dines at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal...

I felt somewhat apprehensive about booking a table at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal - it feels as though everything that can be said about the experience, has been said.  Yet as a technical cook any Blumenthal offering surely had to be on my list to try.  So at the prescribed hour I duly rang, got straight through, and very quickly made my booking.

Hubby and I had eaten in Foliage several times, but Dinner has made better use of the space.  The atmosphere is buzzy, though it wasn't busy when we arrived.  There were a mixture of diners, some looking for a gastronomic experience - others literally just for dinner.  And I think perhaps this lies at the heart of my experience.  Where we had unconsciously come to view it as a 'one trick pony' - certainly Heston has commented in the past that the most diners will only ever visit the Fat Duck once - Dinner is actually a fully-functioning seasonal restaurant, in which you could eat regularly and still find lots to interest and excite.

From our vantage point overlooking the glass kitchen we could see the brigade in action, and it's a very slick operation.  There's a Josper oven on which all the steaks are cooked, and when the chef opens the door, there's a tiny delay before plumes of flames erupt into the kitchen.  On another counter a rotisserie grill endlessly turns the glazed pineapples for the Tipsy cake, and ticket machines punctuate the view with orders appearing both at the pass and in the meat section itself.

The menu is based on historical and traditional recipes over several centuries, and the detail describes when the dishes were recorded, with a reference on the reverse to specific ingredients, techniques and  sauces.  The dishes have been compiled from a wide variety of texts, and Heston and Ashley have referred to the historians at Hampton Court Palace, and to items in the British Library to try to ensure authenticity.

I told the Hubby that everyone eats the Meat Fruit - we look at each other - really, do we have to?  I liked the look of the scallops, and Hubby really wanted the Salamugundy... Neither of us was prepared to give up our dish when lo, like manna from heaven, a Meat Fruit arrived with the compliments of the kitchen.  Up close it really is as beautiful as all of those photographs would suggest, and breaking open that mandarin glaze reveals an incredibly smooth and clean chicken liver parfait.  It's not just the theatre of the dish, this is perhaps the best chicken liver parfait I've eaten and the acidity of the mandarin cuts through the dish cleanly.  Do order it - ignore your instincts to forego it - it's an great dish.  It's served with farmhouse bread which has been grilled in a criss-cross fashion, the slightly charred edge adding to the overall combination.  (If you want to make it at home, here's the recipe).

Meat Fruit

My scallops and cucumber was really more about the cucumber than the scallops.  The ketchup includes a hit of dill, adding to that slightly pickled element, and provided a clean acidic hit on the palate.  The braised cucumber hearts are held sous vide with a little oil, before being chargrilled - this solidifies the texture, and the charring highlights the sweetness of the cucumber.  The scallops were fine, but felt more like a vehicle for the cucumber and borage.  I like this dish, it tastes clean and fresh, and was a good dish to sit between the parfait and the rice.

Scallops with cucumber
Hubby was a little less keen on his Salamugundy (chicken oysters, salsify, marrow bone and horseradish cream ). He loved the textures of the two kinds of chicken (the said oyster, and he thought chicken breast), but thought the dish was over seasoned.  I suspect whatever seasoning is put onto the skin of the breast enhance the crispiness contributed to the salty flavour.  Hubby doesn't usually complain about saltiness, and I'm pretty liberal at home. (Forgot to take a photo).

Next, Rice and Flesh.  This saffron risotto is probably the best saffron dish I've had (often I find the taste quite metallic and flat), and one of the best risotto's I've had in ages.  There's nothing worse than poor risotto, and this was luscious and yielding.  My picture is deceiving, the dish is actually only a fine layer of risotto, and not as wet as it looks here.  The flesh in question is calves tail, and is a tiny mouthful of umami-rich intensity.  You couldn't eat much of this dish, but the slightly blue note combined with the meaty rightness  is well balanced.  I'd happily forgo a main course for this dish, and Hubby really liked the meagre spoonful I allowed him.

Rice and Flesh
Hubby had the Savoury Porridge - very pretty it includes roast cod palette, and smoked beetroot.  He wasn't terribly keen on the texture of the cod palette, though he did like the flavours in the rest of the dish.  He passed me a piece - no - fine for me... He insisted it was a bit slimy, and passed me another - and this piece was much more slippery and fishy.  I'm assuming cod palette is actually cod cheeks, though surely that would make it cod palate not palette?

Savoury porridge

I had the fillet of beef, which I think perhaps was unnecessary given the other yumminess on offer - in future I'd happily just eat a variety of starters.  It was of course perfectly cooked in that Josper oven, and came with a disk of bone marrow not the top.  I'm not usually that keen on bone marrow which can sometimes be too slippery for me, but here it complimented the meatiness and worked well with the crumb.  The triple cooked chips were crunchy and well seasoned, and I also ordered some braised lettuce, which 'let down' the meatiness - that is to say, the clean flavour refreshed the tastebuds between mouthfuls.  The beef jus is incredibly intense, as is the mushroom ketchup, so I think you do need some kind of vegetable side dish.

Aberdeen Angus fillet steak with mushroom ketchup
Triple cooked chips
The Hubby had the Black Foot pork chop, with Hispi cabbage, lardo, ham hock and Robert sauce.

Black Foot pork chop

I'd pre-ordered the tipsy cake (which you have to order at the same time as your starters), and the brioche arrived in a tiny cast iron pot, which a carved sliver of charred pineapple.  The brioche is soaked in Sauternes, and lightly dusted with powdered sugar crystals - absolutely delicious.  It tastes a little like a rum baba, but is more fragrant, and not as sweet and sticky.  The pineapple is so richly condensed by this stage that it almost has an umami edge, it tasted very gently of that savoury depth you get from blue cheese, if thats not too strange an analogy.

Tipsy cake with pineapple

We'd decided to have a side-order of the liquid nitrogen ice-cream, and the undulating trolley was duly wheeled over.  There's an old-school Kenwood style mixer built into the trolley, and our waitress combined the vanilla custard base with the liquid nitrogen to form instant ice-cream.  Served in little sugared cones, there were a choice of four toppings - freeze dried cherries, popping candy, praline I think, and sugar coated fennel seeds.  This is a great bit of theatre at the table, but the resulting ice-cream melts so quickly in your hands that Hubby soon abandoned his.  Mine was a little firmer and was surprisingly like a Mr Whippy ice-cream - I had assumed it would have a more conventional texture.  Whilst it does provide a little bit of theatre at the table, I'm not sure it would work that well if you were in a larger group.

Liquid nitrogen ice-cream
Ironically I think I had a lot more fun with the menu than the Hubby.  We found the cooking technically accomplished, the atmosphere relaxed and buzzy, and the staff very attentive - the only question which couldn't be answered immediately resulted in a better informed member of staff appearing promptly at our table.  Where perhaps the Hubby didn't personally appreciate all of the dishes he'd ordered, he said it certainly wouldn't stop him from returning and ordering some of those I'd had.  Talking to the Sous Chef, we said that we'd noticed one particular dish absolutely flying off the meat section - what was it?  Apparently it's the pigeon, so this is what I'll be ordering next time.  There's a great little chef's table overlooking the pass, and next time I think we'd bring people with us to enjoy the buzzy atmosphere.

If you've not been yet - do go to Dinner.  Don't think of it as a one-time venue, but as somewhere you could eat in the way you would at, say, The Square, or Marcus Wareing.  My scallop dish had just come back onto the menu, so it's not quite as fixed as we'd imagined.  Truthfully it's not in our top five for London, but given the variety on offer these days this is certainly not a criticism.  I'd also say that the booking process was not as complicated as we'd anticipated, and @elizabethonfood's advice to try walking in early seems sound to us.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
The Mandarin Hotel
66 Knightsbridge

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