When I secured a booking a few months ago (for early June!) for a lunch at Dinner, Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant in London, I knew we’d probably be dining off his set lunch menu: it’s the most affordable option at £28 for three courses and is only available on weekdays. There were four of us dining that day (me, Blai and his parents) and this would help us not rack up a very big bill.
But first, first impressions. Well, it’s in the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge and yes, it’s certainly as plush inside as the exterior leads you to imagine. I honestly don’t remember the last time I ate in a restaurant situated in hotel but I’m sure I haven’t eaten in one like this. The restaurant’s decor reflected the theme of modernised historic British gastronomy, with its views to the large kitchen and the jelly mould lamps on the walls. All very modern and all very comfortable.
As we arrived early, we were first led to the bar where we ordered pre-lunch drinks. And here we tarried until I, of a nervous disposition, asked about our reservation again – we were then led to the dining room, which seemed smaller than I was expecting. When we were seated at about 1pm, the restaurant was still only about half full but soon it was heaving, with tables turning right before our eyes (people were sitting down to dine at 4pm…).
The set lunch itself has only two options for each course and so Blai and I decided to order one each between us and swap plates halfway through. After our order was taken, bread and butter was set down. The bread (both white and brown) was lovely but really, we weren’t there for the bread, however nice it was.
The Lemon Salad (c.1730), Goats curd, raisins and verjus was exactly as described and was certainly a very nice salad with the tangy pickled lemon and the plump and sweet raisins playing off the creamy curd. It was just a little dull though and we certainly didn’t see fireworks while eating it.
The other starter of Ragoo of Pigs Ears (c.1750), Anchovy, onions and parsley was definitely more interesting. A rich, sticky braise of pig ears was presented on a long bit of toast and we couldn’t get enough of it. The ears still retained a bit of cartilaginous crunch.
To supplement our set lunch (though it certainly wasn’t necessary in terms of quantity of food), I ordered a Meat Fruit (c.1500), Mandarin, chicken liver parfait and grilled bread (£13.50) for the table. I mean, I can’t go to Dinner for the first time and not have the meat fruit!
It was still exciting to see and taste despite my reading about it everywhere. I’m also quite glad we split it as the chicken liver parfait inside was insanely rich. The mandarin jelly encasing the parfait complemented the richness with its fruity tang.
Onto the mains. This was the Cured Salmon (c.1670), Beetroot, purslane and olive oil and a definite hat tip to the kitchen for actually making me like, nay, enjoy the beetroot on my plate that day! The salmon was beautifully cooked with a soft translucent middle.
The second option, the Roast Quail (c.1590), Smoked parsnips and thyme, was also delicious. Both main courses were quite conventional but both were of a good size and were excellently prepared.
Dessert time. The Chocolate Wine (c.1710), Millionaire tart certainly had us scratching our heads – what would chocolate wine be? Well, I can tell you that it looked frothy and like a well made hot cocoa but with a definite flavour of red wine. Yes, a cross between red wine and hot cocoa; I’m still not sure whether I liked it but it was certainly surprising and definitely different. Don’t worry, we drank it all! The accompanying millionaire tart, a chocolate caramel slice, certainly looked fit for a millionaire, what with its little sprinkling of gold bling.
The Orange Buttered Loaf (c.1630), Mandarin and thyme sorbet was also a surprise! The buttered loaf turned out to be a tender brioche-like cake with an orange jammy filling, all coated in a thin crackly caramel layer. Quite sweet and very moreish.
Prior to coffees, we each received a little cupful of Earl Grey tea and white chocolate ganache, served with a crumbly biscuit. It had the texture and look of condensed milk and we were scraping the sides of the cup down to get at it all.
Lunch for four, including water, a bottle of wine, coffees, pre-dinner drinks and service, came to £230; it’s certainly not a budget meal but I’m glad to have tried the restaurant. It’s not a substitute for the Fat Duck (and I’ll state now that I haven’t eaten there yet) but it’s still worth a visit, even if for just the set lunch. Bookings required – do look at their website for the next booking period.
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park
London SW1X 7LA