My two experiences of ‘Dinner By Heston Blumenthal’ couldn’t be more different. When it opened, there was the man himself, charismatic bonce twinkling, schmoozing like the consummate professional he is. The menu, with its reinvention of historic British cooking, seemed to be paradoxically new and there was an air of palpable excitement about the place – is that Lily Allen? Sir Paul McCartney? Look at the size of Jeremy Clarkson’s head! Nobody with a profile came away unhugged by Heston. Little wonder most of the critical world came away gibbering in some kind of rapture.
Heston Blumenthal’s meat fruit, as served at Dinner. Photograph: Eddie Judd
But on this visit, the place appears to have settled into its primary role: that of a good hotel restaurant populated by suits and dressed-to-the-nines out-of-towners.
It’s undeniably beautiful, in a sleek, expensive way, with its quirky wall lamps based on jelly moulds; there’s a vast-windowed open kitchen groaning with hi-tech kit that seems to jut right into the dining space. Here Blumenthal’s first lieutenant Ashley Palmer-Watts’s brigade – no, of course Heston’s not cooking – can be seen intently beavering away, although much of the techie stuff is done in a basement kitchen far below.
There’s an imposing, steampunky rotisserie designed by Swiss watchmaker Ebel, its only purpose appearing to be to turn the pineapple for the heavily sold tipsy cake into, well, hot pineapple.
bonus video & photos : by Guardian
Part of Blumenthal’s genius is to come up with dishes that grip the imagination. It’s apparently illegal to write about The Fat Duck without mentioning bacon and egg ice cream or snail porridge, and here it’s the much-publicised meat fruit, a dramatically light and rich chicken liver parfait tricked up in a thin layer of delicately pocked mandarin jelly to look exactly like, well, a mandarin. It’s ambrosial, a dish where wit and technique come together to create actual synergy.
And look! It’s a savoury porridge that’s as vividly parsley-green as its famous brother at The Fat Duck but served with meaty cod cheeks, beetroot and garlic.
Each of our courses arrives with a lengthy, waiterly exposition; there’s a lot about ingredients but less about technique. If I’d remembered Blumenthal’s fondness for the water bath, I might not have ordered the pigeon, which arrives a little flaccid and liverish.
Far more exciting is the heat-belching Josper grill that delivers a thick Black Foot pork chop with faintly mustardy sauce Robert, smoky and richly flavoured. There’s a superb milk ice, light and refreshing like an Italian fior di latte, flavoured with malted barley on a rubbly, salty, caramelly bed.
Dinner is a well-oiled machine, operating as smoothly as that pineapple roaster. But it’s not slaying me: too slick; too polished; too… Mandarin Oriental. Wealthy Americans will adore it. Bizarrely, it’s not even that innovative: I had a version of the meat fruit in Hong Kong’s Amber, also in a Mandarin Oriental; and Marco Pierre White used to reference the dates of his dishes – including a chicken oyster salad, similar to Heston’s salmagundi – in this very location. The whole historical provenance shtick is, in any case, to be taken with a pinch of the old sel marine: as Heston has said, ‘we take the notion…’
There’s still a months-long waiting list for reservations. But, to use the language of the tedious, Michelin-collecting kind of restaurant-goer, I’ve ‘done’ it twice, which is enough for me. With a bill hitting £200, including only three glasses of wine (albeit one, a Nuits St Georges, at £21 a glass), it might be enough for you too.
A meal for two with wine, water and service costs about £200.