Chef: Ashley Palmer-Watts (Former Head Chef at The Fat Duck)
Michelin Stars: 2
World Ranking: 36
Dinner is the more traditional (if you can call it that) arm of the Heston Enterprise. Whilst The Fat Duck focuses on emotive eating, sensory experience and incredibly personalised dining, Dinner takes its inspiration from Great British classics – albeit ones most people are unlikely to be familiar with. Anyone who has watched Heston’s TV programmes will be familiar with his work with Food Historians and at Dinner, all of that research culminates in the refinement of age-old dishes that were once lost or forgotten in the passage of time. The translation of old recipes into modern masterpieces revives a sense of nostalgia for times I’ve not actually known which is a little perplexing, gastronomic history isn’t something I’ve been massively interested in before but it certainly does spark the imagination as dim memories of lessons at school and notes in textbooks suddenly are recalled.
We had lunch at Dinner, so this quote seemed fitting not just for our visit but as a description of the ethos behind Dinner:
Even today, depending where you are in the British Isles, ‘dinner’ might be served at lunchtime, suppertime or, indeed, dinnertime!
This made ‘Dinner’ the natural choice for its typically British quirky history and linguistic playfulness. If nothing else, I hope it’s easy to remember.
I had expected a tasting or set menu of some kind but it seems on Saturdays the A La Carte menu is the only one available. Whilst this makes it more difficult to decide on what to eat, it does provide the opportunity to try some great Heston classics such as Meat Fruit, Savoury Porridge or Brown Bread Ice Cream without any form of restriction- certainly the table opposite us ordered an array of dishes albeit much of their time was spent taking selfies and not talking to each other which is an odd scenario to watch. The atmosphere is surprisingly laid back considering the grand surroundings of the Mandarin Oriental hotel, I had expected stuffy hotel formality but there is much to be seen with the open plan kitchen in clear view and light fittings shaped like jelly moulds (I really want some of these for myself!)
I started our lunch with Savoury Porridge () after missing out on Frog’s legs when we were in Paris last month. My bowl was filled with porridge in a vivid shade of green with wedges of purple and yellow beetroot poking through the garlicky, viscous liquid. The texture was slightly unexpected but this is more a reflection of my habit to make porridge thick enough to cut through than of the dish itself, I forget porridge should have at least some liquid. Parsley is one of those herbs I pay little attention to, I never really feel like it has much taste or purpose so I was pleasantly surprised by the strong and herby flavour. I’ve been trying to remember recently if I’ve ever eaten frog’s legs before (hence wanting to eat them in Paris) but if I have, they were certainly nothing like this. Crisp to the bite but ridiculously tender these savoury lollipops are the kind of thing I could easily eat a plate of and yet still want more. They slid off the bone with ease and whilst the plate wasn’t quite what I expected, I still found myself scraping the bowl clean.
Jordan’s option was Frumenty (c.1390) – an interesting, smoky flavoured dish of grilled octopus and spelt. This was a bowl full of ingredients I love and a generous serving too, the octopus had a great texture that was soft and almost buttery. We resisted the urge to pick the bowl up to sup up the last of the broth but I wont pretend that it wasn’t tempting, topped with pickles and samphire it also came with blobs of lovage – a herb that seems to keep popping up in dishes at the moment and one I’d like to try and use at home.
The Pork Belly came served with a ‘Pea’s pudding’ (as oppose to Pease Pudding) which was a combination of puree and whole peas, charred and pickled onions. Rich, slightly toasted Black Pudding was dotted across the plate and whilst the combination of flavours is not one that seems uncommon now it is interesting to think that the recipe itself has been around for so long.
We ordered one desert on our arrival -Tipsy cake as it comes with spit roasted pineapple that takes 40 minutes to prepare. This alone was enough to convince us that it was worth a try. Served in a cast iron dish, the soft brioche ball floats above a brandy infused cream with a strip of glazed, roasted pineapple to the side. Not only did the sweet, indulgent dessert deliver on flavour but it also provided some of the decor too with pineapples subtly placed at the restaurant entrance, and rows of spit roasted fruit toasting away on display in the window to the kitchen.
I opted for what seemed like the most Christmassy option – Gingerbread Ice Cream () the main draw being my curiosity about the smoked walnut mousse which as it turned out was only a very small part of the dish. That said, the festive concoction was a delight with strong, individual flavours that encouraged me to eat a few things that I tend to steer away from – pears and white chocolate.
As an additional treat, we couldn’t help but add-on an Ice Cream each, made with Liquid Nitrogen at the table on a custom-made cart, it wouldn’t be a Heston experience without some theatre after all.
We came away from Dinner feeling as if we had eaten a proper meal due to its realistic portion sizes and the option to add side orders (we had a bowl of the buttery sprouts with chestnut and bacon, it was delightful) Lunchtime service was efficient with a small army of staff at our disposal yet there was a casual almost informal atmosphere that we hadn’t expected. Staff were chatty not stuffy, a gentle hum of conversation ran across the room and the whole operation ran like clockwork. Most importantly, it made us feel as if we could return and be welcomed at any time, the menu options were such that there were plenty of enticing options to draw you back for a further visit and the execution of everything we ate was as sharp as you would expect.
Having now ticked The Fat Duck and Dinner of our list, they couldn’t be more different in style. We have long been fans of Heston (and the team behind the scenes) so seeing this other side of the dining experience adds a new level of appreciation for the amount of effort, research and skill that combines to form the Heston experience fans are seeking.
Our Bill( For two guests):
- 3 course lunch: £160.50
- Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream: £17
- Wine: £89
- Additional drinks (1 Beer and water): £15.50
- Service Charge: £38.07
- Total: £320.07
Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA