Here’s what my Monday looked like:
Flight arrives in London at 5:30am
Check into Hotel at 7:30am
F45 Training Session at 9:30am
Visit to Lyle’s at 12:30pm
Visit to Dinner by Heston at 6:30pm
If ever there was a contrast between the old culinary world and the new, this was it. Lunch was at a brash up and coming restaurant in a cool part of town; dinner was at a 5 star hotel in the heart of London. More so, it was at a restaurant credited with reinventing historical British dishes and giving them the Heston Blumenthal treatment.
And then there’s Heston.
A self taught chef who changed the culinary landscape, one of the few chefs in the world who has inspired millions and changed the way we look at cuisine. I’d do just about anything to get into his most recognised restaurant, The Fat Duck (so far it’s a restaurant that’s eluded me!)
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal has been one of the most talked about restaurants for a long time. As long ago as 2014, Dinner was ranked as high as #5 in the San Pellegrino top 50 restaurants list; has been recognised and awarded two Michelin Stars since 2013 and is most certainly one of the most desirable fine dining establishments in the world.
It was a restaurant that I’ve been trying to get into for several trips to London and, at least in my mind, going to be the meal I was most looking forward to.
But sometimes, perhaps more often that I’d like to admit, it’s possible to place a restaurant on a pedestal that’s impossible to meet.
I think I may have done so with Dinner by Heston.
It had been a long day, starting with my arrival in London and spending pretty much the entire day trying to stay awake and stave off the inevitable jet lag that would hit. That day had already included an incredible meal (see post here); it had been freezing cold and I’d been struggling to stay warm; and I’d had to walk around the block trying to find the entrance to the Mandarin Oriental, home to Dinner by Heston Blumenthal (renovations had covered up the main entrance).
Once I’d found my way into the Mandarin Oriental, I’d got lost more than once, my normally poor internal radar suffering further due to jet lag. It took me several embarrassing twists and turns, and assistance from more than one helpful hotel concierge, before I finally found myself standing at the entrance to the dining room. It was at this point that my foggy head started to clear and the reality of visiting a restaurant I’d so desired, hit me. If only the girl had been travelling with me!
The Maître D’ greeted me warmly and after checking my reservation informed me that the restaurant would be opening shortly and I could take a drink at the bar. Sigh… I’d really wanted to go straight to the table, but I’m always early and of course had arrived fifteen minutes prior to formal opening.
My false start didn’t last long, and I’d ordered a fabulous freshly squeezed orange juice that had further energised me, so by the time I was called to my table, I’d had my second ‘second wind’. It was time to get excited. As we walked through the beautifully appointed dining area, we passed the kitchen, which was filled with white shirts busy as bees, preparing the evenings meal. I even spied Head Chef, Ashley Palmer-Watts directing the large posse of chefs. Cool.
My table was towards the back of the restaurant and I had amazing views through a large bay window that looked out over Hyde Park. Being a solo diner, I was immediately offered some magazines to read while I was dining, an offer I gladly accepted. At my table was a little reminder of what Dinner by Heston Blumenthal represented to British cuisine; a thorough reimagining of British classics.
As I looked over the menu, my waiter for the night made a couple of clear recommendations of classics that he felt best represented what the restaurant was all about. All three differed from my plan; so I had to carefully consider the recommendations. Should I take a risk and go with my gut? Or go with the recommended meals from someone who worked at the restaurant? In the end, I went with two of the three options; entree and main, with dessert being a departure.
Proving that two Michelin Starred restaurants had supreme service, no sooner had my order been taken before a wooden plate delivered four crusty pieces of sour dough and a slab of hand churned butter. It was excellent timing, I was pretty hungry by that stage. The bread was excellent, especially with the thick butter smeared thickly on top (although the butter was texturally very hard to spread).
Just for the record, my original thought for entrée was the Frumenty () grilled octopus with smoked sea broth, pickled dulse, lovage and spelt. What had been recommended was the Meat Fruit ( ) chicken liver parfait covered with a mandarin and served with grilled bread. Possibly one of the best known and classic Heston dishes.
I have to say, the dish was visually stunning, although the mandarin itself looked a little flat, it certainly looked as good as I’d imagined and seen on TV! There was an ever-so-slight resistance as my knife pushed through the outer skin, before I hit that incredibly smooth chicken liver parfait. The toast that accompanied was grilled to perfection and as I smeared the parfait over the toast, it held together nicely. I loved the crunch of the toast as it contrasted with the sweet creamy chicken liver, definitely getting strong hints of mandarin from the jelly skin. To begin with, it was wonderful; but then I finished my first slice of toast, with still half a mandarin remaining! I didn’t have time to react before a second piece of toast was presented; but I have to say, by the time I’d finished the second piece of toast, there was still some chicken liver parfait left and I was a little over it.
There was just too much!
My preferred option for main course had been Fillet of Aberdeen Angus () served with a mushroom ketchup and those famous Heston Blumenthal triple cooked chips. But again, I’d gone with the recommended Roast Iberico Pork Chop ( ) served with spelt, ham hock and a Robert sauce. Although I did add a side of triple cooked chips as a bonus!
The huge plate of food was impressive, in a rustic way, but had a lot going on. The huge Iberico pork chop had been perfectly roasted and was as tender a piece of pork as you’d hope to find. The sweetness of the meat was incredible, as was the expertly rendered fat that was the real highlight. The other half of the plate was a bit of a busy mess, pork crackling was sitting atop roasted onions, a bag containing spelt and mushrooms, baby turnips and truffle (which I’d added as a supplement). The crackling was good, crunchy and sweet, but I almost choked on a piece that was too big (my stupid fault); the roast onion was sweet, but the texture a bit soft for my liking; the mushroom and spelt mix was too powerful for my palate, I didn’t really like it and wasn’t sure what it added to the pork. Lastly, I think the truffle supplement was wasted on the pork, which really stood above all else as the highlight.
The triple cooked chips were interesting. One of those famous Heston inventions that I’d seen on TV many times, and seen copied at other restaurant; I’d had higher expectations. The chips were nice though, golden brown and crispy beyond belief, but some of the chips were actually a bit chalky inside; a fact which was jarring when you picked the next one that was creamy and perfect.
Dessert was next and the one area that I’d firmly gone against the recommended Tipsy Cake () with spit roast pineapple. I had simply been too full and needed something much lighter, instead opting for the Rhubarb & Hibiscus ( ) poached rhubarb with hibiscus, rose hip jam, yoghurt cream and olive oil.
The dessert came in quick time, so I’d not had a lot of time to allow my main to settle; and after consuming a very heavy entree and equally heavy main, I’d really needed a bit of a breather. It was not to be… The dish had a casual elegance to it that had been missing from my main; the different textures and flavours on display looked appetising and I really liked the colour. But aesthetics aside, there were some real problems with my dessert. I found the speckled and squared cake to be quite dry; the rhubarb that had been so expertly cut and prepared to look identical had been inconsistently cooked – some pieces soft and wonderful, others stringy and under cooked.
The most interesting part of the dessert had been the back story, which talked about rose being used to flavour desserts historically because sugar had been an expensive luxury. Look, the dessert wasn’t all bad, the sorbet was wonderful and delicately flavoured and the overall flavours worked together nicely, the rose and rhubarb dancing together nicely on the palate.
As full as I was, the meal wasn’t quite over yet; a small glass came out containing a rich chocolate ganache, which was nice. But by that stage, I was pretty much done and really just wanted to get to the hotel and get some sleep.
However, there was one last stop for me; being a solo diner taking photos of a meal means you often get invited to the kitchen to say ‘hi’ to the chef. So on the way out after paying my bill, we went to the open style kitchen and I spent a few minutes chatting to Chef Ashley – to be honest, I’m not sure I made too much sense in that conversation (but did get some wonderful photos of kitchen equipment?!)
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal ended up being a bit of a disappointment for me; but not the first time I’d let expectations get ahead of me. There were some elements that were wonderful, but I found the sizing and pacing to be a little out. The meal progressed too quickly for the portion sizes, so I never really had time to ‘settle’. Additionally, I think I chose dishes that were too heavy; and to this moment I wonder if I’d have had a much better meal if I’d gone with my gut feeling to begin with.
Probably the real highlight of the meal was the wonderful service, the expertly trained staff were incredible throughout the meal; they made me feel welcome and my water was always topped up and my bread plate always filled.
Being able to do a direct comparison between Lyle’s and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal had been interesting though; the new world versus the old. Up until that day, I’d always thought there was a spot for ultra fine dining restaurants… But now, mmmmm.