Gordo has been awaiting Heston’s new restaurant for a while.
It was going to be a remarkable opening, promising a return to old English cooking, something that Heston has been doing on the telly recently. This was in a series called Heston’s Feasts that frankly bored the not inconsiderable arse off the Fat One due to the dinner guests: celebrities. The celebrities were often complete strangers to dining out – and also to conversation.
The sommelier looked at Gordo as if he had the hind leg of a feral cat hanging out of his mouth, still struggling, the rest of the creature having been swallowed on the way to the table.
Heston’s new boy is situated in the Mandarin Hyde Park Hotel, a hotel with a spectacular history as well as a prime position opposite Harvey Nichols on one side and Hyde Park the other. The restaurant is called Dinner. Geddit? Heston has nicked the old stuffy rooms at the rear and brought them into the 21st Century with a fat splash.
Walking into the bar, Gordo is ushered to a table with leather armchairs. Behind him are two stunning women with calves that were sculpted by Rodin, sipped champagne, sculpted by Roederer. This from ever-so-lightly-tinted champagne flutes. They were talking in hushed tones about Oliver being a complete wanker. But, thank God, his bonus was being paid in cash this year. Pa wasn’t going to be asked to step in again.
Gordo buys a bottle of the Roederer for his guests (£75) along with a bottle of Bishop’s Finger beer (£5.50) for himself. The girl serving is also beautiful in every way, but has that ‘trained’ pleasantness she will polish a little when she is able to understand English better.
A request to see a wine list and a menu were ignored either because she simply didn’t understand Gordo, or more sinisterly it could be she’d been told to apply the new upmarket dining establishment rule: ‘Don’t let ‘em see the prices until the buggers are strapped in their seats’.
Walking into the restaurant after fifteen minutes or so Gordo felt that vibe thing going on. The room is designed for theatre. The tables and chairs are contemporary dark wood, with no table cloths. This can sometimes make a room gloomy, but in this space the lightness of the walls and the spectacular curtain of glass looking out onto Hyde Park worked magic. To the left a glassed-in show kitchen had chefs badgering away, brightly lit and adding another level of atmosphere.
The spectacular backdrop views across one of the world’s oldest and greatest parks makes you happy to be English. Gordo sat watching the theatre. Occasionally an impossibly handsome feller, in a two-hundred year old claret and black uniform with double-row brass buttons, trotted by astride a magnificent black charger (was that me? Editor); both of whose ancestors probably perished in the Charge of the Light Brigade.
Gordo cannot think of any room in the restaurant world that betters this one and on the day that he visited in early February the sun scattered pale winter-lemon rays across the park. Steam rose off pretty young joggers with blonde pony tails. Burnt red light later bathed the trees in the distance as a late lunch slid enjoyably into an early evening.
The first thing you should know is that Dinner’s menu is based on classic English recipes (and cooking techniques) that have been taken from cookbooks as far back as the 1300s and brought up to date with Heston’s undoubted genius.
The bread arrives and is good, but doesn’t slap you in the face. It should really. The butter, however, does. It has a strangely beguiling flavour. That little bit more than ordinary butter; maybe the cows have been given a spliff every couple of days?Kate Green shoing off her wares to Gordo
Then comes the now-famous ‘meat fruit’ (£12.50). It appears as a mandarin orange on a small wooden platter with grilled bread. You can see Gordo’s new pal Kate Green presenting it in the pictures. The first thought is, oh, it’s a mandarin orange with toast. Well, it ain’t.
People back in the 1500s, when this dish comes from, loved having a little joke as well as showing off to the neighbours, using the Tudor equivalent of an indoor swimming pool - sugar. They used it like a spice by all accounts. The joke is when you cut into the weird little bugger, the skin is a kind of agar jelly, tasting of said sweet, fruity mandarin whilst inside was a ball of chicken liver parfait of such precise seasoning, balanced texture and attention to freshness of the livers that it can easily be declared the best of its kind anywhere.
Casey Gillespie, ex Zink New York Editor, now editor of London Confidential, was motoring through roast scallops (£16, c.1820) which looked good. Casey normally deals with her food in a NYC fashion editor method, taught by Anna Wintour. She looks at it, breaths in, pulls her nose up and looks away. That’s enough calories for one day, thank you very much.
She ate the whole plate. Bravo Mr. Blumenthal.
The mains arrived. Powdered duck, (£24, c1670) with smoked fennel and potato puree, looked excellent. The ‘Powder’ refers to the seasoning apparently, the duck being cooked in a manner easily recognised today; it was described as being a thing of great beauty.Gordo ordered beef royal; they had run out, so he settled for sirloin of Black Angus (£30, c1830), mushroom ketchup, red wine juice and triple cooked chips. The cut was right out of the middle of the sirloin, with a couple of pieces of bone marrow laid on top, wobbling with a promise of slick, flavourful fattiness to expand ‘mouth feel’.
Heston’s triple cooked chips were familiar, a mushroom ketchup was not. Ketchup was a deal more sharp and savoury then than today, with little use of tomatoes. Gordo liked it. Steak and chips on steroids this folks.
Heston has chosen his cheese well, what it lacked in variety it more than made up for in quality. Each piece was from a single English farm and at the absolute peak of readiness. Gordo was too pissed at this stage to be making notes, have a look at the photos and drool a bit. Ten quid, by the way.
Tipsy Cake (£10, c.1810). Bloody hell. Heston has installed some weird mechanical spit which is there simply to roast pineapples, which he serves with angel-light brioche, baked in a cocotte into which loveliness has been dripped. Order early, it takes forty minutes. However, Gordo has waited a lifetime for it and can report the wait worthwhile. Another standout was Brown Bread Ice Cream (£8, c1830).
“I want a wine not dissimilar to a Guigal Condrieu (a Rhone white), probably therefore a Viognier grape, but not at Guigal prices”
The sommelier looked at Gordo as if he had the hind leg of a feral cat hanging out of his mouth, still struggling, the rest of the creature having been swallowed on the way to the table. He then seemed to have mis-interpreted Gordo’s request,‘not at Guigal prices’ as, “I am a complete numpty my friend, spank my arse and give me one at least a tenner more..” A Chateauneuf du Pape, La Fontaine 2007 from Alain Jaume was offered at £95.
The battle ended with a non-descript £65 (non-descript at that price, you what?). After two, with Gordo mellowing, he did open the du Pape: it was knockout. A pudding wine, the second brand of Suduiraut, Castelnau, 2003, was on at full Suduiraut prices.
A surprisingly good wine, but an horrific £89. And here is the major problem at Dinner. The wine list is horrifically marked up. Heston needs to browse the master’s list over the road, Koffman’s in the Berkeley and even (Marcus Wareing’s) down the corridor. Both have wines at all levels and prices which don’t make the punters eyes water.
We aren’t all getting Oliver’s cash bonus this year.
Don’t be looking to find Heston’s chemical wizardry here either. What you will get is a fabulous dining experience in arguably the best room in a capital city hotel with a refreshing menu that pulls up English recipes we are actually pretty familiar with, and cooks them with authenticity and great flair.
What did strike Gordo is how scaleable this product is. Once Heston has polished his brigade and recipes off, don’t be surprised to see Dinner here in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds sometime soon. And Bristol, Birmingham, Newcastle…
|Address:||Dinner at The Mandarin Oriental Hotel|
Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park
Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away
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