Food history and the inherent psychology has always intrigued me. Why do we reach for certain flavours when we’re happy, and avoid foods that have bad memories attached, thereby creating our own personal history maps? As a child I can clearly remember the alluring smell of my Dad bringing home fish and chips on dull afternoons (don’t judge me ok?) and the taste of my Aunt’s Jaffa Slice always conjures Summertime Christmases – to the extent that I had the recipe sent over to the UK as soon as I had a big enough kitchen to cook in (and obviously put in a request every time I go home for Christmas).
Take this to another level, and the recipes of yesteryear can’t help but evoke the society that it comes from. (Let’s take a moment here to consider the current crisp sandwich pop-up and freakshake generation. What will our descendants think?) Heston Blumenthal has taken this level of thought up into the gastronomic stratosphere and donning his trademark specs, he and his team have developed a decidedly unique approach to developing dishes both at the eponymous Fat Duck in Bray, and the glamorous Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park.
It’s probably no surprise that dining at the two Michelin-starred Dinner by Heston Blumenthal was on my birthday shortlist (it almost was the venue for the #KiwiSpoon birthday extravaganza but sadly had to be delayed with restaurant refurbishment works and our trip to the States) but 6 or so weeks later a leisurely lunch with one of my favourite Kiwis was set in stone and all I had to do was patiently (well, mostly) wait for the day to roll around. Who says that birthdays have to be only 24hours? Beginning with cocktails as the best dinners do, we settled in for an afternoon of indulgence.
The main meal of the day, taken either around midday or in the evening.
A formal evening meal, typically one in honour of a person or event.
Meat Fruit (
Intrigued by the infamous chicken liver parfait disguised as a mandarin (or in our case a festive plum) we couldn’t resist ordering one to share. A disorientating British dish dating back as far as 1300 according to some research, known as “Pome Dorres” (“apples of gold”) and served celebrating the coronation of Henry IV in 1399, this labour intensive modern construction was worth every bit of the hype. The fruit ‘skin’ is a refined jelly adhered whilst the parfait is frozen and adds a medieval frisson of elegant excitement. Served at room temperature, the parfait smoothly spreads on bite-sized morsels of sourdough. Luxurious, moreish and surprisingly light, it paired beautifully with slices of Josper-grilled sourdough brushed with olive oil, rosemary, thyme, and garlic.
Dinner began in the late 90’s with Heston Blumenthal’s fascination with historic gastronomy. The savoury ice creams of the late 1800’s, the theatre of the Tudor dining experiences and the dishes of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland all resonated with his unique approach to cooking.
Spiced Pigeon ()
Deciding what to have (and more importantly what to miss out on) was an achingly difficult #firstworldproblem but urged to try the spiced pigeon I’m so very glad I did. Served with an ale sauce reduction and finely braised artichokes, the slow-cooked breast meat is subtly infused with cardamom, star anise, ginger, garlic and allspice, which served perfectly rare each forkful simply melted on my palate. I paired it with an artery-twitching serving of creamy pomme purée which was approximate 7:1 butter to potato ratio in the very best, utterly delicious tradition.
Researching 14th-century cookbooks such as those by the royal chefs of King Richard II to Lewis Carroll’s flights of fancy caught their imaginations. Working with food historians, tapping into the world of the British library and the team at King Henry VIIIth Hampton Court Palace the very modern dining experience of Dinner by Heston Blumenthal was born.
Hereford Ribeye (
Though not quite as ancient in origin, my date enjoyed the Hereford Ribeye steak served with mushroom ketchup. Perfectly tender and flavoursome, as the most traditionally restaurant-y dish on the fascinating menu it definitely deserves the place it occupies. Served with cubes of bone marrow and a side of Heston’s painstakingly perfected triple cooked chips, I claimed a (birthday-girl treat) forkful of this simple but perfectly seasoned slab of beef. Heaven. We were far too busy to photograph the sides, unfortunately – imaginations will have to suffice.
It is never easy naming a restaurant. On this occasion, Heston wanted something that represented the menu that is inspired by historic British gastronomy, so he searched for a name that had a bit of history, but was also fun.
Tipsy Cake ()
Agonizing over what to choose, when my date refused to even share a teeny tidbit of her dessert that takes 40-minutes to prepare, I couldn’t resist doubling her order of the Victorian favourite, Tipsy Cake. A soft, buttery, fluffy just-baked brioche doused in Brandy was the perfect end to our feast (and I’m glad we didn’t split one for the record.) From our table, we could watch the kitchen at work which includes a unique pulley system installed for more than good looks alone, modelled after a version used by the royal court. The pulleys rotate the spit on an open fire, and our Tipsy Cake is served with spit-roasted and sugar syrup basted pineapple that complements the comforting and delicate dessert delightfully.
As a lovely end to our meal, our lovely waitress presented us with perfectly poured flat whites and a surprise serving of dark chocolate mousse infused with Earl Grey tea, accompanied by a cardamom biscuit – reminiscent of Egg and soldiers with a delightfully gourmet twist. The chocolate mousse was rich without being overbearing and the biscuit presented a touch of uniquely British tradition whilst counterpointing the mousse artfully.
The dining room is a lesson in luxe hotelier surrounds – chocolate wood panelling, large windows overlooking the leafy (and mysteriously foggy) trees of Hyde Park and glass walls that allow for snooping within the kitchen – but keeps a subtle Heston theatricality of jelly moulds repurposed as light fittings for a playful touch. I adored the lack of foams, dashes and fiddly twiddles – ironic considering Heston Blumenthal’s well-deserved TV reputation – our meal was simply delicious dishes with a touch of flair and history that made us smile, without detracting from the flavour. Our waitress was lovely, straightforward and without any kind of simpering, we didn’t want for anything whilst we dined.
All in all, it was simply a delightful way to celebrate a birthday – and the fact that the menu came with a source glossary for the sauces was simply the icing on a historic literary cake.