Given that Dinner by Heston’s DNA is based on salvaging the reputation of British cuisine’s past by championing ancient dishes, you’d half expect the dining room to be full of benches and wenches, stuffed swans and peacock center pieces. So it’s something of a surprise that the room is understated, with some pretty utilitarian furniture.
But look more carefully and you quickly discover the little touches. The white glass light fittings are based on sixteenth century jelly moulds from Hampton Court Palace. The suspended wooden frame from the ceiling is in the form of a Tudor rose window. And the views from the impeccable Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, truly one of the world’s great hotels, are picture-perfect.
Incidentally, if you really want to feel the history, the newly-renovated private dining room is extraordinary, like Game of Thrones meets Camelot.
As to the grub, Culinary Director of the Fat Duck Group Ashley Palmer-Watts told me last year, “It’s got to be a multi sensory thing’. He’s a man of his word: over the course of a recent lunch in a grey London, every sense was enchanted, in every way.
The starter of ‘Meat fruit’ is Dinner’s quasi-legendary headliner, the attention-grabber and Instagram favourite that has become one of the world’s most iconic dishes. Having tried it for the first time, with apologies to Public Enemy, you can believe the hype.
In theory, it’s pretty simple. A ball of chicken liver and foie gras pâté, cleverly presented, with toast. But this being Heston’s world, nothing is what it seems. Everything is a multi-layered, nuanced and predicated on a mind-blowing amount of effort and work. So for seventeen quid, it feels like one of the best value dishes you could ever order.
The schitck is that the ball of chicken liver and foie gras parfait is encased in a mandarin jelly that manages to perfectly – and I mean perfectly stay truthful to the original, down to the tiny dimples and green stalk; inside is the smoothest, richest parfait imaginable cut through by the slight acidity of the jelly.
It’s made – in brief – by taking the frozen parfait and dipping it in mandarin jelly. But this doesn’t come close to doing it justice. A look online via Eater shows that ‘This multi-day recipe requires three cooks on the cold larder station to work five hours every day’, meaning 15 hours daily and kit including a sous-vide and a Thermomix. Oh and that jelly is a mix of mandarin puree, mandarin essential oil, paprika extract, bronze leaf gelatine and glucose.
As if the meat nirvana wasn’t enough, an order of triple cooked chips (£6) has to accompany, just to understand the hype. Chips will never, ever taste the same again.
Arguably the most memorable dish – aside from the meat fruit, naturally – was the remarkable ‘rice and flesh’, a technicolour saffron risotto with three pieces of calf’s tail that had been infused in red wine. It was utterly, mesmerisingly, farcically delicious, beating the Milanese at their own game. (£17.50)
To round off a truly stellar dining experience – one which lived up to every high expectation – came their iconic dessert, ‘tipsy cake’ (£14.50). Again, the production is culinary theater of the highest order. The open plan kitchen is dominated by what could be mistaken for a rack from the Spanish Inquisition, actually a spit made for roasting pineapples. It’s operated by an ingenious set of cogs manufactured by Ebel, the Swiss watchmaker:
Which means that all the acidity and sharpness has morphed into sweet caramelized pools and crusts of joy. It’s not even the hero of the dish. That accolade goes to the brioche soaked in Sauternes, vanilla cream and Armagnac. It’s so light it’d float if you threw it up in the air. Possibly. But the match becomes the pineapple upside-down cake of your dreams.
In a fitting finale, one of the menu’s less well-known dishes turned out to be one of the most memorable desserts ever shared by siblings. Brown Bread Ice Cream came with salted butter caramel, pear & malted yeast syrup. Who knew that British diners of 1830 had such a winner up their sleeves? I reckon, in common with all the dishes at Dinner by Heston, that they knew all along, saying that British cooking was terrible so they could keep the stunners to themselves. I wouldn’t blame them for a second.