Tag: 13/20

Dinner, London, United Kingdom

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

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 Chairman, Hong Kong

Away from the busy streets in Hong Kong, this restaurant is located up the hill from Sheung Wan, in the quiet street of Kau U Fong, and boasts the use of the finest ingredients and the absence of artificial stuff such as baking soda for tenderising the beef and MSG for enhancing the flavours. It had only opened for less than 6 months when I visited in January 2010 and the tables were already being booked up a few weeks in advance.

One of the signature dishes was Crispy Small Yellow Croaker served with Balsamic Dressing. If I remembered correctly, the fish as soaked in olive oil for a substantial amount of time, in order to soften the bone, so that the whole fish, including the bones, could be eaten. Was it really that special? I didn’t think so. If anything, it’s a very fiddly dish – some of the bones were just not crispy or soft enough to eat, and some of the sharp bones were just too dangerous to swallow.

The Smoked Pigeon with Longjing Tea & Chrysanthemum was OK. The meat was moist enough but I expected a slightly richer flavour of the tea in the meat – I could have done a better version at home. The Pan-fried Minced Pork Cake with Salted Fish tasted better than it looks – even though I wasnot a fan of salted fish, I could eat a whole piece of the minced pork cake.

As for the main courses: Steamed Fresh Flowery Crab with Aged ShaoXing Wine & Fragrant Chicken Oil was disappointing – While the crabs were fresh enough, but again the flavour is lacking somewhat. The soy sauce chicken was the usual standard – the restaurant claimed to have used the top quality soy sauce for making this, but did the higher price justify that improvement (or lack of improvement) in flavour? The Braised Layered Beancurd with Morel & Chinese Mushrooms was probably the nicest main dish out of the whole lot.

On the whole, the dishes here were not cheap, and the enjoyment I got out from this premium in price was minimal. Maybe the place was just a media hype (and a place for spotting celebrities and famous Hong Kong socialites), or maybe the place was still trying to find a firm footing in their style. We’ll have to see….

Address: 18 Kau U Fong, Central Hong Kong
Telephone: +(852) 2555 2202
Website: www.thechairmangroup.com

Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday 1200-1500 ; 1800-0000

Food: 6/10
Ambience: 3/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 13/20 [Based on visit in January 2010]