On June 6 last year, a huge fire started in the central courtyard of the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park. Its effects were so devastating that the hotel, which had just completed the biggest renovation in its history, has only just recovered. The Gannet has fond memories of the place: it was where I first had a three-Michelin-star meal in the mid-1990s, when Marco Pierre White’s flagship restaurant was housed there. And, more recently, I have had terrific meals at both the hotel’s brasserie, Bar Boulud, and the two-starred Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. The good news for gastronomes is that neither dining room was severely damaged and both reopened a few months ago.
Bar Boulud has had a lick of paint, but – gratifyingly – little else has changed: Daniel Boulud’s Franco-American background is reflected in a menu that mingles French classics – escargots, steak frîtes, a fine slab of pâté en croûte – with perhaps London’s best hamburgers, especially the deeply indulgent BB stuffed with beef short rib and foie gras.
Upstairs at Dinner, meanwhile, head chef Ashley Palmer-Watts has used the opportunity to add some new dishes to his menu, taking, as ever, inspiration from historical culinary texts: Roast Marrowbone Royale is based on a recipe in The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary, published in 1720. Its modern incarnation is sensational. Crisp salad leaves and radishes conceal the gently flavoured, almost tofu-like marrow, tossed with snails, buttery croûtons and smoked anchovy, with blobs of lovage purée giving a celery-like savour, the warm, sweet scent of mace drifting from the plate. Rice & Flesh (The Forme of Cury, 1390) is divinely rich and decadent: calf sweetbreads, crisp chicken feet and smoked eel atop a purée of carnaroli rice, trickled with a rich jus. Almonds, nasturtium leaves and dots of saffron cream lend the dish a suitably medieval resonance.
Then a tranche of a sizeable seabass (early 15th century from a manuscript in Elias Ashmole’s library): crisp-skinned, perfectly cooked fish, draped with sea vegetables and sitting in a puddle of an intense, herby sauce made with brown butter and more lovage. As with many of Dinner’s dishes, there is intelligence and technique in even the simplest-sounding combinations: these are dishes that are created and developed over months and years. It is food that has been crafted like a Regency cabinet, not slung together like flat-pack furniture. Spiced squab pigeon (1780) is a case in point. Rosy, spiced breast, confit leg, tender little artichokes, a gamey sauce enriched with ale and malt, a pistachio crumb adding a nutty crunch.
Given the happy resurrection of one of London’s very best restaurants, it occurred to me that pigeon might not have been Palmer-Watts’s first choice of bird for this dish... but perhaps phoenix was out of season.