April 16 2011
Adam D Tihany, the designer of Heston Blumenthal’s new restaurant, Dinner, at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park Hotel, had a ticklish problem: his client wanted diners to have a good view of the park, previously denied them by an intervening road. His solution? Simple: raise the floor by a foot. Marginally less troublesome than lowering Hyde Park, I admit, but it is symptomatic of the attention to detail that pervades this terrific restaurant. From the porcelain-jelly-mould lampshades to the giant Swiss watch mechanism that turns the spit in the glass-walled kitchen, all is wit and style.
And the food is as witty and stylish as the room. Take Meat Fruit, for example: a convincing trompe l’oeil mandarin (a deft nod to the hotel’s owners, I suspect), which turns out to be a perfect parfait – if that is not tautological – of chicken liver and foie gras, for which the mandarin jelly is an ideal foil.
Each dish is drawn from six centuries of British cookery: you might have Broth of Lamb (c1730) or Black Foot Pork Chop (c1860). I had both: the broth an intense, umami-rich balm for crisp sweetbreads, the chop miraculously juicy, thanks both to the Iberian pig’s ability to store fat in its muscles and to careful cooking in a Josper grill, this year’s must-have gadget.
Puddings are triumphantly indulgent. I tried a lovely, brioche-like Tipsy Cake with spit-roast pineapple, and a dark, glossy Chocolate Bar with passionfruit jam and ginger ice cream: a fabulous combination which makes one wonder why nobody has thought of it before. Of course, somebody did: it was inspired by a recipe from 1730.
Sometimes, the British credentials seem a little tenuous. The Spanish Pork Chop was garnished with “pointy cabbage” (hispi, by another name) and sauce Robert, a classic French concoction for which François Pierre de La Varenne gives a recipe in his seminal Le Cuisinier François (1651, since we are doing dates). The starter Rice & Flesh is definitely a risotto, and the jus with the Angus beef is called “red wine juice”.
Then again, who cares? We’ve been pinching stuff from the French and Italians for centuries: Sydney Smith enjoyed the “oil of Lucca” long before Elizabeth David was born, fricassees and ragouts were all the rage in 17th-century Britain, and Samuel Pepys was so worried about his wheel of Parmesan being consumed by the Great Fire of London that he buried it.
The restaurant’s name, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, is a little odd, partly because it is also open for lunch, and partly because it is not the sorcerer himself at the stove, but his apprentice, the talented executive chef Ashley Palmer-Watts. It is, however, the most exciting and accomplished restaurant to have opened in London in the past couple of years. I wish you the best of luck getting a table.