafer-thin pickled lemon. Beautifully fresh and tender, the pickling somehow takes away any bitter taint to make a perfect base for the oily mackerel. It’s a clever dish with lovely flavour matching. My friend is a big fan of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wines, so I am sure she was thrilled with the Ata Rangi Martinborough 2011.
Cured salmon was served in a broth of monks beard, peas, caper and mussels. A beautiful spring dish, the salmon was tender flaky and beautifully flavoured, the broth an excellent accompaniment. I loved the mixture of citrusy monks beard, salty mussels and capers with sweet peas. And, I loved my glass of Valminor Albarino, a deep white wine that worked well with the salmon.
There were no complaints from my companion about the Roast Quail which was paired for her with Vouvrey Les Argiles and we enjoyed our side orders of chips and green beans. Probably unnecessary, but, if you go and you want a SMALL treat, the chips are special.
Our main dessert was preceded by a small chocolate ganache pot with home-made shortbread. Very moreish, it almost tempted me into trying the ice-cream cones offered as extras.
But actually Orange Buttered Loaf with mandarin and thyme sorbet was a perfect end to the meal. I loved the soft brioche loaf, full of orange flavours, and was intrigued by the slices of crystallized fruit on top.
By the time we’d finished, our set menu with two extra side dishes, a glass of champagne each as aperitif, one Armagnac between two with coffee and matched wines throughout the meal was just over £100 each. I wouldn’t normally spend as much on lunch, but then we did enjoy 2 glasses of excellent wine with the meal, a lovely glass of champagne before we started and a small measure of Armagnac to finish. And, as the wine measures were generous our decision to match the wine with the food seems sound.
I have absolutely no hesitation in saying I’ll be saving up to go back again to Dinner by Heston because I really found nothing to fault with the meal and there are some fascinating dishes still waiting to be tried.