Sunday, 25 January 2015

Dinner's a winner, but it won't make you thinner

January is, by any measure, a pretty depressing month. Going back to work after a few days off, likely with a few extra pounds to shift after festive overindulgences and in miserable weather, there's not much to recommend the first 31 days of the year. So, to break up the gloom of the month, Clare and I have got into the habit of arranging something special to look forward to. Previous Januaries have seen visits to Hibiscus and Hawksmoor for delicious meals: in 2015 we decided to go to dinner. No, I mean dinner. At Dinner.

Since it opened in the January of 2015, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the world of gastronomy, as a Michelin star was garnered very quickly, followed by a second. It's also (at the time of writing) rated a heady 5th in the World's 50 Best Restaurants. Impressive stuff from such a new establishment. Busy since its opening, Dinner operates a rolling 90 day booking window which we watched like hawks until the day for booking for our preferred visit arrived. We were delighted to secure a table for two.

Unlike Blumenthal's other restaurant The Fat Duck, Dinner's concept is, well, dinner. Or, more precisely, the menus are based around historic British dishes with enticing names like Rice and Flesh, Savoury Porridge and the rather more mysterious Frumenty. Each dish's listing contains a year which, apparently, is roughly when the dish was first conceived. Indeed some of the offerings date back as far as the 14th century. Also unlike The Fat Duck, and many fine dining restaurants, Dinner has no tasting menu, just an a la carte.

Following an extravagant cocktail each at the Mandarin Hotel's (where the restaurant is based) cocktail bar, we were ushered into the dining room and to our seats. The main room is large and spacious and a glass wall allows viewing of the actual kitchen, where the myriad chefs can be seen scurrying around their stations. We selected our wine, water and menu choices, polished off our bread and waited for the feast to begin.

After a wait which was on the long side of acceptable (we didn't quite get to the 'tutting' phase), our starters were presented. Clare chose the Roast Scallops, which were accompanied with roasted and ketchuped (if that's a word) cucumber, while I opted for one of the restaurant's signature dishes - Meat Fruit. Allegedly hailing from around the year 1500, Meat Fruit looks like a small orange. Contained within the orangey coating however is the smoothest and lightest of chicken liver and foie gras parfaits. The outer casing is in fact a mandarin gel, which adds some much appreciated sharpness to the dish, as the parfait itself is very rich. The Freat (or Muit) is presented with some crunchy olive oil toast to round off a simple, but very effective starter.

For our mains, I plumped for the Spiced Pigeon and Clare went for the Hereford Ribeye steak. If I'm honest, I didn't detect much spice on the pigeon. The meat though was perfectly cooked, very pink but springy and delicious. The ale and artichokes which joined the bird on the plate provided a pleasantly sour kick and the sauce was rich and glossy. Clare's steak was also pleasingly pink with a nicely chargrilled carapace. The mushroom ketchup which was part of the dish was tremendous but the triple-cooked chips - whilst perfectly enjoyable - didn't quite hit the Hawksmoor standard. That is a very high bar mind you.

The two extra sides we ordered - mashed potatoes and butter sprout hearts - were both wonderful however. Mash so light and fluffy it wouldn't have looked out of place in the sky of a lightly-clouded spring day, and crunchy, salty sprouts, both complemented the mains nicely. Clare found the sprouts a little salty whereas I - who has been known to drink the soy sauce in the little plastic fish that you get with Boots sushi - thought they were perfect.

And so, to dessert. Ah......the desserts. If the first two courses hadn't blown us away then the desserts more than made up for them. As soon as our booking had been confirmed I'd had my eye on the Brown Bread Ice Cream and it didn't disappoint. The quenelle of silky ice cream really did taste like a slice of Warburton's finest. Our excellent waitress Sarah advised me to try some on its own first - which I duly did - and then to scoop a spoonful along with the cubed pear and sticky malted yeast syrup which made up the rest of the dish. It was a heavenly, gooey and sticky delight.

If I'd been making eyes at the Brown Bread Ice Cream for a while, Clare was equally enamoured by the Tipsy Cake, which took a while to prepare and needed to be ordered at the same time as the starters and mains. The reason for the preparation time became apparent as it was served; as it was a freshly-made fluffy brioche which housed a rum and vanilla laced custard. Sweetness and texture came in the form of a slice of spit-roast pineapple, and Clare certainly seemed to enjoy her pudding as much as I did mine.

A little bonus dish came in the form of an Earl Grey tea infused chocolate ganache served with a crunchy lemony snicket. I mean biscuit. There was also the option of having ice cream freshly made at our table - by a chef pouring liquid nitrogen into an egg custard and adding various crunchy toppings. The theatre of this was wonderful, but full stomachs meant we passed on eating it and settled for observing other tables having it made.

Service throughout was very good, and our waitress was clearly an old hand at taking photographs of satisfied diners. Our wine was reasonably priced for such an establishment, as was the whole bill to be honest. Overall this was a thoroughly enjoyable meal and experience. We've not eaten in any of the other restaurants in the top 10 of the aforementioned World's 50 Best list so we can't compare, but our feeling was that 5th place for Dinner was perhaps a little generous. However, the concept of Dinner is first class and it should certainly be on any fine-dining restaurant fan's bucket list.

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