Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park

The reverential labels that apply to Chef Heston Blumenthal are more than well deserved. The Times food critic, Giles Coren, called Dinner at The Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park the “best restaurant in the whole wide world.” It’s ranked Number 9 by Restaurant Magazine’s 2012 The World’s Best 50 Restaurants.

Part cook, part magician, at Dinner, it feels like King Heston is holding court and we are there to be fed and entertained. An experience at his restaurant is like no other – something akin to the days of Richard II or any of the other monarchs who are referenced in this food journey through British history.

It sounds like he and Executive Chef Ashley Palmer-Watts had fun exploring Britain’s gastronomic past, consulting with food historians, Royal Palaces and endless hours at The British Library.  It’s a Dinner of the Ages, from 1390 to 1940.

Imagine, if you will, a seat at a bawdy banquet, at a play by Mr. Shakespeare or a Regency dance and you get some idea of the ghosts in the room. It’s not a theme park, though, it’s modern, not pretentious, people are dressed down – it’s the food and staff on show, not you.

Why I love it – getting a ticket for the ‘hottest seat in town’ (reservations are only released on the first day of the month for the following month – there were 42 phone lines set up on the opening day), the reputation of the chefs, and for being able to share it across all ages at a family dining table. There’s no inexcusable turning of tables here – ‘Excuse me, Sir, but the next guests have arrived and are waiting in the bar.’ The performance is as long as you want, can afford, and how much your heart can stand.

The jester appears to warn you of the fun and follies ahead – our superb waiter, Matthew, is so infused with passion that it’s infectious. It’s not upsell, it’s about trustworthy advice. The menu is deceptive in its eight starters, nine mains and seven desserts. It’s a tough choice and not one of which would be rejected if it came by mistake. The service is flawless – plates carefully laid down at the same time for a table of five, napkins refolded after a visit to the lavatories (the men’s are so far away that they could fold a swan and its cygnets) and gentle wine and water topping up.

The set is beautifully lit, dark wood tables without starched tablecloths, wagon wheel chandeliers with copper filaments and ceramic pudding moulds as wall sconce lampshades. Leather chairs, with a wide base for the larger chassis, and checked velvet add warmth to the chill of overlooking the rain-drenched Hyde Park. The previous dining space, Foliage, was revamped but the owners soon realised how much of a success Heston’s Dinner would be and so extended it. Designed again by Adam Tihany to the brief of Contemporary British Brasserie its floor-to-ceiling glass walls onto the prep kitchen showcase a cooking theatre with a black Ebel mechanical spit roasting pineapples on an open fire. The cast of 55 chefs and 73 front of house staff make for quite a chorus line.

We were there for the evening but it works all day, every day, as Heston says: ‘In the past, the main meal – dinner – was eaten at midday, before it got too dark.  But affordable candles and, later, gaslight saw dinner shift.  By the mid-1800s people were dining later.’

We arrived at sunset and although there were no candles we joyfully supped our way through the centuries.

The dish most admired is the Meat Fruit (c.1500) which was known as an illusion dish as it comes in the shape of a mandarin with its ‘peel’ a mottled-jelly and paprika orange colouring revealing a chicken liver parfait. They serve over a 1,000 per week and must also be a compliment to the name of the hotel in which Dinner resides. It’s thought that people in the Middle Ages believed raw fruit and vegetables were diseased unless cooked and medieval chefs played on this fear by forming and painting meat to look like raw fruit.

We played it safe and went for the Rice & Flesh.

Rice and Flesh at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

Rice and Flesh at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

Rice and Flesh is a glossy dish of  calf’s tail cooked slowly in red wine for six hours – Heston is a fan of low temperature, ultra–slow cooking, so as to contain the fat content. Served atop an al dente risotto as a contrast against the softness of the meat. The plate was beautifully presented – a work of art with four pools of red on a sea of saffron yellow. The dish is deceptively flat and when you dig in it’s only a thin layer – but the depth is in the flavour not the plate.

For mains the Spiced Pigeon, again slowly cooked with cardamon, star anise, garlic served with artichokes balanced with ale was presented beautifully with its majestic head and beak proud from the plate.

The Cod in Cider is from the 1940s when rationing meant inventiveness in cooking with food to hand such as cheap cider and fish.  The fired mussels, so pink and dainty, were there to spread a smokiness to counteract the sour of the vinegar. Sharp, sour and delicious.

Cod in Cider at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

Cod in Cider at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

Deserts are clearly signposted from the beginning – if you want the Tipsy Cake you have to order it  in advance. It is the cake that comes with the slices of spit roasted pineapple that’s the hit, though. In days of yore, stale bread was made palatable and safe by adding booze.  Now we get a gorgeous feast of alcohol baked brioche, spongy, like a bread and butter pudding. It takes 40 minutes to prepare so you should order it with your starter. Take the plunge, it’s worth it.

Tipsy Cake with spit roast pineapple

Tipsy Cake with spit roast Pineapple

Quaking Pudding

Quaking Pudding

The Quaking Pudding in its mould-shape served at the table with a pouring of perry quivered on the plate. A delight of a creme caramel perked up with a touch of lime.

A pretty chocolate mousse with a caraway seed biscuit was served with coffees – slightly ignored as by this time we were so overwhelmed by the tastes and experience.

And although our hearts were nearly stopped by now – there was another hey presto moment in the shape of a £25,000 ice cream trolley. Powered by a hand crank, our waiter mixed custard and liquid nitrogen to create ice cream from the vast plumes of steam. The filled salted cones are dipped in popping candy, raspberry bits and hundreds and thousands made for sighs and smiles. The ice cream melts pretty quickly until you get down to the blood oranges in the base of the cone – which cleanses the palette. Genius. All Hail the King!

Ice Cream at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

Ice Cream at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

It’s going to cost you and you can only get a table, if you are lucky, when the restaurant opens its bookings for that month. But my Lord, it’s worth it.

Here’s the menu we chose from – it changes every three months.

STARTER

Meat Fruit (c.1500)

Mandarin, chicken liver parfait & grilled bread £14.50

Roast Marrowbone (c.1720)

Snails, parsley, anchovy & mace, pickled vegetables £15.00

Broth of Lamb (c.1730)

Slow cooked hen’s egg, celery, radish, turnip & veal sweetbreads £14.50

Salamugundy (c.1720)

Chicken oysters, salsify, marrow bone & horseradish cream £16.50

Savoury Porridge (c.1660)

Roast cod palette, smoked beetroot, garlic, parsley & fennel £14.50

Hay Smoked Mackerel (c.1730)

Lemon salad, gentleman’s relish & olive oil £14.50

Buttered Crab Loaf (c.1714)

Carb, cucumber, pickled lemon, herring roe & stone crop £16.00

MAIN

Powdered Duck Breast (c.1670)

Smoked confit fennel & umbles

Roast Turbot (c.1830)

Leaf chicory & cockle ketchup £34.00

Spiced Pigeon (c.1780)

Ale & artichokes £33.00

Black Foot Pork Chop (c.1820)

Spelt, ham hock & Robert sauce £30.00

Braised Celery (c.1730)

Parmesan, smoked confit cauliflower & apple £23.00

Cod in Cider (c.1940)

Chard & fired mussels £26.00

Chicken cooked with Lettuces (c.1670)

Spiced celeriac sauce & oyster leaves £29.00

Hereford Ribeye (c.1830)

Mushroom ketchup & triple cooked chips £32.00

Fillet of Aberdeen Angus (c.1830)

Mushroom ketchup & triple cooked chips £38.00

Sides of Fries, Mashed potatoes, Braised luttuce & pease, Green beans and shollots, Buttered carrots with caraway, Mixed leaf salad, £4.50

DESERTS

Tipsy Cake (c.1810)

Spit roast pineapple £10.00

Brown Bread Ice Cream (c.1830)

Salted buttered caramel, pear & malted yeast syrup £9.50

Taffety Tart (c.1660)

Apple, rose, fennel & vanilla ice cream £9.50

Chocolate Bar (c.1730)

Passion fruit jam & ginger ice cream £9.50

Poached Rhubarb (c.1590)

Rosehip jam & rhubarb sorbet £9.50

Quaking Pudding (c.1660)

Pear, perry, caramel & lime £10.00

British Cheese

Oat cakes, Yorkshire chutney & cider apple £12.00

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

Address: Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA
Telephone: + 44 020 7201 3833

Lunch: 12pm–2:30pm

Dinner: 6:30pm–10:30pm

To book for June the phone lines will open at 9.00am on 1st May.

For the Olympics 2012 the bookings operate on a 90 day rolling basis from 1st June onwards.

www.dinnerbyheston.com

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