Heston Blumenthal is a bit like marmite isn’t he? You either love him or you hate him. But with The Fat Duck having three Michelin stars and Dinner winning ninth pace in the Top 50 (IN THE WORLD) list, it would seem that more love him rather than hate him. Either way I’m very intrigued by The Fat Duck but, with such a ridiculous waiting list and sky high prices, it’s doubtful that I’ll ever get the chance to eat there.
Anyway… you will recall that I’ve recently been down to London and on browsing the internet shortly after booking St. John and I was reminded of Dinner by Heston(where, from what I can tell it’s actually Ashley Palmer-Watts who does the majority of the cooking). Ok, it’s not The Fat Duck, but it’s the closest I’m gonna get at the moment, so I booked us in for a late lunch (with the view that we would then spend the afternoon drinking before rolling onto the train home). It was a good plan and after a snack of oystersat Harvey Nicks we headed over to the Manadrin Oriental.
This is one impressive looking hotel. Seriously, it’s the grandest building I’ve ever dined in. Not only is there a man on the door so you don’t have to exert yourself opening it yourself, there are two, just in case someone is walking out as someone else is walking in.
The restaurant itself is also pretty special, especially as there’s a wide floor to ceiling window into the kitchen to one side. Tables are bare, chairs are comfy and staff are smiley, warm and welcoming. For a restaurant that has recently been nominated as the best in Britain, I liked the comfortable feel to the place.
However, the prices quickly reminded us where we were and, although we were prepared to spend a small fortune on the food, we had hoped to get away with spending less than £55 on a bottle of Rioja (one of the cheapest bottles on the wine list/book). Having said that, it was damn fine wine and a cheap wine list probably wouldn’t sit comfortably next to this food menu (although I can’t deny that it would sit quite comfortably in my purse!).
The food menu itself needs a mention as it’s beautifully, yet simply presented, in its own little pouch. It reads well too, as each dish is listed with the year it was believed to have been first published, as well as details of that publication.. Food geeks will like the fact that diners are positively encouraged to take the menus away with them. In fact they will also like the fact that one of our, many, waiters approved my request to take pictures of our meal.
I would imagine that everyone reading this review will have already heard of the Meat Fruit, you know that mandarin (fitting given the location) which gave way to a chicken liver parfait on biting into the flesh, the one that some lucky celebs got to sample on the recent Heston’s Feasts series. Well, it was our time to try it and we ordered this to share along with a starter each (and far from making us feel like fat pigs, the waiter’s reaction on taking our order told us that three starters between two diners is pretty standard here).
Unfortunately, sharing the dish meant that we couldn’t fully indulge by picking the fruit up and taking a bite into the sumptuous flesh; instead it was my knife that had that delight. Nevertheless, eaten off the ‘grilled bread’ (why the menu couldn’t say toast I’m not sure!) or straight from the fork, it was superb. The chicken liver parfait was ice cool, beautifully smooth and creamy and the jellied mandarin skin added both texture and flavour.
On looking at the menu before arriving, I had thought I would go with the Hay Smoked Mackerel, but the mention of veal sweetbreads in the Broth of Lamb dish swayed me and I went for that instead. Unfortunately, my heart sank when the dish arrived. Soft and gentle veal sweetbreads had been ruined by a breadcrumb coating and a spell in the deep fat fryer. Two words; chicken nuggets. I’ve seen this once before in a local Sheffield restaurant, I didn’t like it then, and I didn’t like it in the ninth best restaurant in the world. Why anyone would do that to something so delicate in texture and flavour is totally beyond me.
Thankfully the poached egg sat in the middle of the broth was soft and gentle and the yolk oozed into the tasty lamb broth on breaking it, adding richness to the dish. The small bites of veg within the broth still had crunch and were fresh tasting. Overall, the dish was fine. To be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever get over the veal ‘chicken nuggets’ sweetbreads and looking back over the menu I cannot believe I gave up that mackerel.
Gav fared better with Rice & Flesh; in fact he still bangs on about it now (to the point that he is getting a bit annoying). With such a scary name, you might be surprised to learn that this dish is a relatively harmless one of saffron risotto with calf tail cooked in red wine. Eating in the ninth best restaurant in the world, it probably goes without saying that Gav declared this to be the best risotto he’d ever had. The meat was melt in the mouth tender and the red wine added a touch of sharpness to it, cutting through the richness a little.
With a stonking range of red meat dishes on offer for the mains, I was spoiled for choice. Fillet of Aberdeen Angus, Hereford Ribeye, Spiced Pigeon and Powdered Duck Breast all screamed out to me. I actually quite fancied the Made Dish of Parmesan too, simply because I love this cheese, but of course I was never really gonna go for it. Not wanting to come to the ninth best restaurant in the world and end up having a steak, I went for the duck whilst Gav went for the pigeon.
Duck was Powdered Duck Breast served with smoked confit fennel and umbles. The portion was huge, well maybe huge is stretching it alittle, but for a restaurant of this standard, it was large… not that I was complaining. The duck was tasty and perfectly pink, the only thing it lacked was a crispy skin. However I hear that the duck is cooked for nine hours so maybe the lack of crisp was intentional. Smoked fennel was lovely, cooked to the point of creaminess. The strong aniseed flavours had subdued a little on cooking which worked for me. Umbles were duck hearts and as a lover of offal, they were a welcome addition to my plate.
Gav’s pigeon was Spiced Pigeon, served with artichokes. It was another decent sized portion and the meat was cooked very well; in fact it was the best Gav has ever had (he had a few ‘best evers’ at Dinner). The meat wasn’t overly gamey which was good for us and the artichoke hearts were also good. We had a side of lettuce with peas which was good, but not really needed given the three starters and the sizes of the mains.
Onto desserts and it was my turn to have a ‘best ever’. Poached Rhubarb was served with rosehip jam and rhubarb sorbet. It looked stunning and with so many perfectly executed elements to the dish, it was an absolute delight to eat! Pieces of rhubarb were cut into sections meaning that I was saved the trouble of slicing the stuff (and although cutting rhubarb is hardly a great hardship, it can be a bit tricky given how stringy it is, and this is well cooked – i.e. not a stewed mess). Topping the fruit (or is it technically a vegetable) were pieces of intensely flavoured freeze dried rhubarb and some rhubarb flecked sugar work. Amazing. And that was only half the story as to the other side of the plate was a decent dollop of rhubarb sorbet sitting on top a crown of sour, soft meringues and some rosehip jam. Sticking out of the sorbet was a strip of rhubarb which had been dried to the point that it looked like a piece of bamboo. Loved it.
Gav went for the Quaking Pudding served with pear, perry, caramel and lime. In this Guardian article Heston claims that on creating the dish he was aiming to make something with the texture of a warm crème brulee and jelly and he’s cracked it. It was beautiful, with a smooth texture and jelly like quake to it. The recipe is included in that article too and I think I might well have a go at it one day…
The meal was rounded off with a little chocolate ganache served with a cardamom pastry. Maybe the post dessert dessert is the new amuse bouche and as a freebie, it was appreciated, especially as it was bloody gorgeous. Chocolate was smooth and rich and the cardamom pastry was an interesting accompaniment.
By the time we’d finished the restaurant was almost empty (the downside to a late booking), so we declined the option to have coffee, paid our bill (which was a bit of a stinger to be fair) and headed back to Kings Cross to meet friends for drinks before rolling onto that train as planned.
So ninth best in the world and best in Britain? Hmm, I’m not sure. Of course it’s all very subjective and any ‘best’ list should be read with caution, but, well it was good (very good) but I’ve had better (or at least as good) in Britain – Sat Bains and St John for a start. Having said that Gav preferred Dinner to both of those and would probably go as far as saying that it is the best restaurant he’s eaten at in Britain.
Would I recommend it? Errrr, yeah, without a shadow of a doubt. Will I return? Probably not, but only because it was really pricy and there are lots of other restaurants to try (Fat Duck for one).