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Dinner, London, United Kingdom

May 30, 2011 1 comment

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
Website: www.dinnerbyheston.com

Opening Hours: Daily: 12:00-14:30; 18:00-22:30

Food: 7/10
Ambience: 3/5
Service: 3/5
Total: 13/20 [Based on visit in April 2011]

Pollen Street Social, London, United Kingdom

May 30, 2011 1 comment

In terms of “making the noise”, Jason Atherton (formerly head chef at Maze) and his new venture, Pollen Street Social, must be way up there at the top. It was an eagerly anticipated place to add to the London eating out scene, and that’s not surprising given the high standard Maze managed to achieve in the past few years. I was impressed with Maze most of the times – exciting menu, exquisite dishes with food that’s exciting to look at and eat. I had some very memorable meals at Maze, despite my last meal (being the surprise 40th birthday dinner organised by friends) being a bit of a let-down. I had a lot of respect for Jason Atherton and so I was looking forward to going to Pollen Street Social, to see what new level of excitement this talented chef could offer. The restaurant opened in mid-April, and I had the perfect excuse to go there with Russell for his pre-birthday dinner in early-May.

It was a decent-size venue – somehow reminding me of a slightly less glitzy version of Maze. It was not full at the time of us arriving, but it was already pretty noisy. After ordering some cocktails, we started studying the menu and debating what to eat. We were told that we could create our own tasting menus as some of the main courses could be served in half portions, allowing for more dishes to be sampled. So that’s exactly what we ended up doing.

For start, Russell, being a foie gras lover, opted for smoked foie gras with black sesame and smoked golden raisin. That was a no-brainer really.

For me, I was intrigued by the “Full English Breakfast” – it was an interesting reconstruction of the ingredients found in a breakfast: poached egg, bacon, tomato sauce, mushroom etc. It sounded more interesting than it looked, and it looked more interesting than it tasted. It was pleasant enough but somehow lacking any wow factors.

For the second course, we decided to do a fish course. I opted for the roasted cod with sea vegetables, creamed potatoes, lemon peel and English asparagus. I was not sure if the fish was frozen previously – even if it was not, the texture certainly seemed to point to that.

Russell had the roasted halibut, Catalan paella, sprouting broccoli, pork-ham fat and mussel stock. When the dish first came out, it was without the paella and it actually looked nice. But once the generous portion of the paella was piled onto the plate, it actually looked a mess (as in the picture below) – the presentation needed improvement.

For the meat courses, the Roasted Dingley Dell pork, beetroot, hops, seeds and grains was on the dry side – another disappointment. I had rack of Cotswold lamb with braised belly and sheep’s milk curd, which was better, though it was quite a heavy dish. So by the time we finished eating this course, our stomachs felt like they were weighed down by a ton of bricks.

 

For the desserts, Russell went for the traditional English rice pudding, hay ice-cream and lime jelly. The rice pudding was nice enough on its own, and it did not really need the other ingredients which made the dish too busy really. My Sangria mousse, blood orange granita with curd milk jam was very tangy bitterness – to the point where it was not that pleasant as a dessert. I finished it but it’s not something I’d have again.

 

On the whole, we were walked away from the restaurant feeling disappointed. We didn’t expect this to be Maze reincarnated, but we just could not think of anything which would entice us to come back for another visit straight away. The restaurant could just be trying to find its feet still – Maybe we would give it another try after 6-12 months.

Address:   8-10 Pollen Street,  London, W1S 1NQ, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)20 7290 7600
Website: www.pollenstreetsocial.com

Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday only: Lunch: 12:00-14:45 ; Dinner: 18:00-22:45

Food: 6/10
Ambience: 3/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 13/20 [Based on visit in May 2011 ]

The Gilbert Scott, London, United Kingdom

May 30, 2011 2 comments

One really nice thing to have visitors from abroad is that I can have a perfect excuse to eat out and try out new restaurants. So when my godparents from Melbourne informed that they would want to meet up for lunch on Sunday during the bank holiday weekend in May, I was trying to think of a place that would not only just serve good food, but somewhere with a bit of character. With the Gilbert Scott and the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel just opened not long ago, I decided that it could be an interesting place to go.

I used to go to St Pancras station a lot when I was travelling between London and Nottingham back in the early 1990s, and I always wondered why there was such a magnificent building that was left empty and derelict. So I was sufficiently excited when I learnt about the major renovation and the re-birth of the hotel next to the station. Somehow I did not pay much attention on what was on offer in terms of food there until pretty recently, when I learnt that Marcus Wareing was branching out and opened the Gilbert Scott in this magnificent building.

Before going to the restaurant, I warned my godparents that I couldn’t guarantee the standard of this restaurant: (1) it’s only opened a few weeks ago and like most restaurants, I’d expect a list of teething problems; (2) I have not been until this point, and so have no idea what it would be like and (3) I was not that impressed with Marcus Wareing’s restaurant at the Berkeley and I feared that this place could be just another one of those London hypes.

We were the first to arrive at the restaurant at lunchtime. The high ceiling and the decor of the dining room certainly seemed to have transported us back to the grand old days of railway travels – it was a very classic design that reminded me of some of the classic restaurants on continental Europe. The classic theme carried over to the menu, with many of the classic British dishes but with an updated twist featured on there.

Titus chose Cornish lobster salad, with baby gem, Marie Rose sauce, fennel and lobster oil – he’s a big fan of lobster and there’s no shortage of the fresh crustaceans down under. However, he thoroughly enjoyed this fresh salad.

Flora and I both opted for the Dorset crab (brown and white crab) with pear and hazelnuts. The dish was delicious to look at, and there was a generous serving of the crabmeat underneath the tower of salad leaves. It’s a light and refreshing starter.

For main courses, Titus, after overcoming the superstition of the word associated with deaths and funerals, chose soles in coffins (lemon sole) with vermouth cream, Morecambe bay shrimps, mace and crispy potato. None of us knew what “soles in coffins” was, so we enquired. It was a play on the words “souls” with “soles”. But rather than the classic way of the fish being placed inside a scopped out potato, in this dish the fish was rolled up and placed on a bed of potatoes here.  It looked elegant and Titus was glad to have made the choice and forgotten his earlier hesitation on the dish just because of the name!

Flora had Scottish halibut poached in Camel Valley brut with mussels. I told her that I learnt about Camel Valley vineyard in Cornwall when I was dining at Nathan Outlaw’s restaurant in March, and that I fell in love with the sparkling wine. With her small appetite, Flora gave me quite a sizeable chunk of fish and mussels to try out – the fish was fresh and cooked to perfect timing.

For me, my main course was pan-fried Cornish seabass, Cullenskink (smoked haddock) and potato sauce. It was rich in flavour but without overpowering the flavour and texture of the seabass.

After the main course, we had the difficult task of choosing the desserts. There were so many classic British desserts that I could have gone for (Bakewell tart, apple amber pudding, trifle etc). But in the end I opted for the orange marmalade jaffa cake with Earl Grey tea ice cream – the jaffa cake was moist and sticky, while the ice-cream actually neutralised some of the ultra-sweetness of the cake. I could have easily have eaten another one.

Flora was already so full that I suggested that she should try Mrs Beeton’s Snow eggs with Everton toffee, peanuts and burnt honey custard. I managed to try a mouthful of this and it was a mixture of sweetness and saltiness, and softness and crunchiness.

Titus went for the Lord Mayor’s trifle (pineapple, coconut, rum) which would be my other choice of dessert. It was full of pineapple but he said that there was a lack of coconut and rum flavour. Ah well, maybe next visit I’ll have this and see for myself.

There have been a few restaurants that opened in London in the first few months of 2011 that have attracted a lot of attention: Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Pollen Street Social by Jason Atherton, and The Gilbert Scott by Marcus Wareing. I must say that out of these three, this was the most enjoyable, and one that’s definitely worth going back.

Address:  St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Euston Road, London, NW1 2AR, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)20 7278 3888
Website: www.thegilbertscott.co.uk

Opening Hours: Lunch: Daily 12:00-15:00 ; Dinner: Daily 17:30-23:00

Food: 8/10
Ambience: 4/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 16/20 [Based on visit in May 2011]