Given the amount of publicity surrounding it at the time, it probably hasn’t escaped your notice that Heston Blumenthal opened a new restaurant called Dinner in the opulent Mandarin Hotel last year. If you’re wondering why the official title seems a bit clunky there’s a good reason, apparently the hotel insisted on attaching Blumenthal’s name even though he didn’t want them too: he felt as he wouldn’t be cooking there it wouldn’t be appropriate, take note Gordon Ramsay.
Anyway, we were heading to a show in the New London Theatre last week and decided to make a booking to see if it lived up to the hype (of which I realise I am now adding to). There are already plenty of reviews online for this place and because the menu hasn’t changed much I won’t go into as much detail as usual to avoid repetition. A nice thing about this visit though was there were four of us so I got to try a larger range of food than I would had I only been dining with my wife.
To begin our lunch at Dinner (sorry, couldn’t resist) I ordered the famous meat fruit; there were actually a few other choices I would happily have gone for, particularly the ‘Rice and Flesh’ which was a saffron risotto with shredded lamb tail meat, but I couldn’t come all that way and not try the restaurant’s most iconic dish. As expected it was excellent, although I didn’t really get much of the tangerine flavour from the jelly coating and for all the clever presentation it’s still just a (really well executed) foie gras parfait. Of the other choices, the nicest was the buttered crab loaf, I would happily have eaten it for a main course if possible it was so nice.
Next up, I had the spiced pigeon, ale and artichokes, it was probably the weakest of the mains but more because everything else was so good: my wife had a pork chop from the Black Foot breed of pig (of pata negra fame) which was a sublime piece of meat and the powdered duck with fennel was also outstanding – the powdering referring not as you might expect to some sort of modernist creation involving finely ground duck breast but rather an old English method of curing. The most surprising dish for me though was the braised celery with smoked and pickled cauliflower, two more unfashionable ingredients you couldn’t find but when layered in a creamy parmesan gratin, they worked incredibly well. We also got some sides of the famed triple cooked chips (probably the best I’ve ever had) and the notorious perfect mashed potatoes that are really more of a butter sauce diluted with potato and all the better for it.
For dessert, I chose the lemon suet pudding, mainly since I’d never had a suet pudding before and it was very good: when you broke open the pastry the most intensely flavoured citrus sauce burst out. The two girls ordered the taffety tart which contains an unusual combination of apple, rose and fennel and it too was fantastic. My wife ordered it because she liked it so much when we ate in The Fat Duck (it’s the only thing from there on the Dinner menu) although I felt like I was tasting it for the first time as somewhat embarrassingly the last few courses of that meal are a bit hazy for me due the amount of wine I’d drank!
Speaking of which, due to the disparate types of food we were having we ordered by the glass having got advice from the sommelier: the prices ranged from £7 all the way up to £27 and I was quite impressed that when I enquired about how well an expensive Tokaji sweet wine would accompany my dessert the opportunity for an upsell was passed up and I was directed to a far cheaper choice. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the names of any of what we drank but the Riesling I finished with was particularly good as was the Portuguese red my wife was recommended.
The service as you can tell was really well drilled and friendly; nothing was rushed out either even though we were the last sitting and were there for over two hours. Regrettably, there are always going to be the inevitable comparisons to The Fat Duck but it is a completely different restaurant: the focus on historical recipes, although sometimes a bit contrived, really does give the place its own identity and there’s very little of the mad theatre or extravagant plating you might expect from Heston Blumenthal. In fact, I’d say it’s probably the closest to ‘normal’ cooking you’re ever likely to get from him. The meal as a whole was fantastic and it says a lot that there wasn’t one bad dish out of all the ones we ordered which is an impressive hit ratio for a table of four. The total bill including service charge was £401.