Dinner was born out of Heston Blumenthal’s fascination with the history of cooking. The savoury ice creams of the late 1800s, the theatre of the Tudor dining experiences and the dishes of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland were only the first inspirations for the story that started to grow discovering a wealth of information and old cookbooks that are still today an infinite source of inspiration for the dishes created by Ashley Palmer-Watts and his team within the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Knightsbridge.
The restaurant has been and still is a huge success on the international food scene, awarded with two Michelin stars and a long-lasting presence between World’s 50 best restaurants. As a result, have Heston and Ashley opened a Dinner outpost also in Melbourne and are soon opening another one in Dubai.
How is cooking at Dinner? Dishes are perfectly executed, greatly balanced and full of flavour. A good example of beautiful classical cooking and yet, not a restaurant that everybody enjoys in the same measure. But then – isn’t it always this way?
I have eaten there for the first time in 2013 and was rather disappointed. I was, from a world’s 50 best restaurant, expecting a more avant-garde approach to cooking, more challenging flavour combinations, more excitement. And I prefer tasting menus. I like to try out different dishes in smaller quantities, I am not excited by the three courses dining when I am eating outside. I dislike big full plates. Dinner was then for me a restaurant offering big plates full of lovely comforting food, but that was not something I was looking for. It was not a problem with Dinner, it was my problem.
Now I returned, invited by Ashley, and to be honest, I did enjoy my meal. I had now a chance to try five new dishes which were delicious and having had a chance, to enjoy a small tasting menu created by Ashley for me, the experience was definitely different from the one five years ago when I had a starter, a main and a dessert. The dishes have become more complex from my last visit, there iseven more texture and flavour and trying five creations instead of three, made also a big difference for me. Now, thinking of the meal of the last week again, I actually find each of the dishes that I tasted, brilliant and would be happy to return (especially if I could go for a tasting version again) on some cold wintery day when we look for some warmth and comfort.
The Sherried scallop, a dish made of a scallop tartare, smoked cauliflower, cauliflower cream, grilled shiitake and Sherry was with its wonderfully deep umami a fabulous start of the meal. Roast marrowbone royale with smoked anchovy, snails, radish, mace and lovage was a pure creaminess perfectly balanced with the freshness and crispiness of the greens and beautiful accents given by the anchovy. My favourite was Rice and Flesh. Some of my favourite ingredients – almond, saffron, veal sweetbreads and smoked eel – were composed together into a fascinating dish, one of the best I’ve recently eaten – so intense, beautifully rounded and just perfectly executed with the creaminess of rice and saffron and the nicely browned, lightly crispy outside and creamy inside, sweetbreads. A poetry! A perfectly cooked spiced squab pigeon with onions, artichokes, ale and malt has been a delicious conclusion of the savoury part of the meal. The dessert has been the chocolate drops – a stunningly beautiful creation made of a malt cake, white chocolate, barley cream, chocolate and ale cream. It was even better than it looks.
Dinner is, all in all, a really lovely restaurant – with excellent cooking and very courteous service. Go for it if you like nice comforting dishes with no risks and a great service. If like me, you prefer more avant–gard approach, more diversity and excitement, you may find it sometimes too comforting, but you will still appreciate the dishes that were created with lots of thought and care. London needs Dinner! Also to show to the world that the British do have a long culinary tradition and that the British food is everything else but bland.
The wine pairings: