I am currently home alone in my pink bathrobe (which I have been wearing all day), with woolly socks pulled up over my leggings, eating Mee Goreng (the instant kind) and frozen dumplings (which I somehow managed to burn) for dinner. This is what my life looks like now. Well to be fair to myself… I haven’t only been eating (and feeding my husband) instant/frozen food – It’s just that I hosted a dinner party last Sunday night with a menu plan that was WAY beyond my skill level – which amounted to a whole weekend spent in the kitchen, a complete fail of a meal that was mostly burnt/overcooked and a mountain of dirty dishes that took us THREE NIGHTS to clean. I know its still early days in my domestic career but I am SO OVER cooking right now. Unfortunately, tomorrow is Father’s day which means I’m back to wreak havoc in the kitchen, so I figured I’d give myself a break tonight. But I’m getting sidetracked. The point of this prologue was to create an amusing contrast between my current life, and my life around four months ago when I was lunching at one of the Top 10 Best Restaurants in the world.
YES FINALLY. This is the Dinner By Heston post.
Dinner is conveniently located in central London and reservations are actually not that hard to get – unlike the Fat Duck where I hear you have to have them on speed dial for just a chance to get through when reservation lines open. Dinner’s concept is a lot simpler than the Fat Duck – no crazy ingredients, liquid nitrogen or experimental molecular gastronomy. It’s all about British ingredients and traditional British recipes with a modern twist – and by traditional, I mean hundreds of years old. I’m not sure if this is a gimmick or not – but the menu tells you the year in which each dish had its origin.
The menu also comes with a piece of English food trivia and taught me that the English were initially reluctant to use forks and that spices were once a status symbol.
The restaurant is inside the uber-posh Mandarin Oriental hotel, and the decor is modern, clean and very business-lunchy.
I expected something with a bit more character from Heston – the only interesting thing about how the restaurant looks is the window into the kitchen giving you a great view of pineapples being roasted on a spit.
Service was a bit aloof and snobby, very different from the over-attentive waitstaff we’d met so far on our trip. The attitude seemed a bit “This is Dinner by Heston, we’re super-hip and world famous and you’re just lucky to be here so don’t expect any special attention!”
The waitress just plonked this bread on our table and walked away without explaining it!!!! Okay, you may think that bread is self-explanatory, but the bread at every other restaurant we’d been to came with a detailed explanation (including a description of the butter!) I think a truly great restaurant should take pride in the smallest details – including their selection of bread. I was not impressed by this.
But there is a reason why Dinner by Heston can easily get away with chilly service and unexplained bread. Not many restaurants in the world have a dish that is so famous and unique that even my mum has heard of it.
I am, of course, talking about Meat Fruit.
I think I gave out a little squeal when this arrived at our table. It was so beautiful. A perfect ball of mandarin jelly – even textured to look more like the real fruit skin. And on the inside…
OH YES. HELLLOOO Chicken liver parfait!!!
So, does it live up to the hype?? Difficult question to answer. You have to know that essentially, the dish is just pate, fruit jelly and toast. Apart from the crazy technique required to seamlessly wrap a layer of jelly around a ball of pate to create a perfect mandarin – there isn’t anything particularly revolutionary about Meat Fruit. It’s more just a fun, novelty dish. And who doesn’t love a bit of novelty in their food?
I think I’ve said this before that there aren’t many things in this world better than good pate with crispy bread. Well, Heston’s Meat Fruit is the Beyoncé of “pate with crispy bread”. The texture of the parfait was so silky smooth, the grilled bread was like one massive crunchy crouton and the mandarin jelly added just enough sweetness to counter the richness of the parfait. And there was SO MUCH of it – there is only so much chicken liver one can take – but it would be a crime to leave any Meat Fruit on the plate so we forced ourselves to finish it with the unexplained bread.
So now that we’ve covered the Meat Fruit, is the rest of the meal even worth talking about? Mmm…. to be honest, save for one dish which I’ll leave till last, our mains and the poor non-Meat Fruit entree weren’t that exciting.
“Salamugundy” – Chicken oysters, salsify, marrow bone & horseradish cream
Powdered Duck Breast – Smoked confit fennel & umbles
Black Foot Pork Chop – Hispi cabbage, lardo, ham hock & Robert sauce
Thrice cooked chips – so crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, was like eating deep-fried mash
These dishes were very true to the “Dinner” theme, but a bit disappointing when you come expecting the kookiness and avant-gard genius of “Heston Blumenthal”. Everything was full of flavour and perfectly cooked, with but were really just fine dining versions of old English “meat&veg” home cooking. Yes, I now realise this is the whole point of the restaurant but at the time, it was a bit of a let down. Portion sizes were unusually large too and though I normally embrace generous portions, combined with the richness of the flavours and a stomach lined with pate… I ended up with a bit of a duck headache.
Thank God for dessert. We weren’t going to get dessert initially – unlike the other restaurants we visited, there was no lunch special here so were were dining a la carte and starting to get a bit budget-conscious. But when we were ordering mains, the waiter just happened to mention that if we wanted the “Tipsy Cake” for dessert, we should order it then because it took some time to prepare. Well it can’t hurt to share a 12 quid dessert between then the two of us right? And we’ll get to try the impressive looking rotisserie pineapple.
BEST. DECISION. EVER.
Tipsy cake with spit roast pineapple
This was, hands down, my favourite dish of the entire honeymoon. I cannot exaggerate, with all my melodramatic gifts, how AMAZING this dessert was. Seriously, forget Meat Fruit, THIS is the reason why you should buy a plane ticket to London and visit Dinner by Heston. It is the perfect dessert for a dreary London day. It is a hot brioche pudding soaked in buttery rum syrup (hence the “tipsy”) – which made me remember how much I LOVE bread pudding. Soaking old bread in some sweet mixture seems very much like a poor-man’s dessert, but some kind of magic must happen that creates one of the most wonderful texture/flavour combos in existence. Like the Meat Fruit, this is simple, classic food at its absolute best. With some good brioche, you could even try making a version of it at home. And lets take another look at that pineapple…
Oh yeah. Caramelised, sweet and tart spit-roasted pineapple. The perfect accompaniment for the perfect pudding.
Now, excuse me while I snap back to reality and try to air-out the burnt dumpling smell from my kitchen.