I hope you’re going to give Victoria the warmest of welcomes today. Victoria is the ultimate girl-about-town I think and you may remember her afternoon tea review at The Soho Hotel and her destination guide to Istanbul. Today she has a great review for us, of Heston Blumenthal’s new restaurant, Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, in London. If you’re a fan of his you’re going to love this. Thank you Victoria!
Seeing as Mr G spoilt me to the Nth degree for my birthday, it was only right I repaid the favour, and seeing how he has (what I think is a) borderline unhealthy obsession with cooking, I thought that the only place to take him was a Heston Blumenthal restaurant. Unfortunately I don’t have a spare thousand quid knocking around (and if I did, snail porridge would be quite far down the wish list) so a trip to the Fat Duck was out. However his London restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental, Dinner, is marginally more affordable, so I set my sights on that.
Tables are released at 9am on the first day of the month, for the month that follows. So on March 1st there I was trying desperately to bag a table via the online booking system. By 8 minutes past literally everything was gone! Crazy. What was he going to do? Turn up and duet with Madonna whilst personally turning the rotisserie by hand? A few refreshes in a couple of my internet windows and I managed to find a table at 10.15pm or 6.15pm. Neither was ideal, but beggars can’t be choosers so I went for the earlier table, knowing that there’s a lovely bar at the hotel and we could stick around afterwards for a few drinks.
In the end, with a few pleading phone calls, I managed to hustle the booking back to 7.00pm, which, although still a bit too early, was a much more reasonable time.
We arrived at 6.55pm (SO EARLY!) and were shown straight through to our Hyde Park-view, kitchen-view table by the friendliest meeters-and-greeters I’ve ever been met-and-greeted by, and from that moment the wait staff were on us, bringing the cocktail list, pouring water, explaining the menu concept http://www.mandarinoriental.com/london/dining/heston_blumenthal/ and describing the specials. Normally I find this a bit overwhelming and I just want to be left alone for ten minutes to read the menu myself, I’m spending a monthly mortgage payment on tiny plates of food – I want to make the right choice! However, these guys were so charming, chatty and helpful that it was actually very welcome. For we-work-in-a-way-posh-restaurant wait staff, they were fun, friendly and normal, made conversation and jokes and actually spoke to us like human beings.
Anyway, the food! The menu is basically a compilation of modern takes on Ye Olde Englishe dishes, some dating back as far as 1390. For a meat-and-offal-averse moi it wasn’t the most appealing menu, but I managed to find at least two or three items in each course that sounded appetising. I didn’t spy much in the way of liquid nitrogen or garden creatures in breakfast cereal that Mr Blumenthal is famous for, but that’s not a bad thing, I suppose!
We decided against the specials (one of which was sweetbreads) but took the waiter’s advice on our main dishes when we were undecided and also their recommendation on the dessert, which had to be ordered with the first two courses as it took two hours to cook… more on that later.
Anyway, we got started with a glass of champagne, as it was a special occasion, and selected our food. Mr G went for the Rice and Flesh, which apparently dates from c.1390, basically a saffron risotto with calf tail and red wine. I didn’t try any as I was too busy tucking in to my Meat Fruit which, according to the write ups, mimics Tudor serving styles, where meat was dressed up to resemble fruit to trick the eyes and tastebuds and surprise diners at Royal feasts.
A ha!! There’s the Heston-ness I was looking for!
It came out looking like a glossy mandarin orange on a wooden board, but was actually the smoothest chicken liver parfait I’ve ever eaten, surrounded by a citrusy mandarin gel and accompanied by a slice of grilled bread (the waiters pointed out that the leaves and stalk were just for decoration, and not to eat them. Ok then!). It was literally one of the tastiest things I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat! I wanted to gobble it down so fast because it was so tasty, but equally I wanted to take tiny, slow bites to make it last forever. In the end I was spreading it so thinly, in order to make it last longer, I had to request a second slice of bread (after declining the first offer), which, incidentally arrived so quickly they were either watching and waiting for the request (I’m clearly not the only one who employed this tactic), or they swiped it off someone else’s plate!
Eventually I finished it and whilst we waited for our mains to arrive we perused the wine list, opting for a two different reds by the glass. A Rioja for Mr G to accompany his Spiced Pigeon (dating from 1780) served in ale and with artichokes and a Malbec for yours truly to wash down the Powdered Duck Breast, which also deserves a special mention. It was served with Umbles (apparently duck, erm, offal) which I tried not to think about as I ate them (but, damn, they were tasty) and chard. On further investigation I discovered that Umbles are where the term “Humble Pie” originates. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humble_pie Apparently, these animal leftovers were made in to pies and served to the lower classes, and so represented an inferior food. How times have changed? Now, Michelin starred restaurants serve them to people at £30 a plate! Good old Heston. I love that there’s always a story!
Anyway, back to the actual food. It was amazing. A.Mazing. My knife sliced through that duck breast like it was butter. I now truly get what people mean when they say melt in the mouth. To accompany our mains we ordered some buttered carrots (delicious) and some mashed potato. Well, I call it mashed potato, it was more like liquid potato. I spooned it on to my plate with the texture of whipped cream. Not normally a mashed potato lover, this stuff made me want to ram my face in the bowl and not come up for air until it was gone!
By the time I had finished my main course I was starting to salivate about the dessert. I mean, if you have to order it in advance of your first two courses, it has to be something special, right?
I waited patiently, and to tide me over, ordered a cocktail (a Chelsea Gardener) in THE most amazing coupe I’ve ever laid my eyes and hands on, whilst Mr G perused the dessert menu.
He’s not a dessert person (WHAAAAT?), so he declined the offer of pre-ordering this fabled dessert but I pushed him to pick one, because I think it would have been silly not to. And I was right. He chose Poached rhubarb with rosehip jam and rhubarb sorbet (a recipe from c.1590) it was like a work of art. Culinary art. It was divine. But it didn’t even get close to mine.
The waiter placed my Tipsy Cake and spit-roasted pineapple (c.1810) in front of me with the words “this is my favourite, it’s is simple, but… amazing”.
Oh my days. It was amazing. It was briochey, gooey, caramelly, tipsy, pineappley amazingness on a plate. Or, in fact, on a slate. I’m not even going to try and describe the way it tingled my taste buds. It’s clearly a very special dish as there is a glowing pineapple hovering over the reception desk and every staff member I spoke to (at the cloakroom, in reception, en route to the ladies, in the bar) asked if I’d tried it. They all told me it was their favourite. If they get to eat it that often, maybe I should apply for a job there…
You remember that scene in Curly Sue where she enjoys the pizza so much that she does that cute, but slightly uncouth, all-ten-finger-licking-thing? Well, that was what I felt like doing after every course.
I asked for the bill with fear and trepidation but when it arrived, with two little chocolate and orange blossom mousse pots (to sweeten the blow, I suspect), I was rather surprised at how much it didn’t amount to. Clearly the chocolate offering worked on me! Don’t get me wrong, it was in no way cheap, but for the level of service, the ambience, the food and the taste, I think it was well worth the cost, for a special occasion.
We finished off the evening with some drinks in the Mandarin Bar, and then a white cosmopolitan in Bar Boulud (in the basement of the Mandarin Oriental). I was offered one on a work show-round back in September but had to decline, but being so close it was rude not to step in and sample it! I was not disappointed.
In fact I was far from not disappointed with the whole night. I was in fact elated. It was a fabulous night in a fabulous location filled with fabulous food and drink. It also turns out that the three dishes I chose are the three main dishes the food critics have been writing about in their reviews. I’m glad I didn’t read up about the menu before we went as I picked these dishes off my own back, and made my own decisions about them.
Would I go again? Most definitely. Would I recommend that you visit? Yes, for a special occasion! Do I still salivate when I think about the meal I ate? *cue Homer Simpson style noise*…