Heston’s Dinner has had a whole lot of hype since its opening last year, and why wouldn’t it? Heston is everywhere. His little bit smug, little bit serious grin is popping up all over the telly, new books are rolling out to cater to all interests and abilities that make the words ‘molecular gastronomy’ weirdly accessible and his accolade of awards continue to stack up. He is well and truly hot stuff and Dinner reflects every little bit of his success, it’s showy, complete with glass fronted open kitchen, glamorous and expensive with an extraordinarily exlusive location in the Oriental Mandarin Hotel which overlooks Hyde Park.
The only way I could afford to eat at Dinner was by dining from the set lunch menu which is a contextually reasonable £32 a head for 3 courses. I booked for on a Friday lunch time, 6 weeks in advance and got a sitting for 2.15pm. They’ve defiantely still got it. On arrival, we were told our table wasn’t ready, so we soaked up the atmosphere and perused the menu over cocktails in the hotel lounge. There’s two dishes on offer for each course, so we did what any couple should and ordered one of each to share (plus we had the Meat Fruit- we couldn’t go there and not eat it). The dishes are based on 16th century onwards cuisine and there was an obvious ‘guy’ option/’girl’ option that was a bit irritating (salad or pigs ears/fish or meat), but unsurprisingly it worked very well.
I started with the Lemon Salad (c.1730), with goats curd and raisins, the lighter of the two starters on offer, perfect especially when you know you’re ordering more food than you should eat. The tangy, sharp flavours of the lemon complimented the creamy goats curd wonderfully but the raisins were a little overpoweringly sweet. Ragoo of Pigs Ears (c.1750) Anchovy, onions & parsley was a hearty, meaty reduction of rich and gelatinous meat that had a texture that’s pretty hard to explain – it was a little like pulled pork but more cloying and sticky, almost like a thick gravy, but filled with melt in the mouth morsels of meat and onion. Good, but perhaps a little to heavy to start things off with.
But it was the Meat Fruit (c.1500) Mandarin, chicken liver parfait & grilled bread that was the real winner. The presentation was stunning, though of course the element of surprise has been spoiled for some time now, it may have looked just like a mandarin, but there was no fooling us. Starting with the textures, the combination between the silky smooth, soft parfait and the crunchy charred bread was heavenly. Then the flavours. My lord, the parfait was just the best I have ever eaten. Rich, creamy but intensely meaty, it was cut through perfectly by a subtle hint of sweet orange. Paired up with the bread that was finished over open flames and it was totally addictive. I’ve been dreaming of it since.
Cured Salmon (c.1670), Beetroot, sea pursulane & olive oil was rich and earthy. The juicy fish had been cured and gently pan-fried on one side only so that the lower half of the steak was translucent and tore apart at the slightest touch. The salty-tart flavour could just about stand up to the beetroot which was served both in a punchy set cream and roasted quarters. The duck was unfortunately tiny, the minuscule drumstick was sticky and tasty, but packed little punch, most of the flavour came from the quality of the meat rather than any kitchen trickery, and it lasted about five mouthfuls. Luckily the mash on the side was divine; rich and warming and with a texture like no mash I’ve ever tried before and the sprigs of herbs and sprout hearts brought it all together.
Puds were when the real fight over sharing started. They were so good that at that point I honestly thought I could have eaten an entire portion of each one. My favourite of the two was Orange Buttered Loaf (c.1630), Mandarin & thyme sorbet. The loaf was bouncy like brioche with an orange filling, then the whole thing was soaked in butter and coated in a wonderfully crunchy caramel. The mandarin in the sorbet was sweet and strong so the thyme was lost, but it didn’t matter as it went so well with the buttery loaf that the extra flavour wasn’t necessary. The Prune & Tamarind Tart (c.1720) had a crunchy buttery base (sorry Masterchef lovers), a sticky rich layer of prunes, subtly flavoured with tamarind and a top layer of wobbly creme brûlée-esq custard complete with crispy sugar topping.
And when we thought it was all over, the wonderful waiter who seemed so happy to indulge us in more information about the food and how it’s prepared, offered to give us a tour of the kitchens. Joy! He was friendly and informative as he showed us around the chef’s table, toured us through the main kitchen from the other side of the goldfish bowl, letting us look in the open flame oven and at the clockwork operated pineapple spit, onto the tiny shiny room dedicated to the Meat Fruit prep, to the pastry kitchen and beyond. That extra bit of effort really made an already brilliant meal totally special.
When we got back to our table, a little pot of chocolate and earl grey ganache and accompanying caraway biscuit was at our table with a unique birthday message. They win. We win. Even with a few tweaks, the meal gave impressions of all round brilliance. The total bill came to £113, for two cocktails, 3 courses each plus the Meat Fruit and the little second taster pud and a glass of white (£7.50). Expensive yes, but value for money, totally. I’m now saving for an A la Carte meal, I’ll be back in a year!