I was pretty excited to have the opportunity to eat at one of Heston Blumenthal’s restaurants when we went to Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London last week. As I’ve already expressed in the Main Course article this week, it was a lovely birthday treat. Naturally somewhere for a special occasion that comes with such a huge reputation was always going to have a lot to live up to. However, while it’s hard to judge at all whether it deserves to be called the 7th best in the world without eating at a lot more world class restaurants, it was as thoroughly enjoyable a dining experience as I have had. It should come as no surprise that Dinner utterly succeeded on the level of spectacle not seen elsewhere, but it was good to see that every element seemed to serve a flavour purpose as well.
The dish for which the restaurant has become known is its Tipsy Cake, a soft, boozy brioche based on J. H. Walsh’s English Cookery Book, and served with a spit roast pineapple. It becomes pretty obvious that the restaurant regards this as a star attraction as you walk in, passing the pineapple hanging above the door. The main dining area itself has an open kitchen featuring, amongst other things, the fascinating mechanical contraption shown in the picture at the top of the page. This is the spit on which pineapples are roasted and glazed in front of a wood fire. Naturally, I had to give this a taste and I was extremely impressed by the strong hit of sweetness and the caramelised quality of the pineapple, often a fruit that’s chewy and tasteless in this country.
A similar combination of visual fun and powerful flavour was present in Dinner’s other most talked about dish, the mediaeval style “Meat Fruit” starter. With an opportunity like this perhaps a one time thing, I felt that I had to take the chance to try the most talked about dishes, so I ordered this one. As I mentioned on Wednesday, this course is a rich, fatty chicken liver paté, covered in a thin mandarin jelly to resemble a real orange. Although the appearance was fun, the real strength of the Meat Fruit was the way in which the meat and fruit flavours combined, the sweet orange preventing the fatty paté from proving too much. The only minor criticism I could offer is that the orange stalk is purely decorative, as someone who likes everything on the plate to be edible, and someone eating in a restaurant renowned for creativity, this disappointed me ever so slightly. Professor Plum, meanwhile, was enjoying her starter, a Lamb Broth served with sweetbreads that she described as “tangy”.
Next to the remarkably enjoyable starter and dessert, the main of duck and fennel seemed a little ordinary (ironically the reason why I thought I could manage a go at it myself), although that may have a little more to do with the excitement of them than any fault with it. Professor Plum, however, found her main course of slow cooked beef to be the highlight of the meal, meltingly soft and tender.
It didn’t stop there though. You always know you’re at an exceptional restaurant when there’s three courses of dessert. One further fantastical device was wheeled out to delight after the sweet pineapple, a hand cranked machine where custard was combined with liquid nitrogen to create instant ice cream as the nitrogen evaporated in a cloud of smoke. Toppings like apple popping candy and sugar coated fennel added yet another aspect. Once again, the spectacle was matched with a culinary purpose. After all those strong, rich flavours, the ice cream, the custard mixed with a little yoghurt and the cone filled with a delicious rhubarb compote, was truly refreshing.
Dinner concluded with an Earl Gray infused chocolate ganache around which they had written “Happy Birthday”, a lovely little touch from the staff who were friendly and attentive throughout.
Eating here was not cheap, but as a special occasion restaurant that gives you an extra magic you wouldn’t get elsewhere, Dinner is perfect.