Lunch at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London – familiarity breeds delight
Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband scored a table at Dinner during their London sojourn last year. It was high time for a repeat visit especially given it had increased its ranking in the 2013 San Pellegrino list of the world’s best restaurants.
This time we had lunch at Dinner, with gluttonous husband’s daughter La Reine fille (don’t call her Princess) in tow, during a particularly hot spell in the British capital. The air-con was working overtime and it was fractionally warm in the light and airy dining room at the Mandarin Oriental, overlooking Hyde Park. Perfect drinking (and eating) weather.
La Reine fille, in town for a lightning visit from her base in San Francisco, had initially been slightly confused about having ‘lunch at Dinner’ – after explaining the conundrum she became quite excited that her fine dining debut was the number seven ranked restaurant. We took our places at a table by the window, ordered a bottle of Perrier Jouet champagne and got down to the serious business of ordering.
There were some ‘new’ dishes this year (well, as new as you can get when the recipes date back several centuries) and some favourites from last year missing from the menu – in particular, the triple-cooked chips. Greedy Girl was aghast. Our delightful Portuguese waiter Ricardo told us it wasn’t the season for the potatoes with the required starch level. Drat!
Overcoming that fleeting disappointment, we chose three different starters. Gluttonous husband once again had Meat Fruit (a recipe dating anywhere from 1300-1500).
How glorious this was. Gluttonous husband commented the amazing chicken liver and foie gras parfait coated in mandarin gel was even better than he remembered. As usual it was accompanied by a grilled slice of brioche. Sharing among us, he quickly needed a second piece to be told it was on its way. But of course …
La Reine fille opted for Frumenty (c. 1390, from The Forme of Cury, The Master Cooks of King Richard II). This was grilled octopus with leaves and accompaniments, including smoked ‘sea broth’, pickled dulse (also known as sea lettuce) and lovage. The octopus chunks were enormous but very tender. An excellent dish.
Greedy Girl took a stroll down memory lane with frog legs. These were presented as part of ‘Nettle Porridge’ (c. 1660, from The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected by William Rabisha). As you’d expect with frog legs, this was very heavy on garlic but the nettles cut through the richness a tad. Delish. She fondly remembered her first dish of frog legs (accompanied by around a dozen garlic cloves) from her first visit to Europe, ahem, in Luxembourg about 30 years ago. Good times.
And so to main course. Greedy Girl and La Reine fille shared Bone In Rib of Hereford Prime (c. 1830 from Mistress Meg Dodds’ The Cook and Housewife’s Manual). This was served with the delightful mushroom ketchup, a beef jus and fries (sadly, not the triple-cooked chips). This was a huge serving and gluttonous husband had to assist. The steak was char grilled and had a large vein of fat running through it, which made the flavour quite delicious but some pieces were difficult to cut.
As part of the history lesson that is any visit to Dinner, La Reine Fille got the lowdown on the difference between ketchup and catsup and its origins in Britain by way of Malaysia, rather than in her adopted homeland of the US. It was excellent.
Gluttonous husband had ‘Powdered Duck’ (c. 1670 a recipe by Hannah Woolley from The Queene-like Closet or Rich Cabinet). This was two pieces of duck breast served with smoked confit fennel and ‘umbles’ – this is essentially chopped or minced offal (mainly kidneys gluttonous husband estimated). Gluttonous husband said the meat was deliciously tender but was a little disappointed the skin was not crisp. It was accompanied by a jus made up of duck stock and spices which were used to coat the meat which he remarked was exceptional.
We washed down the mains with the sommelier’s red ‘recommendation’, a delightful Haras ‘Cabernet Elegance’ from Chile – basically Cabernet Sauvignon with a hint of shiraz.
And so to dessert. Of course gluttonous husband put his hand up for the Tipsy Cake (c. 1810 from The English Cookery Book by JH Walsh. This extraordinary pudding (pictured at the top of this post), a mix of brioche, sauternes and cream with a spit-roasted slice of pineapple on the side, was so good, we all wanted to order it. Gluttonous husband was happy to offer us all a taste and it was, indeed, heavenly.
La Reine fille had the Quaking Pudding (c. 1660 from Robert May’s The Accomplisht Cooke. NB, Greedy Girl would like to point out this is the correct spelling from the time of ‘accomplished’ and not because she was in any way ‘pisht’). This was a concoction of pear, caramel and lime with ‘perry’ a typically British alcoholic drink also known as pear cider. It wasn’t overly sweet and an interesting dessert but paled in comparison to the Tipsy Cake.
Well-known chocoholic Greedy Girl went for Bohemian Cake (c. 1890 from Marshall’s Larger Cookery Book of Extra Recipes by Mrs AB Marshall). Greedy Girl is fairly certain that Mrs Marshall’s version didn’t look anywhere near as glamorous as this. It was more mousse than cake, sitting atop a citrusy biscuit base and served with ‘London summertime’ honey ice cream. The chocolate was utterly delicious.
After three-and-a-half hours lingering over the lunch table and well satisfied, we headed for the door and the heat of the afternoon. The kitchen at Dinner is headed up by Ashley Palmer-Watts, who has been Heston Blumenthal’s executive chef for the Fat Duck group since 2008. The menu, showcasing Blumenthal’s fondness for keeping British heritage alive, was developed by the two of them.
Dinner is an amazing experience and, provided you’re flexible with your times and dates, relatively easy to get a booking at, particularly for lunch. Greedy Girl heartily recommends you do so, without delay.
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
Mandarin Oriental, 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1