Saturday, 26 February 2011

Lunch at Dinner

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, SW1X 7LA
Extravagant lunch for two: £240 (gulp)

Choosing Dinner as the place to celebrate our first wedding anniversary was a slight gamble. Back in December when I booked, there was eager anticipation but it was too early for hype: Giles Coren had yet to call it the best restaurant in the world, it wasn't particularly hard to get a table and no one, including me, had ever heard of meat fruit. Jump forward two months and the opposite is true. If anything, however, this made the choice of Dinner for a special occasion all the more precarious: massive expectations were raised, divorce was threatened if I tried to discuss the menu with Mr F for the fiftieth time and the chances of us getting away with my original plan of the affordable set lunch dwindled to nothing. Fortunately for our marriage, Dinner is as wonderful as we have been led to believe. Even the most hard-hearted super-foodie, determined to find fault with popular consensus would struggle to dislike it: so for mere mortals such as ourselves, it was a truly worthy treat.

Our original plans for moderation and frugality evaporated before we reached our table. Arriving slightly early, we drank beautiful but expensive (£37 for two) gin and tonics and tried not to gorge ourselves on peanuts. Finally escaping the bar snacks, we were led through to an unexpectedly attractive dining room.  I hadn't expected Dinner to be such a pleasant space, based on Bar Boulud, last year's celebrity opening in the same hotel, which has pretty rubbish decor. Wide, tall windows looking onto the park and a glass-fronted kitchen mean it has wonderful light, even in February, and a feeling of space; both unusual commodities in the centre of our vastly-populated dining sprawl.

Ordering was predictably straightforward; after all, I had been weighing up the options long before we crossed the threshold. We started, as we felt we ought, with meat fruit. Even without the element of surprise, we knew it wasn't a normal tangerine, it is a clever piece of cooking: smooth textured and rich liver filling contrasting well with citrus-perfumed, jellified exterior. It was, however, outshone by the rice and flesh. Little chunks of calf tail on saffron risotto, it was a simple dish that managed to achieve a complexity of flavours and textures that exceeded the sum of its parts. 

Mr F opted for the Black Foot Pork Chop as his main course. It was almost indescribably good. Cooked sous vide and then finished on the grill, it had the texture of a perfect steak: quiveringly tender middle surrounded by crisp, blackened exterior. As our waiter was keen to explain, Black Foot refers to the pata negra Iberico pork that is used at Dinner. Apparently, it looks like beef before it is cooked, with dark flesh marbled with fat. Glorious, piggy fat that melts into the meat upon cooking. It made me want to buy a water oven.

I ordered the turbot because the last time I ate turbot was as a child on holiday in France with my parents, who bribed me a pound to eat fish, without realising the full potential cost of this experiment. The turbot was also part-cooked and finished on the grill so that the fish flaked into perfectly moist slices. It comes with cockle ketchup made with ghekins and capers, each mouthful offering a little taste of the sea. We had some excellent crispy fluffy triple-cooked chips with our mains because it would be rude not to.

However, the desserts failed to display the same standard of cooking. The Tipsy Cake, which has sent others in raptures of delight, failed to ignite our passion. There was nothing wrong with it; the brioche was moist and light and the grilled pineapple made a pleasant accompaniment of syrupy caramel fruit. But it had none of the flair and excitement of the first two courses. The brown bread ice-cream with salted butter caramel malted yeast syrup was the most disappointing: too serious and salty, it needed a touch more sweetness to offset the heavier flavours. Which was a real shame because we had fought over who would get to order the salted caramel dessert. The white chocolate and Earl Grey ganache was a more interesting end to the meal than either pudding managed to be.

As well as our two gins before the meal, we enjoyed a good red wine from the Languedoc. This is, however, where the Knightsbridge mark-up is most obvious, with wine starting at £29 up to the price of a new Ford Fiesta. Ours was £55. Coffee and water also add to the bill. That said, you could shave about £100 off what we paid just by cutting out alcohol and not ordering some of the more expensive things on the menu or sticking to the set lunch. I am glad we indulged ourselves though. 

Dinner is a wonderful treat at the once in a lifetime end of the dining spectrum. Most people who love food can pinpoint a moment when they realised how wonderful it can be to eat beautifully cooked food: a meal you will always remember. For me, it was the Carved Angel when Joyce Molyneux was still at the helm, eating whitebait, guinea fowl and soufflĂ©. Although nothing will ever replace that as my first truly amazing meal, my lunch at Dinner could well be the most wonderful meal I have ever eaten. 

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal on Urbanspoon


  1. We had a lovely meal there. We really enjoyed our Black foot pork chop too (and wanted to steal the recipe). You are the first one I read who had tried the fish!

    We loved the tipsy cake but that could be because we were fascinated by the spit roasting/clockwork device and that the it tasted strangely Chinese!

    Here is the other dishes we have eaten.

  2. @winkypedia - I know what you mean about wanting the recipe, I would love to be able to cook pork that well. I was disappointed by the tipsy cake but only because everyone else seems to love it. Must have had a slightly less good one.