Despite two high profile hotel refurbishments and re-openings – The Savoy and The Four Seasons –the most talked about of all is the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park’s new restaurant, Dinner, run by the mischievous culinary wizard, Heston Blumenthal. Like a proud parent, the Mandarin has shown off its new prodigal son and the difficulty in getting a table has become legendary.
The restaurant interior has floor-to-ceiling glass walls, revealing the kitchen interior and its unique pulley system. Modelled on a version used by the kitchens in the Royal British Court, the pulley’s workings look like the intricate parts of a vast watch which rotate the spit of an open-fire. From our table, we could see golden pineapples suspended in mid-air, turning in front of the flames (and occasionally basted by an attentive chef), that I later discovered were one half of the epic Tipsy Pudding.
Eye-catching light fittings are in the shape of antique jelly moulds, which are worth a look if you are not too transfixed by the impressive wine collection on display by the glass walkway as you arrive, or the view of Hyde Park through the large windows overlooking Rotten Row.
The menu reveals Heston’s ongoing research and discovery of historic British gastronomy with focus on fifteenth and sixteenth century cookery. With few recognisable offerings, on ordering Rice and Flesh, Meat Fruit and Salamagundy, we were not entirely sure what we would get. This is one of Heston Blumenthal’s playful qualities – in this instance the menu suggests simple, maybe unsophisticated food and yet he delivers breath-taking plates that you will remember for years to come. The Meat Fruit is a delicate and indulgent illusion of a perfect mandarin placed on a chopping board with some toasted bread. Inside this homage to the hotel that houses him, was the finest chicken liver parfait ever conceived. Layers upon layers of the savoury and sweet were lavished with spices, port and cognac – rich and yet whipped so light that it was inhaled with enthusiasm. Rice and Flesh was lauded as a triumph – nuggets of calf tail in a rich red wine sauce atop a sea of yellow which was the wonderful creamy saffron rice. Salagamundy is chicken oysters with bone marrow and horseradish – a dish whose provenance goes back to 1720 – which should be on more menus across the capital today.
Our main courses were Powdered Duck, Cod in Cider and Spiced Pigeon. The powdered duck provided no powder but two melting duck legs on a velvety and rich fennel puree, while the cod in cider was declared ‘absolute perfection.’ The spiced pigeon revealed perfectly pink slithers of meat with tender artichokes. Although clever and perfectly executed, the ingredients are clearly of such exceptional quality that less of Heston’s magic is required here. The main courses are heartier than chef Blumenthal has made his reputation on – minimal minimalism – but rich and luscious creations that meant smiling faces were seen at every table.
Puddings of Tipsy Cake, Brown Bread Ice Cream and Poached Rhubarb were further delicate gilded morsels of Heston’s genius. The Tipsy Cake has been soaked in sweet buttery rum lava that should make anything more than two mouthfuls impossible. Not a bit of it – served with the spit roasted pineapple, the little sour in the fruit meant I could charge through mouthful after mouthful, leaving me wishing there was more. Brown Bread Ice Cream was eclipsed by the salted butter caramel and malted yeast syrup that sat beside it, while the Poached Rhubarb of neon pink stewed fruit with a glowing rhubarb sorbet sat among rosehip syrup and was declared the original all-English pudding.
The fruit cocktail list is as enticing as the main menu (the midday hour meant we did not look at the wine list), and after the meal, we chose from the extensive tea menu – no coffee – for fear of washing away all those wonderful flavours.
The restaurant is actually not that expensive (a set lunch menu costs £28) and far more relaxed than your average ‘fine dining’ experience. I have to be boring and join all those who have written before me: Dinner exceeded the hype, it’s even better than expected, and if it wasn’t (rumoured to be) full until the end of the summer, I would book myself in again tomorrow.