It had to happen. After garnering three Michelin stars at The Fat Duck in the quaint, but peripheral, village of Bray, Heston Blumenthal finally got the offer that he couldn’t turn down to open a bona fide white-tablecloth establishment in London. His hosts, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge, are winners too.
‘Dinner’, the confusion-inducing name of the place, is a temple to classic recipes from the 14th to the 19th centuries. The late Clarissa Dickson-Wright (best known as one of the Two Fat Ladies, but, more importantly for our purposes, a food historian in her own right) would doubtless approve of the concept and add that that was the era before Britain worked so hard to establish a reputation for the worst food in the developed world. Before the industrial revolution the nation’s food was authentic and varied, albeit not on the same level as French gastronomy. Both countries ate off the land and sea, so the menu at Dinner reflects that.
Credit should be shared carefully for two-Michelin starred Dinner. Six Michelin star Blumenthal (three for The Fat Duck and one for The Hinds Head are his others), with four restaurants, a recipe research program, an extensive TV career and celebrity popups is not in the kitchen at Dinner. That responsibility goes to protegé Ashley Palmer-Watts who was formerly Executive Chef at The Fat Duck. Wine duties on the extensive list are taken very seriously by a team of no fewer than six sommeliers. Sourcing is via the network built-up for The Fat Duck.
While historic dishes inspired, Heston Blumenthal’s inventor’s propensity to never-leave-well- enough-alone, embellishes. So we get the much talked about ‘meat fruit’, £17.50, starter (resembling a mandarin orange on the plate, but a total trompe l‘oeil conceit as the mandarin ‘skin’ is molded from puréed mandarin orange and filled with creamy chicken liver parfait that positively oozes out onto the plate). Salamagundy, £17.50, an 18th century salad whose ingredients have evolved over time and place emphasizes marrow bone, chicken oysters, and salsify in a piquant horseradish dressing dotted with walnuts.
The main course of Powdered Duck Breast (c. 1670), £36, may be a distant cousin of the seventeenth century in that they had duck and made powder back then. This rendition is just a really good duck entrée with the most supplicant flesh out of three duck breast dishes tried at restaurants in over a week. The modern plating emphasizes a MADI-like geometry and cool-warm color contrast over the softer forms of medieval England. The smoked beetroot should presumably have concentrated even further the already dense flavors of beetroot but, if so, this was one process that did not work. The beets were dry and chewy.
Roast Halibut, £38, (c. 1830) benefited from a jus with salmon roe and sea rosemary where the latter contributed a brackishness that made the fish fillet tase more in its element. Put the salmon roe down as a texture component here.
The closest thing to a signature among the desserts here is the much-discussed Tipsy Cake (c. 1810) that is served in a single-sized cast iron dish of brioche with an addictive sweet caramelized cream accompanied by a stick of roasted pineapple on the side. It is memorable. Almost as memorable as the meat fruit.
Ask for a window table for the million-dollar view of Hyde Park and treat the wait staff, including the sommelier, as a resource. It was through them that I found a Sauvignon Blanc from Turkey of all places that served as a refreshing preprandial.