Dinner is a particularly peculiar name for a restaurant, and has caused some confusion for Heston Blumenthal’s newest eatery: “I’m having lunch at Dinner” sounds a bit silly, doesn’t it? The word has always traditionally been used in Britain for the main meal of the day, which over the years has had varied timing. Despite now being an evening occasion, it originally took place in the middle of the day, as the largest meal. Of course in some parts of the country it still means lunch, which I soon discovered when I lived with five northerners at university!
I was one of the privileged few to be offered a table for Dinner, going along with my favourite foodie entourage for lunch last week. The four of us had a spectacular table overlooking Hyde Park; we watched uniformed men riding by on horseback, and were also next to the bustling kitchen where all the magical action happens. Dashing straight from work, conveniently just round the corner, I barely had time to change, but was pleased to be finally taking my Wolford ‘hero’ tights out – I wanted to wear something exceptional for this extraordinary meal.
Located in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge, the surroundings are luxuriously grand. The restaurant is spacious and airy with simple decor, jelly mould-like white lights sit strangely on the wall, looking rather like Lady Gaga’s stage props. The room is pleasantly light and bright, which I always appreciate when dining.
The a la carte menu sits neatly at each person’s place, though the set lunch list was soon brought along to us with the more reasonable selection. Dinner has quickly become known for a few extra special dishes, the meat fruit starter - an immaculately sculpted mandarin (like the hotel name) and chicken liver parfait served with deliciously crunchy grilled bread. My grandad ordered this and it was a sensation, Heston’s food science and craftsmanship at its very best. The other raved about dish is the tipsy cake, a pudding dating back to 1810 made with spit roast pineapple, that you can see rotating temptingly in the kitchen. This dessert must be ordered at the start of the meal as it takes 35 minutes to make and perfect, I ordered it and had high expectations. I was not disappointed, it was undeniably yummy and surprisingly light, the cake itself has a slight hint of caramel and tasted almost creamy - absolutely divine.
Unlike many high end restaurants Dinner kindly offer an interchangeable set lunch menu. Basically this means you can choose what you like from the full or set menu, with the cheaper dishes costing as follows: starter (£8), main (£15) and dessert (£5) separately, or £28 for all three. From the set menu (included below) I chose the lemon salad, then quail, with tipsy cake from the main menu.
Lunch Menu. £28 for three courses. Available Monday to Friday between 12:00pm-2:30pm
Lemon Salad (c.1730)
Goats Curd, Raisins and Verjus
Ragoo of Pigs Ears (c.1750)
Anchovy, Onions and Parsley
Cured Salmon (c.1670)
Beetroot, Purslane and Olive Oil
Roast Quail (c.1590)
Smoked Parsnips and Thyme
Chocolate Wine (c.1710)
Orange Buttered Loaf (c.1630)
Mandarin and Thyme Sorbet
Lovely crusty bread and yellow creamy salted butter was brought to the table with our Rose wine. I had pre-promised myself I would not indulge too much in these preliminaries so as to save my appetite. The lemon salad was an interesting starter, though definitely my least favourite course. Lemon rind features in abundance, but is cooked for so long it takes on a new softer flavour and texture. Combining this acidic zest with goat's curd is ideal though my wise grandmother pointed out it perhaps needs another contrasting ingredient. My companion tried the ragoo which is served warm, it was rich and sweet with a mix of startling aromas; I thought it balanced well.
The Roast Quail for main course was heavenly: tender meat falling easily off the tiny bird’s bones with crispy salty skin. Accompanied by the silkiest creamed potato (that is fast becoming my favourite carbohydrate variant) and sweet thin strips of parsnip. The sauce, that I can only assume was made from the reduced stock, covered the meat, and was so good I had to use my finger to mop up the final smudges left on my plate. The outstanding service was noticeable throughout the meal, and our waitress kindly arranged for a portion of Heston’s famous triple cooked chips to be sent to me when I asked to try the delicacy! They came chunky, which is not my preference, but the proof is in the eating, and I’m pleased to report they are just as tasty as I’d imagined.
The rest of my table tried other mains: the salmon from the set menu which is bizarrely served with beetroot, not a likely marriage of flavours; the main menu powdered duck, an enviably large portion served with smoked fennel and potato puree: succulent and tender meat cooked to perfection and coated with a rich dark sauce to make you drool.
Dessert time and my wonderful little tipsy cake came and went pretty quickly; I could have easily eaten a second helping. Other puddings ordered were chocolate based: the chocolate wine with millionaire tart and chocolate bar with passion fruit and ginger ice-cream, both were nice, but sadly for them nowhere near as delectable as my glorious tipsy treat.
Coffees and unusual teas followed – I had a rosebud infusion, light and delicious. Accompanying came miniature pots of complimentary mousse: white chocolate with cardamon wafer biscuits. I am always terribly disappointed if I don’t receive a sweet surprise freebie at the end so was pleased with this. After our meal the charming waitress chatted to us about her journey with Heston’s Dinner... the training, the unbelievable education about his unique culinary style and everything else that comes with such a job. Before even opening, Dinner became impossibly desirable, as tables were snatched within seconds producing a lengthy waiting list.
It seems Dinner really is the hottest ticket in town – now I know why.
Booking for July onwards starts on 1 April.