Pudding at DINNER by Heston Blumenthal
Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Hyde Park
66 Knightsbridge, Westminster, London, England
Style, originality and subtlety are Heston Blumenthal’s trademarks. And true to his reputation, DINNER is the embodiment of all three trademarks. The Mandarin Oriental Hotel is not hard to find, just outside the southeast corner of Hyde Park, across the street from Harvey Nichols and a dash away from Knightsbridge tube station on the Piccadilly Line. The restaurant, DINNER is inside the hotel, and the front entrance is not marked by a sign displaying its name, instead, there is a rotating pear floating mid-air behind a reception counter. The pear changes colour each day.
Once inside, guests will pass through a beautiful lounge before entering the spacious, simple but smartly contemporary dining room: high ceilings, open concept kitchen and hard wood floors. Heston Blumenthal’s concept was to create an understated dining space that would not draw attention away from the menu. The food is the star of this restaurant.
We started with drinks and in true Heston Blumenthal fashion, the drinks were as tasty as they were lovely. We had the Sunrise, which was pink grapefruit juice with apple and passion fruit and topped with bitter lemon and a drop of grenadine. The drink, served in a tall glass really did look like a seductive summer sunrise. The sweet passion fruit juice balanced out the slightly sour grapefruit juice and tart apple. I liked the Green Goblin better though, probably because I have a great love for lychee and mixed in with my other all-time favourite ingredient maple syrup (which also made me homesick), the Green Goblin was a hard drink to top. The clean and pure sweetness of the lychee juice not only complimented the dishes that we ordered but also acted as the perfect palette cleanser as we tried each different dish.
Before our meal, a sliced rustic loaf of fresh, crusty bread was placed before us on a cutting board with a small, stone slab of salty and slightly sweet, creamy butter. The bread was incredibly soft on the inside, despite its crusty exterior. This bread also fit Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant theme very well, its texture reminiscent of hearty, Old World bread, celebrating the history of British food.
Upon reading the menu, we discovered that the chefs were very careful in listing the year in which each menu item was first created, and when we flipped the menu to the back, a small historical fact about the item could be found. For our starter, we ordered the roast scallops which was labeled as originating from circa 1820.
These were the most tender and flavourful scallops I’ve ever eaten. I’m not exaggerating. They fell apart at the prick of my fork before I could even get one bite in my mouth. I’m not a fan of tomato ketchup but the cool and fresh cucumber ketchup that the scallops were perched on top of was original and delicious. The subtle cucumber flavours did not overpower the scallops, in fact they brought out the sweetness in the delicate seafood flesh.
Next was one of my favourite types and cuts of meat: duck leg. We ordered the Powdered Duck with smoked fennel and a side of potato puree. Since this is a Heston Blumenthal creation, yes, I expected my duck leg to be floating off the plate. It wasn’t but I also wasn’t disappointed by the flavours, texture and presentation either. I was blown away.
Covered in a sticky and sweet glaze, the duck leg was moist, succulent and tender. The licorice flavor in the roasted fennel slice brought out the robust sweetness in the duck meat. The dish is named for the powder that the duck legs are encased in while being marinated.
The dish came with a boat of extra sauce but we didn’t need it, the duck was juicy enough. I also didn’t pour any sauce onto the smooth potato puree.
I wanted to taste the potatoes on their own, and they did in fact taste a little bit different from Canadian potatoes, they weren’t as sweet but they were still creamy and rich and a great side to the duck.
We also ordered the Black Foot Pork Chop. Named for the famous British Black footed pig, the delectable chop is glazed in a golden rich Robert Sauce originating from 1816 from Careme’s residency.
Cooked to a perfect medium rare, the pink and moist pork chop was packed with flavour. The fat to lean meat ratio was just right, and the tangy Robert Sauce glistening on each forkful of pork chop added a deeper layer of nutty sweetness to each bite.
Interestingly enough, dessert in England is always referred to as ‘pudding.’ Even if the dessert course is not a pudding. I suppose there was one point in time during the olden days in England when there really only was pudding for a dessert option. Thankfully it’s not the case now and definitely not at DINNER. We quickly decided to order the Tipsy Cake, which is a signature item on the DINNER menu. Also, the entire time that we were enjoying our meal, four pineapples were roasting on spits behind glass in the open concept kitchen right in our view. It was pretty hard not to order the Tipsy Cake which came with a golden, juicy slice of roasted, caramelized pineapple.
Served in a cute and rustic cast iron mini pot, the Tipsy Cake was drenched in a sweet liqueur. Each light and fluffy section of the cake was a burst of sharp sweetness with a bit of edge from the liqueur. The pineapple was a slice of hot and juicy tropical flavour; its fruity sweetness intensified by the spit roast.
I’m not sure that I have the right palette for this but the Brown Bread Ice Cream was definitely a unique flavour. I can’t say that I enjoyed it. I could really taste the yeast in the dish, which I imagine is intentional as the description in the menu states the ice cream is drizzled in malted yeast syrup. The ice cream whereas very pretty on the plate, is not overly sweet, it was more nutty from the caramel and malted in flavour. I can’t say that I’ll order it again but it certainly looked elegant and magnificent in its wide rim dish.
I must also comment on the amazing service we received at DINNER. The waiters were patient (look how many photos I snapped!), helpful with explaining the menu items and also helpful in pointing us in the right direction to get to our after lunch destination, the Natural History Museum. I had a wonderful time at DINNER and will be returning as many times as possible.