Wednesday, December 25, 2013

DINNER by heston blumenthal (**)

The first restaurant of Heston Blumenthal outside of Bray, the place where his flagship restaurant The fat duck is located, opened just two years ago in Knightsbridge of London. Heston wanted a name that had a bit of ''history'' while being a bit funky so the name Dinner was chosen, meaning the main meal of the day taken either at midday or in the evening. As I see in their website, they mention that the main meal was eaten at midday before it got too dark. Candles, gaslight and electricity later allowed it to be taken later in the day. In the mid 19th century people working in the cities were taking a quick lunch at work and then were having their main meal after 5pm when they got home. The whole concept of the restaurant is based on revising old cooking recipes dating many centuries ago with a very modern approach. Modern presentation, cooking with the help of science, even molecular techniques, that Heston has used so extensively in his tv-show and in his restaurant The Fat duck.

If you open YouTube and look for Heston's videos, like the tv-series ''In search of perfection'' where he does simple recipes with the best possible way using chemistry, he starts by saying '' I taught myself...''. He was self-taught, opened his restaurant after hardly any experience in professional kitchens like at Raymond Blanc's for a short time. His restaurant in Bray, now a temple of molecular gastronomy, first opened in 1995 in a 16th century building, gained 3 Michelin stars in 2004 and voted as the 1st on the list of the world's best restaurants for many years in a row. In 2004 Heston also acquired a pub, the Hinds Head, which now has 1 Michelin star.

Dinner by heston blumenthal is located on the ground floor of the hotel Mandarin Oriental a few steps away from Harrods in Knighsbridge. Mandarin wanted Heston's name for the restaurant, even thought he rarely visits it. That was a right move, as the 110 people restaurant was full during my lunch. Nothing would sell this good as Heston Blumenthal's name. The chef is Ashley Palmer-Watts, former Head chef of The fat duck. Opened in 2011, Dinner was awarded a Michelin star in 2012 and a second one in 2013. I was quiet surprised by the second star, as the whole setting does not remind of a 2 star restaurant. The salle overlooking the Hyde park is vast, noisy with no carpets, no tablecloths. Both the kitchen and the wine cellar are visible to the diners. It is now the 5th best restaurant in the world (2014).  

As I mentioned the food here is British traditional recipes of past that gave inspiration for every single dish of the menu. You can find many preparations-dishes that Heston has shown in his TV-shows, like the triple-cooked french fries, the homemade ketsup, the instantly made ice cream with liquid nitrogen (last photo) and dishes inspired-copied by The fat duck. 
There is no degustation menu, only a lunch menu and the a la carte option. We chose both. 

We started with bread and salted butter. Bread was of two kinds, white and brown country bread. Both were fantastic, butter was pretty good too. No amuse bouche was offered.

The starter of the lunch menu was Ragoo of Pigs ear chewitt (c.1750) with slow cooked egg, anchovy, onions and parsley. The number is when chronologically this recipe dated.

My starter was Rice & Flesh (c.1390). Risotto with saffron cooked with vegetables and chicken stock, plus a preparation, which was made of white wine vinegar, white wine, cooked down with onions and infused with regular butter. The onions are then passed out and you get the sweet and acid butter to form the base of the risotto. Then you have mascarpone, Parmesan and some extra saffron. For the ''flesh'' part of the dish, braised calf tail in red wine beef juice, topped with a little bit of amaranth. The risotto was generally good, although I found it lacking the thickness and the intensity of a perfect Italian one. The calf tail being more tender than the ox tail was a nice touch, giving an extra texture, combined with the beetrooty taste of the amaranth.

The main course of the lunch menu was Slow cooked pork collar (c.1710) , with smoked cabbage, apple and mead. Mead is an alcoholic beverage that consists of water and honey that may also have fruits, spices, grains or hopes. We both agreed it was too strong and shouldn't be in the dish. 

My main course was Chicken cooked with lettuces (c.1670) Spiced celeriac sauce & oyster leaves. The chicken was cooked for 2,5 hours sous-vide and then some more minutes in the pan to get the crispy skin. Sous-vide means under vacuum in french and it is a technique of cooking food sealed in airtight plastic bags in a water bath for long hours using less heat, less temperature than in any other common cooking method. The sous-vide lets the food to cook evenly throughout and not to overcook on the outside while being undercooked inside. Keeping the temperature down protects, especially the meat, to keep all of its juices that are lost during cooking in the pan or in the oven that result in a dry cooked product. The chicken was indeed fantastic, very tender and moist, with nice depth of flavor. The celeriac sauce was also excellent and both paired great with the lettuces and the oyster leaves. They also brought a tiny carafe with the cooking juices to add to our taste. Overall an excellent dish, that is up there with the chicken I had in Spondi . 

With our main courses we ordered two extra sides, triple cooked fries and mashed potatoes. The first is prepared in a method that makes the chips to be cooked with a fluffy center and a thick glassy crust. Many have tried or are using this technique. Heston's method is based on the suitable potatoes (Maris Piper he says), cut properly, put into water for some minutes to remove the starch and then cooked in three stages. Firstly, simmering for 20 minutes, then in the fridge for an hour to remove the moisture, next is a gentle frying at 130 Celsius for 5 minutes. Finally, a second frying at 180 degrees. The result was just good, very crispy chips with soft interior and a little Fleur de sel, but not as I expected. Nevertheless it's worth a try. The mashed potatoes were very common so avoid them. 

The dessert of the lunch menu was Steeple cream (c.1774) Poached plums, vanilla and lemon Verbena. 

My dessert was Tipsy cake (c.1810) with spit roast pineapple. This is a sweet dessert cake, soaked in sherry, brandy and sweet wine, with vanilla cream or custard. Here it was presented in a small cast iron Staub cocotte, alongside a piece of pineapple roasted in a spit powered by a Swiss made £70.000 giant watch mechanism. The brioche cake was extremely succulent, creamy and light. You can not imagine how utterly amazing this was, easily one of the best desserts I have ever had in my life. I cant recommend it enough.  

After dessert, we were given a small glass with chocolate ganache and a salted butter biscuit. There is also a tea menu for the end of the meal with options from 5 pounds up to 25 pounds for Raw Puerh Tea from China. 

The service was good, professional and effective although since the capacity of the restaurant is too big, the staff seemed to be very busy, always in a hurry, so they didn't spend enough time explaining the dishes. A 2 Michelin star restaurant? As for the food yes it is 2 star, as for the rest it does not remind of one.       

The restaurant has voted 7th best in The world's 50 best restaurants 2013 by San Pellegrino, (5th for 2014). This is the same list that had The Fat duck as number 1 in the world a few years ago, but ranked it at 33rd this year. Is Dinner better than The Fat duck? Heston claims the food in his 3 star place in Bray is 70% better than it used to be when it was voted in the first place. On my own list it surely is below many haute cuisine french restaurants that never make it to the list, especially as high as Dinner did. Besides all these, this is a restaurant that worth a visit, for the more affordable lunch menu and casual dinning of very well cooked food, excellent ingredients and Heston's signature.  

Christmas decoration inside Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park...

See also:
Restaurant Gordon Ramsay (3 Michelin stars)
Pierre Gagnaire, Paris (3 Michelin stars)
Ledoyen, Paris (3 Michelin stars)

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