Next up on my UK Restaurant Hit List is Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.
Heston is the legend behind The Fat Duck, which was crowned the #1 restaurant in the world in 2005. Dinner by Heston is part of his growing empire and is based in the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Knightsbridge, just down the road from the famous Harrods luxury department store.
The concept behind Dinner is one that Heston came up with because of the notorious reputation of English cuisine. He decided that it was an undue reputation and went back into old English recipe books set to prove that British gastronomy could compete with the best of them.
Opened in 2011, Dinner gained its first Michelin star within a year, with the second star in 2014. The restaurant is now headed by the former head chef of The Fat Duck, Ashley Palmer-Watts. Heston was the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient from the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
THE HISTORY OF DINNER
Dinner began in the late 90’s with Heston Blumenthal’s fascination with historic gastronomy. The savoury ice creams of the late 1800’s, the theatre of the Tudor dining experiences and the dishes of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland all resonated with his unique approach to cooking. Dedicated to the modern day discovery and evolution of dining he realised that the excitement and obsession with food is no new modern day phenomena. Together with Ashley Palmer-Watts, the two chefs created a menu that takes those discoveries and fascinations of history into a new and evolving modern dining experience. Researching 14th century cookbooks such as those by the royal chefs of King Richard II to Lewis Carroll’s flights of fancy. Working with food historians, tapping into the world of the British library and the team at King Henry VIIIth Hampton Court Palace, the very modern dining experience of Dinner by Heston Blumenthal was born.
As foodies attract foodie friends, we weren’t surprised to have 10 other friends want to join when we announced that we planned to book a table at Dinner by Heston’s. And since their online table reservations are limited to up to 6 guests, we organised a big private room for our table of 12.
In a room that left many people humming the Game of Thrones theme tune, all were wondering if at least one of us would be killed gruesomely in the middle of the dinner. A pretty impressive design in 16th century Tudor-style, the private room is a depiction of the legendary table of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table with a massive rosewood and sapele oval table (a replica of The King’s Table excavated from Westminster Palace). The imposing throne-like chairs inspired by medieval carvings of the hammer-beam roof of Westminster Palace, the deep-red embossed leather walls and the wrought iron chandelier (made of the largest hand-blown glass piece in Britain), all contributed to the feeling of being in a castle. A window also offered views into the main dining room and action-packed, massive open kitchen.
Enter Dinner by Heston’s Private Dining Room
Table for 12 Max
Interestingly, the main dining room is much more of a standard fine dining experience; lots of white and beige created less unusual, less memorable atmosphere.
Decor aside, we all know that it is the food that matters. As a large dining party, we were limited to choose between a 3 or 4-course menu (£95 or £110 per person) with either a regular or “prestige” wine pairing option and a minimum spend of £1,500 for dinner. Knowing the portions are generous, we opted for their set 3-course menu, which gave a 2 options for the starter, 3 for the main course and 3 options for the dessert. One of the perks about coming in a big group, we got to sample a taste of everything.
One interesting feature to note on their menu is that each dish comes with the year of the book that the recipe was found in. The waitstaff also shared detailed stories about both the restaurant’s unique concept dedicated to historic British gastronomy and the meticulous research process behind each dish, which really contributed to our dining experience.
Rolled Menu in Black Box
Meat Fruit (c.1500): Mandarin, Chicken Liver Parfait & Grilled Bread
Inspired by a photograph of a recipe from the palace kitchens of Hamilton Court, the Meat Fruit is a twist on the pâté that was found. Originally called Pome Dorres or “apple of gold”, it was served at feasts as a surprise (including one of the biggest feasts of the period, celebrating the coronation of Henry IV in 1399).
Our Meat Fruit starter came out looking like a piece of fruit, yet the entire thing is the pâté, with the mandarin fruit as the “skin” that encapsulates it. A very clever concept that’s both cheeky and playful and made a strong first impression. Not only is this a visually stunning dish, it also didn’t disappoint with flavours either. The mandarin jelly coating really complements the rich chicken liver parfait. Silky smooth, this is the ideal texture and consistency to spread all over the thick and crunchy sliced toast.
Rice & Flesh (c. 1390): Saffron, Calf Tail & Red Wine
An interesting name, the Rice and Flesh was a saffron risotto with calf tail braised in a red wine sauce. The calf tail was so tender, it melted in your mouth. You can eat this entire dish with a spoon. And the risotto was fragrant with an even consistency in the rice grains. No lumps or mushy rice, this is an expertly executed risotto. Though initially apprehensive that the risotto would be too filling for a starter, but it was a modest portion that was the right balance of feeling satisfied and left me with enough stomach space for my main course and dessert.
Spiced Pigeon (c. 1780) with Ale & Artichokes
The pigeon was succulent and came with cherries in a classic pairing that had a lovely acidic tartness when slathered with the cherry sauce. It wasn’t really “spiced” unless they’re referring to the tart cherry flavor, but this dish stood out for its striking presentation and it was a generous portion.
Fillet of Hereford Beef (c. 1830): Mushroom Ketchup & Fries
Firstly, apologies for this blurry snap as I was feeling under the pressure to capture this photo quickly as it wasn’t my dish and its owner was keen to dig in straight away. And I fully understand his lack of patience, because this fillet was as good as you’d expect. Tender and juicy, everything you can want a succulent steak to be.
But somehow, the accompanying fries stole the show. I can’t believe I am saying that, but these were seriously the best fries I have ever eaten in my life. Triple cooked, whatever that means, they are like a triple tasty version of McD’s fries (and yes, that’s a compliment!). The mushroom ketchup (tangy ketchup with an unmistakable mushroom taste) was also distinctive and just brilliant. Our table was so impressed we ordered another 3 sides of fries for our table to share.
Cod in Cider (c. 1940): Chard & Flamed Mussels
The cod was so moist throughout, and the sauce was a swirling melange of flavours that you have to sit back and savour. The cider gives a light acidity that compliments the richness of the cod beautifully. Every bite was an absolute delight and it wasn’t too rich, which can be common when it comes to cod. Normally, I find myself with food FOMO when I look around at everyone else’s plates, but this cod kept my FOMO at bay.
Chocolate Bar (c. 1730) with Passionfruit Jam & Ginger Ice Cream
I am a self-professed dark chocolate lover to the point where I now consider anything less than 85% dark just too sweet. But that didn’t stop me from shamelessly asking for a taste of this chocolate bar. But unlike your average chocolate bars, this is more like mound of chocolate with a layer of passionfruit jam at the base served in a shape of a bar of gold. The tart passionfruit and sharp ginger ice cream help to off-set to sweet chocolate, an overall bold combination of flavors for an indulgent dessert.
Tipsy Cake (c. 1810) with Spit Roast Pineapple
The Tipsy Cake on the other hand is one of the best desserts I have ever eaten. It’s no wonder that there are an endless number of online articles dedicated to this masterpiece alone.
Dinner by Heston’s open kitchen features an elaborate apparatus called the pulley system, which is modelled after a version used by the royal court used to rotate the spit on an open fire. Here, the pulley is dedicated to roasting whole pineapples for their Tipsy Cake- what a remarkable contraption by Dinner just to fill the endless demand for this highly sought after dessert.
A popular Victorian dessert, this show-stopper features a light and fluffy brioche drizzled with brandy and sauternes (French sweet wine) alongside a strip of sticky, roasted pineapple. My hats off to the pastry chefs who have excelled themselves. This is a seriously head-turning, phenomenal dessert that’s so good, it almost makes you forget all that came before it!
A Chocolate Mousse & Biscuit
As if we wouldn’t be stuffed already, they brought out a surprise chocolate mousse with a crisp biscuit to put us over the edge. A nice finish, but definitely not necessary as we were all already on the verge of exploding.
Our three-course menu (their Private Dining Menu Option A) came complete with a wine pairing. As you can imagine, Dinner by Heston is going to be a splurge. The set menu itself starts at around £95 a head (~RMB 845, according to xe.com) and the wine pairing is an extra £1,000 for the table which includes 2 bottles per course to be shared).
I have to say though, every aspect of the meal (except the walk to the toilet, which was miles away because the hotel was under renovation) was world-class. The waitstaff were professional and knowledgeable, the food was incredible and left you feeling like you had your money’s worth. We came in with high expectations and left fully satisfied. The genius in this dining concept is Heston’s ability to take deceptively simple ideas and execute them exceptionally well. No foams, spheres or other mad scientist modernist gastronomy here, but rather a menu that showcases the history of British cuisine in its best possible light.
And while Heston probably won’t be happy to hear me say this, but my lasting memory will probably be that this is where I discovered the world’s best tasting fries, the world’s best brioche (maybe a little more niche), and some seriously high calibre dishes. It was also amusing to listen to the Italian & French waitstaff grudgingly admit that English cuisine wasn’t entirely a black hole of crappy food compared to the rest of Europe. And that’s probably the best compliment of all to Heston and his team!
If you are in London and ready to splurge and indulge in one of the best British fine dining meals that money can buy, make sure you book early (I’m talking a minimum of 1-3 months early)!
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal (London):
- Address: Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA
- Tel: +44(0)20 7201 3833
- Opening Hours: Monday-Friday from 12:00-14:00 and 18:00 to 22:15, Saturday-Sunday from 12:00-14:30 and 18:30-22:30
- Dress Code: Comfortable
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Reservations: Reservations in the main dining area can be made for up to 6 guests up to 3 months in advance to the day. Please note we welcome diners from the age of 4 years and above. http://www.dinnerbyheston.co.uk/reservations
- Website: http://www.dinnerbyheston.co.uk/
Kristen Lum has an accomplished background in PR, communications and events in China. Born and raised in California, Kristen has been based in Beijing since 2006 and is founder of the lifestyle blog called LumDimSum, covering mostly restaurant news and reviews alongside upcoming events around town that relate to Beijing’s muti-faceted, quickly-developing creative industries like art, music, film, health and fitness, fashion, nightlife, charity events, and travel tips.