On Thursday, 5th June, my husband and I went for dinner to celebrate our second wedding anniversary. The 5th of Junes throughout our short little marriage have been pretty great – 2013 we were chilling in Mexico, and the year before that it was, of course, our wedding day, so this 5th of June had a lot to live up to.
If any of you don’t know who Heston Blumenthal is, hopefully you will be as happy to learn of him as I was years ago. He is a culinary conjurer who likes to play with science, history and art to create new dishes that wow. His restaurant The Fat Duck was named the best restaurant in the world by Restaurant magazine in 2005, and has been on our list of restaurants to visit for a long time. However we didn’t fancy a trek out of London on a Thursday night so my husband plumped for Dinner by Heston.
Set inside the gorgeous Mandarin Oriental hotel in Knightsbridge, Dinner by Heston was placed at number 5 in Restaurant’s 2014 list of the Top 50 Restaurants in the World. The menu is based on historic British dishes from 1390 – 1940, and provides the titles of recipe books from which the dishes are adapted. There is just enough choice to get you umm-ing and ahh-ing over what to choose, but not so much that you’re overwhelmed. Needless to say, the meal was interesting and engaging, but more on that later. Our reservation wasn’t until 9:30, so we hung out in Harrods Food Halls and the Harvey Nichols 5th Floor Bar beforehand:
I made some of those pink cupcakes while I was an intern at Rosalind Miller Cakes at the end of last year! And that cool gold contraption is some sort of immense coffee grinder, I think. Oh, and that giant box of chocolates cost over £1000! Casual.
The Mandarin Oriental is so my kind of place. A friendly doorman; a nice, peaceful foyer of floor to ceiling marble; and the kind of architecture that made me want to move to London!
We experienced a lovely, friendly reception at the restaurant – our bags were checked into the cloakroom and we were shown to our seats swiftly. We were seated right by the kitchen windows which was distracting for me – I find it fascinating watching a kitchen in full swing, but me and my husband should probably have swapped seats as I kept trailing off mid-sentence, watching the chefs!
In the words of Dianne Jacob, “a good staff elevates eating to dining”. Dinner by Heston didn’t fall down on service – napkins folded whenever you left your seat, table scraped between courses, a knowledgeable sommelier and a chatty maitre d’. The waiting staff were prompt and told you what was on your plate (which can be helpful if you want to know where the bone marrow is…). I was shown to the ladies and my escort made small talk, and everyone said goodbye when we left. However it wasn’t the best service I’ve ever experienced (that would be Gidleigh Park) – maybe a little slow and to be honest I was expecting an amuse bouche and palate cleansers between the courses. I do have a habit of always expecting too much, and it is something I must learn to live with. But for #5 in the world…?
So what did we eat, I hear you cry? Well I am on a health kick so chose dishes I wouldn’t normally have preferred, but my husband was sensible and did nothing of the sort.
Sidenote! Below there are no pictures of the dishes we ate. I am morally opposed to taking photos of dishes served in restaurants. It is akin to watching a gig through your mobile phone’s screen. Just enjoy the freaking meal! How are you going to know which restaurants are truly memorable and outstanding, if you have photos of every dish to remember each one by? Your memory is good like that: it will naturally remember the best things you experience.
Also, photos taken like this rarely do dishes justice – flashy fish, anyone? There were two guys on the table behind us, trying to get around this flash issue in the dimly lit restaurant. One guy was holding his phone’s light up to light the shot and the other one spent ages snapping away. I thought, 1) your meal is getting cold 2) what a faff 3) stop making your companion light your shot and let him EAT and maybe even converse with you about this joint experience 4) just enjoy the moment and stop worrying about whether you’ve got photos to show off with! Enjoy the now. Heaven forbid someone might not see what an amazing life you lead.
Also! It’s just Not The Done Thing. Phones at the table – NO! Do not take that call.
To start I chose the Earl Grey Tea Cured Salmon with roe and gentleman’s relish. A lemon salad added a welcome tang, and the dish was beautifully light and fresh. I will admit to not being the hugest fan of roe or caviar. I’m not even sure what it tastes of as I typically either don’t eat it if offered, or if it’s on my plate I swallow it as quickly as possible, trying to allay thoughts of “oh my god, it’s fish eggs!!!!!”. But I was very grown up in this instance, and with this article in mind tried not to rush the roe. I can report back that it wasn’t too offensive! I still couldn’t bring myself to chew the eggs but got a good taste and it was fine.
My husband’s starter really was a spectacle, and typical Heston! The Meat Fruit. Chicken Liver and Foie Gras, smooth as butter, in the image of a mandarin (we were at the Mandarin Oriental, you see). The portion was so generous that he didn’t seem to mind sharing. I would happily have ordered another portion to take home with us, if I was more frivolous. That’s definitely the best mandarin I’ve ever tasted.
For my main I chose the Spiced Pigeon with sides of green beans & shallots and mashed potato. The mash was introduced to us as “our famous mashed potatoes” and Oh… my….. God!! They were the smoothest and most delicious mashed potatoes I have ever had and definitely my favourite part of this course. They were so smooth, almost pourable. Divine and clearly not conducive to my health kick. My pigeon was super rare, which was fine by me, and the accompanying ale sauce added an extra depth of flavour.
Again, my husband made the best choice. Fillet of Beef with Heston’s famous thrice-cooked chips. The steak was melt-in-the-mouth and paired with his Malbec, he was in heaven! Prior to this our favourite steak was from Gaucho (it’s a chain, but it’s a good chain!) but this was head and shoulders above. The thrice-cooked chips tasted like roast potatoes. Perhaps they were cooked in goose fat. Crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, there were definitely no complaints from our table! The ale used in the steak’s sauce was London Pride – the maitre d’ didn’t mind telling us this, probably safe in the knowledge that there’s no way we’ll be able to imitate a Heston recipe at home.
Ahhh, dessert. Even though I was absolutely stuffed by this point, the health kick had gone out of the window a couple of hours back and the cheese was calling me, I decided my pancreas could definitely find a way to process a Pond Pudding. Having first learnt about them on last series of the Great British Bake Off, I was eager to try one. Heston’s Pond Pudding did not disappoint! A very solid pastry (I think?) case, which when hacked into burst open, oozing lemon caramel which created a pond on the plate. I had never come across lemon caramel before, but it was delicious and really worked, which I guess makes sense – the tart lemon slicing through the sweetness of the caramel. At the base of the pastry case was a Victoria Sponge, and it was topped with pickled lemon & apple blossom, and served with a vanilla ice cream quenelle. Perfect!
My husband chose the Chocolate Bar. He will always choose the chocolate. I thought the chocolate bar was delicious and sophisticated. A dark chocolate terrine filled with passion fruit jam, served with palate-cleansing ginger ice cream. He didn’t enjoy it so much – too rich and bitter for his tastes. I suppose it’s true, it was so rich even I couldn’t have eaten a second one.
After we’d already ordered our desserts we saw other tables watching ice cream being churned right in front of them, made using liquid nitrogen and with all sorts of sprinkles! I think this must of be the Brown Bread Ice Cream and it certainly was exciting.
The meal ended with a shot of chocolate and orange blossom ganache and a caraway seed biscuit, which was a nice touch. Kind of like an uber-fancy ChocDip. Then, out came a little cake with a candle in and “Happy Anniversary” written in chocolate on the plate! So cute!! We literally could not eat another bite so had it packed up to take home.
We were away for the weekend so chowed down on our chocolate cake on Sunday night (after a long day being towed home from Manchester to London… long story). The anniversary cake was a perfect, luxurious end to our extended Heston Blumenthal experience: a buttery biscuit base, chocolate moussey-cheesecakey goodness, and a marmalade filling was good enough, but THEN! A few bites in, little needle pricks, bursting in the back of my throat. Popping Candy! What a surprise.