Heston Blumenthal – the chef who makes you nervous
Hyde Park, Knightsbridge is a most prestigious address, so naturally this is where you’ll find London’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
For good measure the luxurious department stores, Harrods and Harvey Nichols beckon across the road - and Hyde Park flanks the rear. That’s just the exterior.
Inside, the hotel encompasses luxurious guest rooms, a world class spa and the pièce de résistance two stylish restaurants: Bar Boulud, London - the London venture of New York star Daniel Boulud - and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.
Heston Blumenthal is the English chef and owner of The Fat Duck restaurant in Bray, Berkshire which holds three Michelin stars and has been voted the best restaurant in the world and four times the best in Britain.
Dinner (Manderin Oriental) is his second, stylish, innovative restaurant. I am dining at Dinner.
I can’t help feeling a little edgy. I’m concerned about my palate – could it perhaps be considered unsophisticated? In all probability comes the obvious answer.
Chef Blumenthal is not without a sense of humour. I’ve seen film footage of his celebrity guest diners doing outrageous things. Like licking entrée off the wallpaper and declaring it sumptuous.
And having seen TV footage of a dish named Meat Fruit being consumed is a concern.
I’m not sure I’d be as brave as feminist author Germaine Greer tucking into a delectable looking plum which wasn’t fruit at all but contained parts of a bull I consider inedible. I admire her stance. In Germaine’s opinion – it tasted gorgeous.Some of Chef Blumenthal’s dishes can be termed confronting - bacon and egg ice cream, snail porridge, parsnip cereal, mock turtle soup, which combines a ‘multi-sensory’ experience.
To clarify multi sensory, the theory is that audio enhances the eating experience – order a Sound of the Sea dish and to accompany the meal you’ll experience the sounds of seagulls, waves, a ships horn, laughter from children. Eating involves the senses, we eat with our eyes, ears and noses.
Dining at Dinner
Yes, I’m certainly nervous. But that night at Dinner I quickly discovered my concern was ill founded. Everything about this place is civilised.
The restaurant is spacious, light and airy, staff are welcoming and the open-plan kitchen displays all the hustle and bustle of food preparation.
The view of Hyde Park on a summer evening is perfect, adding another memorable touch.
And the menu arrives. One glimpse and I’m delighted. I’m a true advocate of traditional food. All these dishes are as time-honoured as possible.
Each dish appears on the menu with a date and a reference to the cookbook from where it was sourced. (Savoury porridge:1661- The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected by William Rablisha.)
Spit roast quail (1591 A Boke of Cookrye by AW)
Salamugundy – (1723 – The Cook’s and Confectioner’s dictionary by John Nutt)
I am not a food connosiure, nor a brilliant cook although I love to experiment with dishes in my own way. This does not make me the food critic I’d like to be.
Suddenly, I’m tossing up what to choose. The Meat Fruit now seems inviting, no mention of emasculated bulls. It’s a Mandarin - chicken liver parfait, grilled bread.
Eventually, I choose Broth of Lamb (c1730 ) – slow cooked hen’s egg, celery, radish, turnip and sweetbreads.
Such a simple sounding dish but I’m not disappointed. As I slice into the egg it oozes into the consommé providing a taste of overwhelming intensity. The sweetbreads are crisp and light.
Sirloin of Black Angus (c1830) with mushroom ketchup, red wine juice this was deliciously tender and oozing with flavor. Triple cooked fries are to die for.
Himself tucks into Roast Marrowbone- parsley, anchovy and mace, pickled vegetables. He pronounces it delicious, clearly he’d also devour the bone if he could. I’m relieved he doesn’t.
His main course was spiced pigeon, ale and artichoke, of 1780 heritage. It’s clearly pleasing and I am suddenly aware our home cooking will have to change.
We finish with exquisite baked lemon pudding, (1630) filled with caramel and Jersey cream which can only be described as perfect. Tipsy cake, (1810) features a cinnamon cream brioche with spit-roasted pineapple.
Sheer bliss. I refuse to even think of calories.
We also didn’t need to think about wine selection – the sommelier suggested excellent wine to complement each course.
I’m transported back to my childhood where flavour ruled. I frequently complain that nothing today, tastes as sweet, as fresh, as tart, as aromatic as it once did. Chef Blumenthal – I’m totally hooked.
Much of the day to day cooking at Dinner is done by head chef Ashley Palmer-Watts who adheres to the guidelines laid down by Blumenthal’s fixation with culinary history. The menu changes periodically.
The Mandarin Oriental
As for the hotel, the Mandarin Oriental combines style, elegance and history with royal connections. Traditionally, it boasts the only private royal entrance from Hyde Park. However, guests can still participate through special permission from the Royal Parks.
Here, in the hotel’s gilded ballroom Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth ll and the late Princess Margaret first learned to dance. Prince Charles and Princess Anne visited the tea rooms as children.
Whatever is on the agenda – a stay in this hotel has much to offer.
The up to date news from Chef Blumenthal is a coup for my home town of Melbourne.
In 2015 Heston will close his iconic three Michelin star restaurant the Fat Duck and for six months relocate it to Crown in Melbourne.
Heston will fly his staff from the Fat Duck to work in Melbourne.
Quite simply - I can’t wait. Bring on the Meat Fruit. I’m ready.
Ten Food Quotes
“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
― Julia Child
“Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.”
― Mark Twain
“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
“No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.”
“He was a bold man that first ate an oyster.”
― Jonathan Swift
“It's so beautifully arranged on the plate - you know someone's fingers have been all over it.”
― Julia Child
“Watch a French housewife as she makes her way slowly along the loaded stalls… searching for the peak of ripeness and flavor… What you are seeing is a true artist at work, patiently assembling all the materials of her craft, just as the painter squeezes oil colors onto his palette ready to create a masterpiece.”
― Keith Floyd