Are we the only ones who think that Heston Blumenthal's Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park could have been the culinary joke of the decade. Medieval cuisine of ye olde Angelcynn? Are you kidding me? Imagine if Heston had decided on calves head with oysters or ”boyled” sparrow with rice. Would us Foodies faithfully consume his concoctions with open hearts and joyous minds? Probably not. We are not that naive. Luckily Professor B has been more selective on his menu. In fact, Dinner boasts a unique array of the best of historic British cuisine.
The decor of the dining hall is incongruously modern. Jelly mould light fittings, leather clad wall panels, dark wooden tables, with broad curved seats, as well as chunky swash-buckling ceiling lights, adorn the room. It's a modern medieval style perhaps, but only if someone drew it to your attention. Then you strangely pan left to verdant and enchanting views of Hyde Park. The decor is not the only oxymoron to grace the Heston experience as we soon discovered!
Since we were celebrating St Valentine's Day we started with an aperitif of Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, whilst we perused the menu and nibbled on bread. Incidentally, I am trying to play down our excitement. Just two hours before I was clapping like a seal in anticipation. Enough about how uncool I am though.
For starters, I chose the roast scallops in cucumber ketchup and borage (£16) and Keith picked the famed Meat Fruit (£12.50), which we washed down with a glass each of the Pinot Grigio Schiopetto Collio 2008 (£14.50 each). My scallops were plump, soft cushions and the drizzle of the punchy, tart sauce freshened the dish. I was unsure of the borage. It added a meaty, wintry quality, but at least it was not too overpowering. The Meat Fruit was the show stealer. Glistening like the star it knows it is, the quasi chicken liver parfait encased in a mandarin and orange jellied shell was amazing. It was smooth like velvet and deliciously rich. Paired with the Pinot Grigio with its light, loose texture, peachy, vanilla undertones and ultra light acidity, we had a perfect beginning to our meal.
Unfortunately, my first choice of mains, the Beef Royal (slow cooked for 72 hours) was not available, but there were plenty of appetising second choices. I eventually decided upon the Spiced Pigeon in ale and artichokes (£32) and Keith picked the Sirloin of Black Angus (£30) accompanied by mushroom ketchup, red wine juice and triple cooked chips. Petrified that I may suffer from chip envy, I too asked for a portion of the infamous thrice fried pommes de terre even though it was not an option for a side. The kitchen provided without a squeak of problems. The wine menu was comprehensive, but we would have loved it if there had been more descriptions round the grape varietal and flavours. We consulted with the Sommelier, expressing a preference for Portuguese wine and eventually settled on a Dão Quinta da Fonte do Ouro 2006.
My pigeon was amongst the most tender and succulent meat I have ever known. If melted in my mouth like a Lindt Lindor Chocolate Truffle Ball and I found I barely needed to masticate. The jus was Christmas in a sauce; boozy, fruity and spiced. I found myself cutting the meat into tiny semi-bite sized pieces so that I could spin out this divinity. Keith's griddled beef was superb. It was not the best we have had, but it was cooked perfectly (medium rare). The discs of light melt in the mouth bone-marrow were encrusted with crispy breadcrumbs and chives. In great anticipation we tried the triple cooked chips. We were slightly disappointed. I had expected them to be crispy on the outside, but fluffy in the centre, but they were crunchy all the way through. The cliché presentation (chips in a bucket anyone?) has been overdone; Ramsay at the Narrow, Maze Grill, Jamie at Barbecoa. Yes it is cute and well presented, but dig a tiny bit deeper Heston into your bottomless pit of originality. Our wine pairing was a winner with the pigeon and beef. We admired what looked like a chalice of crimson blood. The aromas of berries were very powerful but wafts of leather and a teasing of salt were much more subtle. It was a wonderfully elegant choice; robust enough to stand along the beef, but mild enough to compliment the game without enveloping it.
By this point I was so deliriously happy. Partly on account of the gastronomic experience, an obvious alcohol induced joy, the company of my wonderful husband and the icing on the cake, I had caught a glimpse of Heston.
We were at the cheese course which entailed a selection of six British cheeses, cider apple chutney, muscat grapes and pear, which our waitress mistook for apple (£10). This was accompanied by sliced walnut bread and oat crackers. We also picked a 1985 Taylor's Vintage Port (£35), which our Sommelier kindly split over two glasses. The cheeses as far as we could tell were goats, cheddar and Camembert (equivalent) from Tamworth. We missed the other three as the waitress' accent was quite thick and we had already asked her twice to explain the board. The ruby port was full bodied, uber smooth, rich in ripe berries with honey notes.
We were reaching the end of our journey. We had decided at the beginning of our meal we would spoil ourselves with three desserts; the famed Tipsy Cake with spit roast pineapple (£10), Brown Bread Ice Cream with salted butter caramel malted yeast syrup served on an olive oil biscuit (£8) and Chocolate Bar with ginger ice cream (£8.50). We selected two glasses of sweet dessert wine; 2006 Tokaji Aszu 4 Puttonyos,from Hungary (£19.50) and a 2004 Eiswein Zweigelt Süss, Weingut Steindorfer from Austria (£25.50). As you can see from our photos, all the desserts were beautifully presented. The tipsy cake was a moist buttery brioche style glazed cake. It was piping hot and the wedges of pineapple were perfect with the doughy goodness. It was soaked in Sauterne and the boozy aromas of sweetened citrus wafted appealingly from the fashionable cast iron mini-caldron. The chocolate bar, well, admire its pristine sheen and flecks of gold leaf. Its partner in crime, the ginger ice cream was what elevated this dessert from being an aesthetically pleasing, tasty, gooey mass to the the realms of heavenly chic. It had a kicking heat and sharpness which was incongruous to the cooling effect of the ice cream. Keith's dessert's excellence laid in the texture and flavours; Crunchy biscuit, salty peanuts which chewy caramel with a savoury yeasty ice cream. Lovely. Our desserts wine were undoubtedly top notch. Keith had been pining to try a Tokaji for a while and he was not disappointed. Bursting like golden sunshine, it was smooth and not overtly sweet like a Sauterne. My Eiswein was unsurprisingly syrupy, rich and note the beautiful dusky, flame colours. It is a very special choice.
We had a lovely memorable meal with plenty of gastronomic delights to be enjoyed, but we do not agree with Giles Coren that this is the best new restaurant in the world. Dinner is much more casual than you might expect. It does not make it less special, but I would not classify our experience as fine-dining if that is what they were intending. The service was great, but not outstanding. There were a few occasions where the unimaginable occurred and we saw the bottom of our glasses for example. However, there is time for Dinner to reach the excellence assocaited with The Fat Duck. We would define it as the rich man's Barbecoa. If we are comparing Dinner to recently opened establishments then Roux at the Landau was far superior.
Our meal cost £382.25 including a 12.5% Service Charge.