With the success Heston Blumenthal has achieved in the past 10 years with the Fat Duck in Bray, in 2011 he finally opened a restaurant called Dinner, inside Mandarin Oriental hotel in Knightsbridge, right in the heart of London. It was a much anticipated affair, having planned to open in late summer 2010, and then the date kept pushing back. When the reservation line finally opened, the world went wild to try to secure a table – I was not in a rush to book a table and so I waited until I had the excuse to go…. It didn’t take long though before my “dining” partner-in-crime from Philadelphia, Darcy, notified me of her final schedule for her London trip. As expected, all evening bookings were gone, but I managed to secure a lunchtime booking.
I never expected it to be a replica of the Fat Duck, and I would not want to anyway. The restaurant menu was a rediscovery of the dishes from the Victorian era, and many of the recipes were modern updated versions of the dishes described in old cookbooks (I have even found in my local library a recipe book on Victorian cooking that had a list of dishes that looked like the menu from Dinner!). Some of the dishes such as the Meat Fruit were featured on television not long ago.
We spent a fair amount of time choosing our dishes but eventually we got there. As for the wine, Darcy asked the “trainee” sommelier for the lighter red wine, and he ended up recommending a Spanish red wine that he described as “full-bodied”. She then asked if there’s any Austrian wine, and he spent a few minutes flicking through the wine list in front of us while saying that there was one, but in the end he couldn’t find the page (or maybe there just weren’t any). At the end, he recommended a bottle of Pomerol which he described as “too young”. We saw a few other tables with the same wine and thought it was probably OK, but he must have been instructed to sell as many bottles as he could. It was not a promising start.
Darcy and I both went for the Meat Fruit – it looked like a mandarin orange outside, but the inside was a very smooth, soft and rich full-bodied flavoured chicken liver parfait, and this was served with grilled bread. Darcy was impressed enough with this that she said she could come back to the restaurant just for this.
Russell had the roast scallops, which was served with cucumber ketchup and borage – the dish was refreshing and light, even though the scallops were not of the best quality.
For main course, originally both Darcy and Russell wanted to have the beef royal. However, that was not available on the day, and so instead they had to settle with sirloin of black Angus, which came with mushroom ketchup, red wine juice and triple-cooked chips. While the sauce was intense and rich in flavour, the steak itself was not so exciting – unfortunately both steaks were over-cooked (Darcy asked for medium, while Russell asked for medium-rare… even by British standard, the medium-rare one looked more like medium verging on to well-done). The triple-cooked chips were disappointing, with very little potatoes in them, and they tasted like thick crisps rather than chips (or fries as the Americans would say). We were not impressed.
For me, I went for the powdered duck which was served with smoked fennel and potato puree. The duck was tender enough, if somewhat dry, and this was compensated by a rich flavoured sauce. The potato puree was very smooth – I wouldn’t want to know how much cream was added into the potato mash to make this.
As for desserts, Darcy opted for cheese instead. Russell went for the baked lemon suet pudding which was served with caramel and jersey cream. The dry suet encased the gooey soft lemon syrup inside the pudding, and Russell’s verdict was “Heston does one-star dumb down” – interpret that in whatever way you want!
For me, I went for the tipsy cake that was served with spit roast pineapple. It was one of those dishes that needed to be pre-ordered at the start of the meal. When I took the first bite of the tipsy cake, it reminded me of the pineapple buns (bo lo bao) in Chinese bakeries! In fact, every subsequent mouthful of the cake tasted even more like that. The only thing that distinguished it from the cheap Chinese buns was the roasted pineapplie which was sweet enough but not overpowering, and worked well with the sponge cake.
After we left the restaurant, we went for a long stroll at Hyde Park, and we wondered if it was worth returning to the restaurant. It was not long that we came to the consensus that if it was not so difficult to get a table and the price was slightly lower, it could be worth a return trip. However, we were left wondering what the real hype was about. There were some outstanding dishes (eg the meat fruit) but some were off the mark.
Address: Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7LA , United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)20 7201 3833
Opening Hours: Daily: 12:00-14:30; 18:00-22:30
Total: 13/20 [Based on visit in April 2011]