Friday, May 16, 2014

The day I went to a late lunch at Dinner

subtitle: Isn't that the most confusing sentence to get your head around.

Warning: Gratuitous self-serving write up of "what I did on my holidays" coming in. With a reasonable degree of child-like squealing with glee, on the inside. Mostly. There is no recipe being cooked by me here. Feel free to click one of my other posts in the sidebar where I do normally do the cooking myself.

This post was going to have a different title, one that I had wittily already labelled as.."I want to Cook" eats with "In Search Of" at Dinner. But, sadly due to forces beyond our control, it was not to be.

I, travelling to the other-side of the world (no hyperbole there, either) was going to meet, in person, my fellow Heston-blogger in crime - Phil, from In Search Of Heston. (Go read his blog, he's funny and awesome and posts more than me. Truly, I wish I was able to be as prolific. Serious props to him. But then come back, ok?) And we were going to eat at the best of London options - Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, at the Mandarin Oriental. Menus can be viewed here.

After some finagling and trip-extending, we had a booking, and a day we could both make it. But the fickle gods of machines intervened, thus preventing Phil from making it. (Damn them to fiery hells!)

Regardless of my deep and bitter disappointment at making it to the other side of the globe and missing meeting him ... I went to lunch. With another dear friend who is also London-based. Hurrah, no solo lunch at least!

It was a nice Sunday - sunny and pleasant. (In London, who knew?)

I may have been a little excited. *cough* Or you, know beside myself with joy and excitement and what-have-you.

Unbeknownst to me, my favourite blogger Phil, had put in a good word for me at Dinner. (He was my favourite before, now I think he's a solid legend.). Thus began the most fun meal I've ever had.

It started with a personal, pleasant and warm welcome by the maitre d'. Who then sat myself and dining companion... let's call him.. Um... Giorgio (Forgive me, I went to Italy too) ... at the best table in the restaurant - right in front of the windows overlooking the kitchen and next to the roasting pineapple. Very exciting.

First, pre-dinner drinks. Since I can't drink wine any more (skip tedious story), I have discovered I can drink cocktails. So... rose martini for me! It was ridiculously tall. I've never seen such a long stemmed glass. And tasty. Like Turkish delight, but not sweet. Yum.

Then, our first course, to share. Meat fruit. (Let's face it, it was a required thing, right?)
Mandarin, chicken liver & foie gras parfait, grilled bread. It was almost mousse-like with a beautiful flavour, and a nice hit of citrus for contrast from the outer gel layer. (So delicious!) They even gave us more bread.

Next, entrée: I had the Frumenty (c.1390) Grilled octopus, smoked sea broth, pickled dulse & lovage. This was, hands down, the most tender, delicious octopus I have ever eaten. It was so tender I could have pushed it apart with a butter knife. The smoked broth and barley was so good, I didn't want to drink anything afterwards because I didn't want to spoil the lovely smoky flavour it left behind in your mouth.

Giorgio had the Earl Grey Tea cured Salmon (c.1730) Lemon salad, gentleman’s relish, wood sorrel & smoked roe.  I had a little taste of this, Giorgio was kind enough to share. This was a very delicate contrast to my smoky one - light, soft and delicate flavours vying for attention.

Mains. Both of us picked the same mains. Spiced Pigeon (c.1780) Ale & artichokes. This was a no-brainer, since pigeon is my favourite meat. It was SO good. Really, really good. Probably the best meat I've ever had, and definitely the best I've had that I can recall. Um. I should say a bunch of more erudite sounding things here, but pretty much my thought process during this was "Oh. Yum. This. is. so. good." (Repeat).

We got some sides with it, caraway carrots and lettuce and peas (cooked in butter, just in case you forgot you were in a Heston restaurant). These went with the pigeon beautifully. 


Really, the wait staff (who were all exceeedingly nice) must have been rather bemused at all the excitement and enthusiasm going on at our table.

Okay, now for my favourite! DESSERT. (Insert the joyful glee of the sweet tooth).

I went for the Tipsy Cake (c.1810) Spit roast pineapple (well, obviously...)
This dish, for the unfamiliar (hi family!) is sort of a signature of the restaurant.

Maybe because of these, which sit, roasting and looking gorgeous in the kitchen, on display from the restaurant.

Inside it is like this. Boozy custard meets light cake/brioche stuff. Best British pudding ever. The pineapple was sweet and sticky and tangy and my only complaint is I wanted more of it.

Giorgio had the Sambocade (c.1390) Goats milk cheesecake, elderflower & apple, perry poached pear and smoked candied walnuts. Which was a goats milk cheesecake masquerading as fresh goats cheese in vegetation. I was allowed one small taste. This was the point where Giorgio admitted freely that he didn't want to share. Even for a little taste. He did eventually relent, which I greatly appreciate, but it does suggest how highly it was regarded. This was light, delicate and delicious in way that made every other cheesecake you've ever had seem totally amateurish.  I would give more description, but I was too distracted by my raptures at my tipsy cake.

You thought we were done, right! Ha! No way...

Then we had this flavoured chocolate ganache (we were trying to decide what it was flavoured with - I think rose? We really weren't sure.) And a caraway biscuit. I can't tell you how happy I was - the ones I made at home were very close, though not quite as brown/crisp. This made me all kinds of happy. And they wrote me a message! (Yay me!)
But then ... we were told there was another course coming, courtesy of the chef!!

Here he is! Our lovely waiter, whose name I neglected to note down. (Sorry! I blame too much travel for a non-traveller). What's that he's doing? Oh, he's making us nitrogen ice cream.
If only you could see... oh wait.. here you are ! (I do apologise for the fan-girl excitement, and the talking-really-fast-thing I do when excited. If I wasn't holding a camera I would have clapped with glee. So not kidding.)

So we finished the amazing meal. Then I was presented with a menu, signed by the head chef, Ashley Palmer-Watts. (!!)

And then..I was asked if I'd like a tour of the kitchen, while they cleared and prepped for the evening service. Like any sensible foodie is going to say no to that.

The kitchen is placed in the center of the restaurant, to one side with glass walls all around so you can see them preparing the food. They each have their own station with everything they need, so there is a lot less rushing about and yelling than you get in most restaurant kitchens.

Here is a lollipop of foie gras, before it gets dunked in the mandarin gel. Behing the wall to the right is the temperature and humidity controlled area for making pastries.

This is the oven they do smoking in - the top part is where the chef was just putting my mussels to smoke for the Frumenty.

Here are the roasting pineapples.

This is me, standing next to the roasting pineapples. It looks like I am a long way away from them, I'm not. This is as close as I could get really - they were really hot. (I am in jeans because there is no dress standard. I did not follow Phil's suggestion of wearing a poncho.)

Then we were shown the Historic Heston cookbook owned by the restaurant - signed by both Ashley Palmer-Watts and Heston Blumenthal.

And then we made our sad goodbyes... (and let them finish getting ready for the evening service, because, frankly, it was getting very late in the afternoon!)

It's a difficult thing, trying to meet a dream. My whole trip was something I had always dreamed of doing. Eating a meal at a Heston restaurant was item number one once I knew I was going to Europe. I actually went to London for two reasons really - Heston Blumenthal and the British Museum. Both exceeded my expectations.

I also want to thank Phil again - who despite not being able to be there, made it a wonderful and memorable day through his help.  Phil, maybe we'll manage a table at the Fat Duck in Melbourne? Australia's great, you'll love it.

Thank you to my dining companion, Giorgio - so great to have someone who loves and gets the whole foodie thing to share it with.

All the staff at Dinner were kind, friendly and amazing to us. We had the best possible time. I can't thank them enough. I am just one person, of no particular importance in the scheme of things, but just with a huge and wonderful appreciation of the work they do. It was a truly great day. Thank you one and all. (And especial thank you to Ashley Palmer-Watts - you run a wonderful restaurant! And signed my menu. You made a little foodie very happy.)