Monday, 7 February 2011

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Knightsbridge

If there existed a movie that all your best friends loved, had received rave reviews from every movie critic on the planet, and had smashed all box-office records, would you be interested in seeing it?

The answer seems obvious - of course you would, even out of sheer curiosity, and although there would be a risk your inflated expectations didn't quite match up to the reality, you wouldn't blame anyone but yourself, you'd probably still have a good time, and anyway what do you have to lose?

And yet for some reason, when a restaurant receives similarly universal praise, there are certain parties who, instead of wanting to see what all the fuss is about, instinctively brace to the opposite position, desperate to not debase themselves by accidentally having anything so trivial as a popular opinion. I find the psychology of this quite hard to fathom - why would you deny yourself the pleasure of a fantastic meal just to mark yourself as separate from the herd? There's no shame in liking somewhere good, even if everyone else likes it too. I can understand why you may get bored by the reams of gushing text on Twitter and press and food blogs of course, but to deliberately avoid somewhere just because it's popular, or - even worse - to set out determined to hate a place before you've taken your first bite in order to position yourself as the sole arbiter of "reason" and "perspective", seems incredibly arrogant. To repeat: there's no shame in liking somewhere good.

Sorry to start off this post on such a belligerent tone, but I promise my motives are benign - I just want to persuade as many people as possible, including - and in particular - all the nay-sayers and hype-averse and deliberate contrarians, to book a table at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. I don't care if you're bored senseless with the coverage, if the merest mention of "meat fruit" turns your stomach or if you want to gouge your eyes out whenever you see the phrase "spit-roasted pineapple" - everyone should have a meal at this dazzling, spectacular, wonderful new restaurant.

We may as well start with the meat fruit - if I'm going to provoke the anti-hypists, I probably can't do much better than with this, the most exhaustively investigated dish. Looking for all the world like a slightly saggy but authentically textured tangerine, the fruit "skin" contains a subtly alcoholic, deliriously light and rich chicken and foie gras parfait, which spread easily on the crunchy rustic loaf provided. The orange wasn't just a visual trick either - the citrusy casing added a sharper note to the rich filling and made the whole that much more enjoyable. Unique and tasty and very impressive indeed.

Another starter of Hay Smoked Mackerel was no less accomplished. Some moist and fresh slices of delicately smoked mackerel fillets came nestled in a salty anchovy sauce and dressed with some bitter endive leaves and thinly-sliced pickled lemon. It was a combination of flavours and textures that showed a masterful technique but also, even more importantly, real imagination - a memorable and hugely enjoyable dish.

I don't know what strange alchemy Professor Heston had used to get these strips of pigeon breast so unbelievably tender and tasty, but the results were truly spectacular. With a rich ale sauce complimented with some sharp (and neatly carved) artichoke hearts, this was another completely stunning, expertly crafted dish.

This generously proportioned pork chop was grilled over charcoal to get a lovely smoky, crispy char and served over buttered cabbage. A much simpler dish than the others perhaps but no less tasty - I can't think of any restaurant other than London's top two steakhouses (Hawksmoor and Goodman) to use flame-grilling to such good effect - the fat was crisp and salty, the flesh tender and barely pink. Perfect.

If the starters and mains were impressive, desserts were out of this world. Taffetty Tart was a dish I'd been served in a slightly modified format at that Fat Duck last year, but here it was even better than I remembered, the carefully constructed layers of caramel and fruit paste served with a truly incredible blackberry sorbet. And yes, the spit-roast pineapple tasted every bit as good as its 30 minute cooking time would suggest (we had to order it along with the savoury courses to give them enough time to prepare), served alongside a heavenly alcoholic brioche "tipsy cake".

We never wanted it to end. In an effort to delay the inevitable, we dragged our heels with a very good British & Irish cheese board, and once that was polished off were pleasantly surprised with a final petit for of Earl Grey caramel with caraway seed shortbread to dip in it. Like everything else, it was carefully considered, artfully prepared and brimming with fun and invention.

There was, of course, the final matter of the bill. With only one glass of wine each it came to just short of £160 for two, which of course is not a cheap lunch, not by a long way. But it is no word of an exaggeration that the food at Dinner, while perhaps not as mind-bogglingly intricate and theatrical as the multi-course tasting menu at the Fat Duck, comes from the same wonderful place creatively and still felt like the bargain of the century once we'd paid up and rolled happily home. The sheer effort, attention to detail and astonishing skill that went into every single element of the dishes we ate on Saturday, as well as service from a front of house team that were as attentive and knowledgable as you could ever hope for, made the whole experience a complete joy from start to finish. It may be irritatingly over-exposed, it may be depressingly over-subscribed, but it's both those things for a very good reason. Believe the hype.


Dinner by Heston Blumenthal on Urbanspoon


Melanie Seasons said...

Chris, what time were you there on Saturday? I was there at 2:15, we had to have overlapped a bit. Had a nearly identical meal too, even down to the Vouvray (which I thought was quite nice)!

You're right, though - bandwagon or not, Dinner was fantastic.

Hollow Legs said...

I gave away my booking purely because of that price tag, and now I've seen how much you guys spent with just ONE glass of wine, sadly, I know I made the right decision.

Unknown said...

Hmm, now then, what's that intense heat coming from the side of my head...oh, OH! It's my ears burning! As someone who is self-admittedly hype-averse, I think you sum the position up perfectly when you say, "I can understand why you may get bored by the reams of gushing text on Twitter and press and food blogs of course". Well exactly. It's not that I don't want to go to a very good restaurant - as I surely shall to this one, please note - but it is so terribly dull when so many people insist on racing there in the opening days - not even weeks - and generally all eating and talking about the same things. Of course people will say, "Well you don't HAVE to read it if it bores you" but I subscribe to blogs/buy newspapers/follow people on Twitter because I like them, and usually *want* to hear what they have to say, but as in real life if everyone is saying the same thing at the same time it becomes very dull very quickly.

In summary: it's not everyone going to and writing about the same places that I'm averse to, it's everyone seemingly feeling that it's essential to all do it at once.

Alex C said...

That looks amazing.
Will try to book for my birthday (only 5 months away so should be safe.)

Excellent write up as always, Chris.

WalshyMK said...

only 2 days and 5 hours till I go... and yet another glowing review is raising my expectations once more!

I keep telling myself I'll probably have to knock off a point for being treated like the pleb that I am, but to be honest as long as I get my chops round that food... who cares!!

Helen said...

10/10! We should mark this momentous occasion with some sort of dance, or festival, perhaps.

Patrick said...

Had no desire to originally but yours and Gourmet Chick's reciews have swayed me. It does look and sound great but bloody hell £32 for a pidgeon dish - how much do you think the composite parts cost? £3? Almost a 1000% mark up. Same could be said about loads of restaurants though I guess.

LexEat! said...

I am wary of much hyped movies/books - what was that terrible Dan Brown novel called again?

SO glad this lives up to all expectations. I shall make a booking AND get excited about it!

Greedy Diva said...

It looks so fabulous, I'm desperate to get there. I have a dinner booking in the first week of March but now I'm going to be overseas!! I'm refusing to give it up just yet in case someone will swap their booking with me. I live in hope - it's proving impossible to get another one. Heeeelp!

tori said...

Lots of reviews can be a little boring, but not if they're as well put together as this one- from one who was too distracted to get herself a booking- thank you for the vicarious visit!

Chris Pople said...

Mel: Yes we must have done but I didn't see you! We were sat in the middle by the window.

Lizzie: Yeah, quality comes at a price. Unless it's Tayyabs of course...

Hugh: I promise it wasn't actually you I had in mind, I know you don't like these bandwagons but you're always very nice about it, and all is forgiven since you liked BBR :) It was some other bloggers entirely I had in mind, someone who sets out to deliberately slag off anywhere the moment it looks like a general positive opinion is being formed.

Patrick: It is a lot, but it's very difficult to convey in words just how good, so amazingly well balanced and fresh and interesting and tasty, the food is. £32 for a dish of that standard feels like a bargain, and anyway pigeon isn't that cheap an ingredient, especially not a good one.

Northern Snippet said...

I like the way you justified going at the start.The portion sizes look surprisingly generous,expensive but yes Id love to go.

bed frame said...

The dishes are all so delicious. They looked so nice and the presentations looked so perfect.

Unknown said...

Great review. But sadly I couldn't possibly justify spending that much money on lunch.

Kay @ Chopstix2Steaknives said...

10 out of 10! must be THAT good! Yes, I am begining to feel like the exposure and the news are getting a little overexposed but am still headed there when I get back from the US! Hopefully, my wallet will be able to take it after the holiday £££ drain!

Katy Salter @ Pinch of Salt said...

Fab - I won't be racing there but only because it'll be more of a slow jog in the time it takes to save up the money. So glad it lives up to the hype!
Oh, and nice pics too

Gastro1 said...

Brilliant Review Chris I give it 10/10

Laissez Fare said...

Really excellent review, well put. I am hoping to visit on my next trip to London.

An American in London said...

Your photo of the meat fruit is the first I've seen (and I've seen lots) that captures how *huge* it is.

In any case, it doesn't seem like Dinner is suffering from any lack of demand. I tried last week to get a small table for the end of March and the dining room is, of course, full.

So without even wanting to be contrarian, I'll just have to wait until the hype dies down. But nice to hear the place so universally praised. There are so few safe bets in London at that price point.

Milly said...

I am going to DINNER next week!!!!

love your blog, I'm following!

~Would love you to enter my amazing GIVEAWAY - pasta lesson and meal with wine for two: