Before leaving on our trip, The Boy and I decided we would splurge on only one fine dining experience. With a wealth of amazing cuisines and restaurants between the countries we’re visiting it was a tough choice that I left up to The Boy. It didn’t surprise me much when he decided on the restaurant by one of his favourite celebrity chefs, Heston Blumenthal.
Unable to get a booking at the famous Fat Duck even three months in advance (?!), we settled for a meal at the more conveniently located Dinner by Heston Blumenthal (inasmuch as one can ‘settle’ for a Michelin star awarded restaurant which is considered one of the best in the world). The premise at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal is the reinvention or reimagination of a range of historical British dishes that were eaten by royalty and peasants alike. The short-but-sweet menu is accompanied by a long bibliography of references, showing the extensive research that was done for each dish (those familiar Heston’s tv shows will be familiar with his methods). Our friendly waiters were happy to explain the dishes and the stories behind them.
The restaurant itself is modern and clean with a touch of quirky, with porcelain casts of jelly moulds adorning the walls. In the center of the restaurant is the kitchen, a box of glass through which you can see the chefs doing their thing. The Boy was fascinated with watching them, and more than once I caught him looking past me whilst I was talking to him! But through the glass, on the other side of the kitchen, we spied the man himself. I didn’t have the right lens to get a decent photo and he didn’t get any closer, but we did see Heston!
For my starter I had to order the meat fruit that was featured in Heston’s Feasts,. Appearing very much like a mandarin (right down to the lightly textured skin), it is actually made of a creamy liver parfait coated in a mandarin gel. It was the smoothest, creamiest, most delicious liver parfait that I have ever tasted.
The Boy ordered the buttered crab loaf, which is a brioche-like loaf that has been soaked in crab-infused milk. In his words: “The infusion of the loaf in milk gives the loaf a similar consistency to that of the shredded crab meat which sits atop the loaf. The crab loaf is served with a cool and refreshing cucumber gel, pickled lemon and sparkling little orbs of herring roe. I liked this dish because it was creamy without being heavy, and providing plenty to get the tastebuds going for the next course. I also enjoyed picking up the pieces of crab shell and gleefully sucking them clean of the delicious pearls of roe.”
For our mains, I ordered the Battalia pye and The Boy went with the Beef Royal. My pye was an artfully constructed pile of smoked pigeon and offal, consisting of crumbed sweetbreads, devilled kidney, lambs tongue, in a cylinder of flaky pastry with a cucumber base and topped with lamb gravy. Offal has always been a bit out of my comfort zone, but this was intriguing enough for me to give it a try. I’ve concluded that kidney is not really my thing, but overall the dish was beautifully cohesive and full of flavour.
The Boy, a sucker for slow-cooked meats, chose Beef Royal – a three day slow cooked short rib of Angus beef with a smoked anchovy sauce served with cornichons and baby carrots. The short rib was immaculately cooked, falling apart at the gentlest prodding by the fork, and the sauce was dark, rich and full of savoury goodness.
For dessert I ordered the Quaking Pudding with caramel sauce and pear served three ways, and The Boy had the Taffety Tart with a shortbread base, vanilla ice cream, fennel, apple, rose petals fennel flakes. Although I had fun poking the pudding and watching it wobble, and it was undeniably delicious, I felt it wasn’t as impressive as my previous dishes – desserts take a lot to impress me these days. The Boy however enjoyed the delicate combination of flavours in his tart, layered prettily with exacting presentation on the dish.
Coffee was accompanied by a complimentary chocolate ganache and caraway shortbread, followed by a surprise visit from the ice-cream cart. Of course it wouldn’t be Heston if there wasn’t a bit of theatre and of course, dry ice. Explaining the process as he went, our waiter churned the ice-cream mixture in a special hand-cranked mixer along with dry ice, creating a super smooth and soft ice-cream. Served in a sweet, delicate cone and dipped in a choice of toppings, it was the perfect end to the meal.
Overall we were very happy with our choice for our one fine dining meal – even if it did cost us what we would usually spend in a week travelling, or a month at home! For a special occasion, the price is my opinion justified by the quality of the food and the impeccable service. I think it will be a long time before we dine at a restaurant of that calibre again, so I feel that the splurge was worth it. Even if we are still eating kebabs and bread-and-cheese picnics to make up for it!