There’s little else that can be said about Heston Blumenthal, other than he’s the man who in one lifetime has created snail porridge, the hidden orange Waitrose Christmas Pudding, and reconstructed Hansel and Gretel’s sweet house. With this place in food history, he can forgiven for rarely turning up to actually cook in his kitchen and for swanning off to Australia along with his fat duck for the last 6 months. Everyone is familiar with his brand of cooking and with his beaming bald head plastered on an increasing number of goods in our shopping aisles, which is probably why getting a seat in one of his restaurants is like trying to recreate one of his dishes at home. But, now that Dinner has been open for 4 years and there are hotter seats in town, the long waiting lists have eased off and you can get your arse on a seat within a month.
The dining room has views across Hyde Park, but take away the chef’s name above the door and the open window looking onto the rotisserie pineapples, and it is just another 5-star hotel’s dining room, catering for the moneyed elite– undisruptive, firmly masculine and a little bland. What lifts it is the mix of excited tourists, foodies and businessmen all enjoying their food together- snaps for Instagram, nods of appreciation, and million pound handshakes- all under the same roof. This all gives it a far livelier atmosphere than most other high end restaurants. The staff also help, as they made it feel like a special occasion despite it being a lunchtime, and were expertly versed on the dishes– something I can’t imagine is easy given hundreds of years of British cooking history has influenced the food.
The first thing you’ll notice is the lack of gasps coming from the neighbouring tables and looking around, whilst still beautiful, there is no real spectacle in the presentation of any of the dishes. There’s no gimmicks here, none of the sparks we’ve seen on his TV show or heard about at The Fat Duck. Instead, the menu came across as surprisingly simple. No long list of ingredients or techniques, no words you have to google the pronunciation of before ordering . Instead it was classic British ingredients cooked to the highest standard.
The Meat Fruit is the billboard dish here and is worthy of the hype. It quite simply is a perfect, smooth and rich chicken liver parfait, lifted by the fresh hit from the mandarin jelly that it has been dipped in to give it the look. Roast Marrowbone was another stunning dish with a deep earthy flavour from the snails and a creamy richness from the marrow, which is cut through by pickled vegetables. Not the easiest dish to eat, but a bloody tasty one. Savoury Porridge with crispy frogs legs had a vibrant green colour and an incredible fresh herby flavour.
For mains the a Spiced Pigeon was beautifully pink and had a great flavour coming through from the blend of ale and spices. Hereford Ribeye was again perfectly cooked and had the original mushroom ketchup, something every young chef on Great British Menu seems eager to try their hand at these days. Unable to resist the urge, we shared Tipsy Cake which is an absolute must have. The pineapples which have been slowly caramelising on the incredibly elaborate spit roast are added to a warm buttery brioche that has been soaked in brandy- it is the most indulgent dessert I have ever tasted.
The meal was without the theatre I had expected, but the thought that has gone into these dishes, and the skill in their execution, makes up for the lack of drama. I almost feel it is a better dinner if you take the thought of Heston out of it. Go there expecting magic and you’ll be disappointed, go expecting the best British cooking in the world, and you’ll leave delighted.
Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA