One of the perks of being friends with people like The Foodie is being invited to lots of interesting places, from pop-ups to Michelin-star restaurants. So, it was probably no big surprise that months before her birthday, I received an invite to Dinner by Heston for The Foodie’s birthday. Tucked away behind the glamorous bar of the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, Dinner is a restaurant with a unique concept – its menu is devoted entirely to historic British recipes.
Executive Head Chef for the Fat Duck group Ashley Palmer-Watts heads up the kitchen and his style of using seasonal British produce, along with a well-researched, daring and experimental menu (hardly surprising, for a restaurant associated with one of the most audacious chefs in the world), has landed Dinner two Michelin stars, which also makes it a regular feature on many top restaurant lists. However, being notoriously last minute as always, I didn’t take a look at the menu before sitting down at table, so I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of dishes spanning from the 1300s to the 1800s.
Opting for the full three courses, I chose the Frumenty, a delightful starter from c.1390 of grilled octopus, smoked sea broth, pickled dulse – a type of seaweed which is rarely seen on modern menus - and the more familiar lovage. As a group, we also worked through the equally flavoursome was the Savoury Porridge, cooked perfectly with translucent cod’s palette and wonderfully smoky beetroot, lifted with garlic and fennel to make an exceptionally fresh dish. However, the most impressive starter (and the trademark dish of the entire menu) is Meat Fruit, a chicken liver and foie gras parfait dish from c.1500 cleverly presented in the form of an entirely edible false mandarin. As delicious as it is clever, Meat Fruit is more than simply a starter – ordering it leads to a playful theatrical experience which perfectly sums up Dinner.
The starters are almost a good enough reason to visit Dinner on their own, but the main courses are all beautiful spectacles which are not to be missed. From the exquisitely tender Powdered Duck Breast with smoked confit fennel & umbles (c.1670) to the excellently balanced Slow cooked Pork Belly with spelt, ham hock, Robert sauce & white truffle (c.1820), each dish is a perfectly-executed modern interpretation of centuries-old dishes. Modestly presented (no annoying chef-y swirls of sauce, or puddles of foam, or egotistical vertical ‘crisps’), Ashley Palmer-Watts lets the food do all the talking by taking antique recipes, almost relics (some of which sound like they belong in debauched medieval banquets), and turning them into ingeniously simple recipes perfectly suited for today’s palates. Each dish is perfectly balanced, both in aesthetics and in flavour, but more than that, the food served at Dinner captures the imagination and has the ability to tell stories through gastronomy alone – which is certainly no mean feat.
Predictably, the desserts were also superb. The signature dish of Tipsy Cake (c.1810) – a luscious and opulent cake with honey-sweet pineapple, caramelised from spit roasting – more than lives up to the hype. Another dessert which impressed was the Bohemian Cake with honey ice cream but to be honest, the desserts were the hardest course to choose from. To paraphrase Gregg Wallace, it’s just an Aladdin’s cave of pudding delights!
So, would I recommend it? Would I heck. Quite simply, this is fine dining at its very best. I don’t rate restaurants (for various reasons) on this blog, but Dinner by Heston would get a 10/10 if I did. I’d happily donate my left arm to go again, and if the chefs made something tasty out of it, I’d happily eat it too.