Tasting menu – Dinner by Heston, Melbourne
Recently, one of Melbourne’s major newspapers announced its top 100 restaurants and put Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at the #1 position. It was, in Greedy Girl’s estimation, a splendid choice. Having dined there four times in a 12-month period, she can attest to the quality and consistency of both food and service.
Subscribing to the “just because we can” ethos, we headed there to try something we hadn’t seen at lunch before – a tasting menu. On a sunny afternoon we relaxed and enjoyed some exceptional entertainment – the food, the wine, the waiter who was a walking history text book – it was an incredibly fun way to spend five-and-a-bit hours.
There is a handful of restaurants that Greedy Girl has written about more than once and Dinner by Heston absolutely leads the charge (with three previous posts on this blog). It gives Greedy Girl cause to reflect on blogging just one experience with any particular restaurant; but is an opinion any less valid from sampling something once? Food for thought.
We’d only seen the tasting menu on offer previously if one took the chef’s table or private room. Having whetted our appetite with a beautiful glass of Larmandier Bernier Blanc de Blancs champagne, thanks to the restaurant’s delightful GM, Jonno and enjoying a great chat with him and Brodie behind the bar, we settled into our table by the windows, overlooking the river and the city and were surprised to see a five-course option, instead of the usual a la carte.
Gluttonous husband had one request – he’d spied a particular dessert that piqued his interest and asked if he could substitute that for the advertised Tipsy Cake. This, to Greedy Girl, was sacrilege as Tipsy Cake is possibly The Best Non-Chocolate Dessert Ever … but we are getting ahead of ourselves.
Usually we have a bottle of an old favourite, Jacquesson Cuvée 739, but the sommelier suggested a more boutique offering from Vouette et Sorbée, a 100% Pinot Noir champagne which he said would pair well with our entire menu. Served in white wine glasses, rather than flutes, it had an amazing golden colour and was beautifully dry.
And so, we settled in for our form of theatre; sipping beautiful wines, savouring amazing dishes and enjoying a chat with the various team members who looked after us.
First up was a dish new to both of us, hay smoked ocean trout, with a pickled lemon salad, gentleman’s relish, wood sorrel and smoked roe. There were also a few drops of lemon gel on the plate and a selection of leaves.
What a dish; it took Greedy Girl back to the first time she and gluttonous husband dined at Tetsuya’s in Sydney. Chef Wakuda Tetsuya’s signature confit ocean trout, edged with seaweed flakes, was an absolute revelation. Having said at the outset she probably wouldn’t enjoy it, she gulped it down.
This was a very different dish – the trout having been smoked rather than done as a confit – but it was absolutely delicious. The combination of little salty pops from the roe, the smoothness of the relish (an anchovy-based sauce) and the lemon was sensational. Every last bit was mopped up with bread. The first sips of champagne also worked a treat with this.
As we awaited our next course (and another old favourite), Jonno asked if we’d had any of the cocktails on offer; apart from a champagne cocktail on a previous visit, we admitted we hadn’t tried others. He asked if we’d like a Bloody Mary. Gluttonous husband’s eyes lit up – it is his go-to drink the day after a big night before and, along with a martini – his favourite cocktail. Shortly after, this is what arrived at the table.
There’s a lot that Heston Blumenthal does as a chef that plays with his patrons’ heads – one only needs to watch any of his TV shows to see how he uses ingredients in a myriad of innovative ways. This is a cocktail in the same vein; not a hint of red, nor a stick of celery to be seen. Made with a horseradish vodka and a tomato consommé this is an incredible experience. Greedy Girl, who doesn’t enjoy traditional Bloody Mary cocktails, was a huge fan of this.
Next up we had the glory that is meat fruit – the softest and smoothest chicken liver parfait you’ll ever enjoy, encased in a mandarin gel, served with a grilled piece of sourdough. The recipe dates back to the 1500s but it would have never been presented as elegantly as this.
Our delightful waiter Huw told us the kitchen team spend a few months on each of the stations so they get exposure to the whole menu. Greedy Girl applauds whoever was in charge of this dish – it was possibly the best one she’s ever had, either in Melbourne or London. It’s exceptionally rich and Greedy Girl slowed right down to savour it.
Just two dishes in, we were already feeling decidedly full but the team paces the meal brilliantly. Our next dish was something Greedy Girl has also had on a number of occasions – rice and flesh.
It’s a plate of sunshine – saffron rice with amaranth, a red-wine sauce and curried kangaroo tail. The serving on the a la carte menu is much bigger than this but we were relieved to see a small plate. But we had a slight hiccup; the rice here just wasn’t cooked off enough. It was seriously resistant to the bite and tasted very chalky, leaving a gritty sensation in the mouth. Having enjoyed it before, we just didn’t feel it was up to scratch, so – gulp – we sent it back.
Greedy Girl rarely sends back a dish and, when that happens, it’s usually because a piece of meat has been way over or under cooked. The waiter seemed a little perturbed – we explained we’d had it on a number of occasions and it just needed a bit of extra cooking to have the right level of resistance, without the grit. It was whisked away and shortly thereafter, replaced. This time, the gritty sensation was absent. There was no fuss about replacing the serving and all handled with aplomb.
Our final savoury course was lamb and cucumber, a relatively modern dish dating to around 1830. This was best end of lamb with a roast cucumber heart, sweetbreads, peas and mint. Grilling cucumber isn’t something Greedy Girl has ever contemplated, but it worked very well with the dish. She wasn’t as enamoured of the peas but gluttonous husband was happy to hoover them up, along with the juicy, soft lamb fat she left behind.
It has to be said though, that the meat dishes we’ve had at Dinner by Heston – both Melbourne and in the UK, haven’t had the same ‘wow’ factor as the other menu items – apart from the presentation, which looked wonderful. This was a good dish but we’ve ticked it off the list now and wouldn’t order it again.
And we were done with the savoury portion of the program. The champagne lasted right through and we were happy to keep sipping before the desserts arrived.
Greedy Girl always allowed gluttonous husband to order Tipsy Cake for dessert in the UK but in Melbourne, on each occasion, she’s plumped for it. It’s utterly luscious – sauternes soaked pudding with an amazing custard, served with a slice of spit-roasted pineapple. Our friendly waiter Hugh said pineapples were a sign of wealth among the ancient British ruling class, around the era of Henry VIII and old Liz the first. A pineapple in that era was worth an incredible sum; Greedy Girl felt guilty about not eating it – she just finds the flavour too dominant.
Gluttonous husband took a dish he hadn’t seen before – Sambocade, which dates to around 1390 (pictured at the top of this post). This is a goats’ milk cheese cake containing an elderflower and apple surprise inside, served with perry-poached pears and candied walnuts. It was, possibly, the best dessert he could hope for, trying to steer away from overly-sweet dishes. He loved it – he was expecting a much heavier cheesecake but it was light and went well with the pears and walnuts.
Being quite late in the afternoon, we didn’t opt for coffee. Shortly thereafter the customary ‘farewell’ chocolate ganache infused with Earl Grey tea and caraway seed biscuits was put before us.
And we were done – literally five and a bit hours after we’d arrived. We bid our farewells and wandered down the riverbank home.
Our first tasting menu at Dinner by Heston was a very enjoyable experience and a good combination of some favourites as well as some new dishes. For quality, consistency and very engaging staff, it’s very hard to beat.
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
Crown complex, Melbourne