Saturday, 2 March 2013

Dinner: Top Ten, Perhaps Not

The problem with any award is that, while its nice to receive at the time, expectations are elevated.  Dinner is not only Heston Blumenthal's outpost in central London, but it is also now ranked ninth in the world by the San Pellegrino restaurant awards. That is higher even than the Fat Duck. So, with all that in mind, I was expecting a real treat. Frankly I imagined being blown away.

I am never a fan of restaurants in hotels - they always seem a bit like an extension of the lobby. Places that are perfectly fine for waiting, neutral, but not exactly somewhere to thrill. While Dinner does suffer a little from this, the porcelain jelly moulds on the walls bring just enough of a touch of Heston to the proceedings. 

The kitchen is open, allowing you to marvel at their pineapple roasting machine. Necessary for the creation of Tipsy Cake so we were told - a desert you need to order on being seated due to cooking times, we didn't bother.

To start we knew we were going to have the "meat fruit", chicken liver and foie gras parfait dressed up as a mandarin. But Strakattak and I were torn between two of the remaining starters: would it be the "rice and flesh" or the hay-smoked mackerel. We just couldn't decide.  Our waiter came up with a solution: he could do us a platter of all three. Sold!  Sadly, he failed to tell us that we wouldn't be getting three slightly smaller portions as a platter, rather three full size plates, with consequent cost.  Misleading and, if it all hadn't been so darn delicious, I might have complained about it.  As it was they were all wolfed down.

So rarely does a hyped-up dish deliver - the meat fruit does.  Tart "peel", rich chicken liver and foie gras parfait- looked wonderful, tasted better.

The rice and flesh was "aged rice" (to give it a pronounced nutty flavour), served al dente (undercooked?) as a risotto, with soft calf's tail, laden with saffron.  Not something I would rush back to, but nice to try.

 The mackerel came smoked but raw, with an anchovy heavy "Gentlman's relish".  Fresh, punchy, my kind of starter.   

Following the starters was always going to be hard.  I had the collar of pork with spelt, ham hock and Robert sauce.  The pork was incredibly tender, I suspect the use of sous vide, but the Robert sauce (a mustard sauce derived from the classic Espagnole sauce) was just a little too salty for me.  A plate of food I was happy devour, but not something I can say will stick in my mind. 

Strak had the ribeye, well-cooked, fine.  The triple cooked chips were, quite frankly, the best chips I have eaten. Ever.
The pork collar with Robert sauce 
To finish, I had the "brown bread ice cream", salted butter caramel and malted yeast syrup.  Yes it was malty. Yes I could see why it was called "brown bread" ice cream.  Yes it had salted caramel, a food sent from above.  But would I clamour for more?  No.  Remove the reference to brown bread and what you have is a malty ice cream with some salted caramel.  Nothing to get worked up about.  
Strak had the "chocolate bar" with passion fruit jam and ginger ice cream.  The ice cream was mind-blowing,  a hit of spicy ginger, the chocolate bar rich with passion fruit.  Cleverly presented, this was far more exciting than the headline-grabbing "brown bread" ice cream.  
Finally we were presented with a small pot of rich chocolate and tea ganache.  Served with a crisp biscuit studded with caraway seeds, I loved it.  It had enough going on to be a desert in its own right.  Caraway and chocolate, a great combination. 

So what to make of Dinner.  Yes there were high points.  The meat fruit lived up to all I had heard, the mackerel was a real treat, and that chocolate bar had a great balance of flavour.  Did I think it was deserving of its title of ninth best restaurant in the world?  No.  In fact I wouldn't even put it in my top ten in London.  Some of the dishes were really quite ordinary, dressed up in Heston hype.  Fun to try, but don't think I'll be back.

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