Be a diner at ‘Dinner’ by Heston Blumenthal

Dinner ice cream trolley

As a sequel to Heston Blumenthal’s notorious but indubitably successful ‘Fat Duck’, ‘Dinner’ had to bear intense scrutiny when it was first opened. Excitement met trepidation as many wondered whether Dinner had the aptitude to maintain the calibre of Blumenthal’s famed but somewhat divisive scientific take on the culinary world.

Blumenthal is known for his ability to produce wondrous and seemingly impossible feats of gastronomy – unifying seemingly contradictory and often unappealing flavours or moulding masterpieces that would deceive the diner into thinking that the dish had the taste of something else entirely.

However, one must remember that although Heston appears to be the golden boy of British nouvelle-cuisine, he is far from infallible – his attempts at re-imagining the chain of ‘Little Chef’ motorway restaurants was an astounding failure (he and his dishes were in fact dropped from the chain in June 2013). When Dinner claimed to be focusing its menu on recreations of historical dishes throughout British history, the tide of expectations intensified and the public were wondering how and more importantly if, Heston would pull off this eccentric homage to the past in a manner that would continue to please the pallet of contemporary cuisine. Considering that the restaurant opened in January 2011 and in 2012 gained a Michelin star and the ninth position on the ‘World’s 50 Best Restaurants’ poll, the answer is yes. One must also remember that the success of Dinner is not due to Heston’s innovative talents alone but acknowledge that the restaurant is headed by the talented former head chef of the Fat Duck, Ashley Palmer-Watts. Theirs is a partnership that is truly fruitful – that is not simply because the ubiquitous praised lauded to the restaurant’s ‘meat fruit’ but because of the consistent level of spectacle that results from their work.

For a dining experience that is both avant-garde yet a nod to the great British past (the menu has even benefited from the research of food historians at the British Library), I can sincerely recommend no other restaurant the Dinner (well maybe Dinner’s older brother, the Fat Duck).

Although the name ‘Dinner’ suggests an evening meal, the Restaurant is in fact open for lunch timer service. This is because, rather fittingly, Heston is using the historical connotation of the word, in a manner that reflects the historical inspirations of the menu –apparently ‘dinner’ used to describe the main meal of the day which was often had at midday to avoid the expense of night-time lighting. It is believed that it was after Heston’s involvement in the Channel 4 program ‘Heston’s feasts’, wherein he would endeavour to recreate a variety of dishes from the Tudor, Medieval and Victorian eras, he became resolved to create a restaurant focused on channelling the ‘nouveaux-historique’. Since its opening, the restaurant has been a resounding success, and its debut-ing months were fully booked almost instantly. Although reservations remain competitive, it is still fairly doable to find a seat two weeks in advance –and yes, both for the lunchtime and evening service.

Dinner menu

Dinner’s menu runs on a cyclical basis – although it maintains certain signature dishes, the overall content changes over three months, in accordance to the seasons. However, the changing menus aren’t just to incorporate the changing availability of seasonal ingredients, but to incorporate a greater variety of dishes from Heston’s historical canon. It seems that centuries’ worth of gastronomy cannot be reduced to just one menu, but needs menus with altering editions – in this way repeated visits to Dinner always yield a different experience. In a manner befitting Blumenthal and Palmer-Watts, the food is delightfully eccentric, bringing to the table food that is both silly and shrewd. What I mean by this is that although the dishes may appear to be daft and somewhat whimsical (scallops with cucumber ketchup, dating from ‘The Cook and Housewife’s Manual by Meg Dodds, published in 1826), the flavour combinations are so exact and carefully considered, there is obviously a shrewd thought process behind them. An innovation that is in key with Heston’s culinary lore is the ice cream trolley that comes to each table upon ordering a desert that features the confection. What is remarkable about the trolley is that it mixed custard and liquid nitrogen at the turn of a hand crank, instantly making delicious ice cream – in no other establishment will you see ice cream made in a moment.

Although the dishes are prepared with a heightened sense of theatricality and innovation, it must be noted that they aren’t quite as inventive as some of the dishes that are featured both on television and in the fat duck. Yes, there is a consistent level of ingenuity but this time around the focus is on recreating dishes from the past in a way that upholds fantastic quality and charm rather than what can only be described as a polygamous marriage of food, engineering and theatre. The result is one that receives endless praise and accolades from the most senior names in the culinary world. Particularly brilliant moments on the menu in past months have been the meat fruit and the powdered duck.

Dinner meat fruit

The meat fruit is the subject on constant praise with many people citing it as the best starter they have ever had at a restaurant.

The intensely flavoured mousse somehow manages to be creamy and smooth yet a bombardment of a hard-hitting taste experience – your pallet is both soothed and seduced by the rich mousse, not to mention the fact it resembles a mandarin orange.

However, his may be as conceptual as a dish gets in Dinner, not a fact to be criticized but to be aware of (Dinner and the Fat Duck are related but not the same), after all who can complain when it just tastes so good!

Dinner powdered duck

The powdered duck (circa. 1670), is not reduced to powder as the name suggests but just refers to the brining process it underwent before being cooked (this being a historical use of the word ‘powdered’). The dish is served with a smoked confit of fennel, a potato puree & umbles (which is just an archaic word for offal and is actually what is meant when people refer to ‘h’umble pie. The powdered duck is beautifully tender and moist, maintaining a clean flavour that is only enhanced by the expertly seasoned vegetables. The dish may be surprisingly simple for a Blumenthal creation but is a great advocate of the ‘high-quality homage’ that the restaurant provides. A great detail is the fact the menu has a description for each dish, explaining its historical usage and its recent appropriation.

Dinner decor

The interior of the restaurant was designed by Adam Tihany and is centred on the design feature that allows diners to see straight into the kitchen through full length windows. Furthermore, there is a pulley system that is based on a 16th Century design used for the British Royal Court. The décor is refreshingly simple but the result is elegant and understated rather than too ‘modern’ and clinical. As to be expected in such an establishment, the service is flawless – the wait time is minimal and is facilitated by warm and efficient staff.

Dinner wholly lives up to its hype, it champions creative yet exquisite takes on historical cuisine and promotes a sense of novelty that adds to the charm of the experience rather than feeling gimmicky. Simply, you will never get bored of a chicken liver mousse that is served to resemble a mandarin orange, no matter how unsavoury it sounds.