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Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner Review

Gordo splashes out on good food and overpriced wine

Written by . Published on February 14th 2011.


Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner Review

GORDO has been awaiting Heston’s new restaurant for a while.

It was going to be a remarkable opening, promising a return to old English cooking, something that Heston has been doing on the telly recently. This was in a series called Heston’s Feasts that frankly bored the not inconsiderable arse off the Fat One due to the dinner guests: celebrities. The celebrities were often complete strangers to dining out – and also to good conversation.

The sommelier looked at Gordo as if he had the hind leg of a feral cat hanging out of his mouth, still struggling, the rest of the creature having been swallowed on the way to the table.

Heston’s new boy is situated in the Mandarin Hyde Park Hotel, a hotel with a spectacular history as well as a prime position opposite Harvey Nichols on one side and Hyde Park on the other. The restaurant is called Dinner. Geddit? Heston has nicked the old stuffy rooms at the rear and brought them into the 21st Century with a fat splash.

Walking into the bar, Gordo is ushered to a table with leather armchairs. Behind him are two stunning women with calves that were sculpted by Rodin, sipped champagne, sculpted by Roederer. This from ever-so-lightly-tinted champagne flutes. They were talking in hushed tones about Oliver being a complete wanker. But, thank God, his bonus was being paid in cash this year. Pa wasn’t going to be asked to step in again.

Good MinervoiseGordo buys a bottle of the Roederer for his guests (£75) along with a bottle of Bishop’s Finger beer (£5.50) for himself. The girl serving is also beautiful in every way, but has that ‘trained’ pleasantness she will polish a little when she is able to understand English better.

A request to see a wine list and a menu were ignored either because she simply didn’t understand Gordo, or more sinisterly it could be she’d been told to apply the new upmarket establishment rule: ‘Don’t let ‘em see the prices until the buggers are strapped in their seats’.

In Gordo’s day looking at menus in the bar meant that you could be asked through to the table having put aside the business of choosing. You could relax and commence the purpose of dining with friends; that is talking about stuff amongst yourselves without having to battle with the sommelier over the up-sell on the wine.

Walking into the restaurant after fifteen minutes or so Gordo felt that vibe thing going on. The room is designed for theatre. The tables and chairs are contemporary dark wood, with no table cloths. This can sometimes make a room gloomy, but in this space the lightness of the walls and the spectacular curtain of glass looking onto Hyde Park worked magic. To the left a glassed-in show kitchen had chefs beavering away, brightly lit, and adding another level of atmosphere.

The spectacular backdrop across one of the world’s oldest and greatest parks makes you happy to be English. Gordo sat watching the outside theatre. Occasionally an impossibly handsome feller, in a two-hundred year old claret and black uniform with double-row brass buttons, trotted by astride a magnificent black charger (was that me? Editor); both of whose ancestors probably perished in the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Gordo can't think of any room in the restaurant world that betters this one and on the day that he visited in early February the sun scattered pale winter-lemon rays across the park. Steam rose off pretty young joggers with blonde pony tails. Burnt red light later bathed the trees in the distance as a late lunch slid enjoyably into an early evening.

Heston and GordoHeston’s Dinner (it does get irritating, that name) has been declared as the best in the world by young Giles Coren in the Times of London. Master Coren, like a black labrador puppy, loves nothing more than finding something new and getting terribly excited. He certainly did with Dinner. Had he been drinking again?

The first thing you should know is that Dinner’s menu is based on classic English recipes (and cooking techniques) that have been taken from cookbooks as far back as the 1300s and brought up to date with Heston’s undoubted genius.

The bread arrives and is good, but doesn’t slap you in the face. It should really. The butter, however, does. It has a strangely beguiling flavour. That little bit more than ordinary butter; maybe the cows have been given a spliff every couple of days?

Kate showing off her wares to GordoThen comes the now-famous ‘meat fruit’ (£12.50). It appears as a mandarin orange on a small wooden platter with grilled bread. You can see Gordo’s new pal Kate Green presenting it in the pictures. The first thought is, oh, it’s a mandarin orange with toast. Well, it ain’t.

People back in the 1500s, when this dish comes from, loved having a little joke as well as showing off to the neighbours, using the Tudor equivalent of an indoor swimming pool - sugar. They used it like a spice by all accounts. The joke is when you cut into the weird little bugger, the skin is a kind of agar jelly, tasting of said sweet, fruity mandarin whilst inside was a ball of chicken liver parfait of such precise seasoning, balanced texture and attention to freshness of the livers that it can easily be declared the best of its kind anywhere.

Taffety TartHeston, like an ex-girlfriend of Gordo who knew she had the perfect arse and paraded it around the apartment in comfy but scant knickers, knew that he had to do nothing else with this dish but deliver country bread, buttered and crisped in the oven, to show it off.

Roast marrowbone (£14, c.1730) came with parsley, anchovy and mace. This was not a revelation, as Gordo’s favourite chef, Fergus Henderson does a better one at St John. As well as 5/9th in New York. But wait. Jonathan Schofield, our editor who was on the trip, suddenly points out the pickles; tiny cauliflower florets and strips of gem lettuce that had been bathed in a pickling vinegar. Smear these with the bone marrow and we have a soaring flavour bomb that out-does everything that came before.

Bone marrowCasey Gillespie, ex Zink New York Editor, now editor of London Confidential, was motoring through roast scallops (£16, c.1820) which looked good. Casey normally deals with her food in a NYC fashion editor method, taught by Anna Wintour. She looks at it, breathes in, pulls her nose up and looks away. That’s enough calories for one day, thank you very much.

She ate the whole plate. Bravo Mr. Blumenthal.

Roast Scallops Cod in Cider Savoury porridge (£14.50, c.1660) had cod cheeks, pickled beetroot, garlic and fennel all built into porridge oats that delivered a flavour that seemingly was delivered by a violin, sharp and tart, a new sensation on Gordo’s palette, one of those rare things that happens once or twice a year and delights. Gordo thought Francesca from House of Fraser was brave choosing this one, but showed him once again that a faint heart never wins a fair lady.

The mains arrived. Powdered duck, (£24, c1670) with smoked fennel and potato puree, looked excellent. The ‘Powder’ refers to the seasoning apparently, the duck being cooked in a manner easily recognised today; it was described as being a thing of great beauty.

Savoury PorridgeGordo ordered beef royal; they had run out, so he settled for sirloin of Black Angus (£30, c1830), mushroom ketchup, red wine juice and triple cooked chips. The cut was right out of the middle of the sirloin, with a couple of pieces of bone marrow laid on top, wobbling with a promise of slick, flavourful fattiness to expand ‘mouth feel’.

Heston’s triple cooked chips were familiar, a mushroom ketchup was not. Ketchup was a deal more sharp and savoury then than today, with little use of tomatoes. Gordo liked it. Steak and chips on steroids this folks.

Black Angus SirloinHeston has chosen his cheese well, what it lacked in variety it more than made up for in quality. Each piece was from a single English farm and at the absolute peak of readiness. Gordo was too pissed at this stage to be making notes, have a look at the photos and drool a bit. Ten quid, by the way.

There are six desserts on the menu, we decided to take them all and share. They are wonderful, we shall concentrate on one.

Tipsy Cake (£10, c.1810). Bloody hell. Heston has installed some weird mechanical spit which is there simply to roast pineapples, which he serves with angel-light brioche, baked in a cocotte into which loveliness has been dripped. Order early, it takes forty minutes. However, Gordo has waited a lifetime for it and can report the wait worthwhile. Another standout was Brown Bread Ice Cream (£8, c1830).

When you look at the prices and think about the setting and theatre of the place, it really is good value. Until you examine the wine. Gordo put the following to the wine waiter.

“I want a wine not dissimilar to a Guigal Condrieu (a Rhone white), probably therefore a Viognier grape, but not at Guigal prices”

The sommelier looked at Gordo as if he had the hind leg of a feral cat hanging out of his mouth, still struggling, the rest of the creature having been swallowed on the way to the table. He then seemed to have mis-interpreted Gordo’s request,‘not at Guigal prices’ as, “I am a complete numpty my friend, spank my arse and give me one at least a tenner more..” A Chateauneuf du Pape, La Fontaine 2007 from Alain Jaume was offered at £95.

The battle ended with a non-descript £65 (non-descript at that price, you what?). After two bottles, with Gordo mellowing, he did open the du Pape: it was knockout. A pudding wine, the second brand of Suduiraut, Castelnau, 2003, was on at full Suduiraut prices.

A surprisingly good wine, but a ridiculous £89. And here is the major problem at Dinner. The wine list is horrifically marked up. Heston needs to browse the master’s list over the road, Koffman’s in the Berkeley and even Marcus Wareing’s down the corridor. Both have wines at all levels and prices which don’t make the punters eyes water.

We aren’t all getting Oliver’s cash bonus this year.

Is young Master Coren right to declare this the best restaurant in the world? Of course not; he may well have been getting over enthusiastic with the free wine. Us boys do that every now and again. There is actually no such thing.

Don’t be looking to find Heston’s chemical wizardry here either. What you will get is a fabulous dining experience in arguably the best room in a capital city hotel with a refreshing menu that pulls up English recipes we are actually pretty familiar with, and cooks them with authenticity and great flair.

What did strike Gordo is how scaleable this product is. Once Heston has polished his brigade and recipes off, don’t be surprised to see Dinner here in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds sometime soon. And Bristol, Birmingham, Newcastle…

Rating:18.5/20
Breakdown:9/10 food
4.5/5 service
5/5 ambience
Address:Dinner at The Mandarin Oriental Hotel
Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park
66 Knightsbridge
London
SW1X 7LA

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away.

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Hannibal the CannibalFebruary 15th 2011.

Nice one gordo, but what was the mediocre wine?

DeannaFebruary 15th 2011.

Oh, so, so jealous. Have salivated all over my keyboard which is the only thing preventing me from spontaneously combusting with want.
Anyhow, no mention for head chef Ashley Palmer-Watts? the poor bugger who is actually heading up and doing all the cooking rather than popping in between restaurants to have his photo taken?

WhitesidesOnsideFebruary 15th 2011.

Gordo/JS - Ok, out of the 3 biggies that you have recently reviewed, Heston, Koffman and Wareing (to come i believe), on a one off dinning experience in the Capital - which would you go for/recommend?

Peter HarrisFebruary 17th 2011.

How much is the corkage charge?! Food very reasonably priced for London. Great review. Hope he does venture up North.

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