In Food + Drink

London’s Most Memorable Culinary Experience Is Also In Melbourne

London’s acclaimed Mandarin Oriental Hotel is situated in the middle of swanky Knightsbridge, just near Harrods.

The hotel has long been associated with Britain’s royal family – who still have their own private entrance: in the 1930s, the Queen and Princess Margaret learnt to dance in the gilded ballroom.

The Mandarin Oriental is also home to culinary royalty, its two Michelin-star restaurant, Dinner, run by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal, wowing diners since it opened in 2011.

dinner by heston

Rave reviews flowed for the chef, famous for pushing culinary boundaries in dishes such as bacon and egg ice-cream, cauliflower with chocolate jelly, and sardine-on-toast sorbet at his celebrated Fat Duck restaurant at Bray, and haven’t stopped over the intervening years.

Dining at Dinner, with a menu heavily influenced by Blumenthal’s research into historic British gastronomy, continues to be a memorable culinary experience.

The restaurant is situated in a modern dining room that occupies a vast chunk of the Mandarin Oriental’s ground floor, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Hyde Park.

dinner by heston

I start with meat fruit, a circa 1500 dish of chicken liver and foie gras parfait enrobed in mandarin jelly, artfully constructed to resemble a mandarin. It feels criminal to cut into this incredible dish, which looks like a mandarin right down to its dimpled pores.

My companion is equally smitten with his starter of Salamugundy, succulent chicken dressed with slithers of marrowbone, drawn from a 1723 work, The Cook and Confectioner’s Dictionary.

Blumenthal’s inspiration for Dinner’s menu – other starters include Earl Grey Tea Cured Salmon (circa 1730) and Buttered Crab Loaf (1710) – comes from old English cookbooks including the Forme of Cury, a collection of recipes copied by King Richard II’s scribes in around 1390.

Foodie time traveller Blumenthal spent years researching and exploring Britain’s gastronomic past, consulting with food historians, royal palaces, and at The British Library.

In 2004, looking for inspiration in his collection of medieval and Tudor cookbooks, Blumenthal recalled a conversation with Marc Meltonville, a food historian who was restoring the Tudor kitchens of Hampton Court Palace, at the Oxford Symposium of Food and Cookery, an annual conference on food history held at the venerable university.

dinner by heston

At Hampton Court’s labyrinthine 55-room kitchen complex – ranging from confectionery chambers to roasting rooms – Meltonville and his team recreated period dishes using the same methods and utensils cooks used 500 years ago to prepare meals for up to 600 people, including King Henry VIII, twice a day.

Sharing a passion for historic gastronomy, Blumenthal and Meltonville began collaborating on historical dishes at Hampton Court and Bray.

Their first dish was quaking pudding – “a sort of cross between a crème caramel and blacmange,” says Meltonville – which first appeared in The Accomplisht Cook in 1660.

“Because recipes from that time have no amounts, cooking times or temperatures, it took about 50 attempts to get the dish right.”

Recipes such as chocolate wine and buttered beer were similarly demanding, he adds.

Perfecting the recipes on Dinner’s menu took months of experimentation: an original 15th Century recipe for ‘pommes’, spicy balls of minced veal rolled in a green batter of parsley juice, flour and eggs, and crafted to look like apples, was the inspiration for Blumenthal’s exquisite meat fruit.

dinner by heston

Our starters at Dinner are so good we wonder how the mains could possibly improve on them.

Choosing from such a fascinating menu isn’t easy, with dishes such as Powdered Duck Breast – grilled red cabbage, spiced umbles (offal) and pickled cherries from an 1850s recipe – and circa 1440 Roast Halibut and Green Sauce with braised chicory.

I eventually decide on Hereford Ribeye steak with mushroom ketchup, red wine jus and triple-cooked chips, from a recipe dating from 1830.

The tender, marbled steak – among the best I’ve eaten – is cooked to perfection, the accompanying rich mushroom ketchup and jus simply delectable. Even the carrots, scented with caraway, are wonderful.

My companion declares his Iberico Pork Chop (circa 1670) with pease pudding, blood pudding, pickled onion and mint oil the best pork chop he has ever eaten.

dinner by heston

Choosing dessert is so difficult that we order three – Tipsy Cake with spit roast pineapple, Chocolate Drops and Brown Bread Ice Cream.

The 1810 Tipsy Cake – hot, fluffy buns with pineapple caramelised on a spit to a sweet intensity – and Chocolate Drops, a combination of malt cake, lemon thyme, chocolate and ale ice-cream from a 1790 recipe – are delicious.

But the 1830s Brown Bread Ice Cream, a fusion of salted butter caramel and malted yeast syrup atop a fudgy base, is simply ambrosial.

Together with Chef Director of Dinner, Ashley Palmer Watts, Blumenthal has also created a menu inspired by the flavours of British and Australian history at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Melbourne, which opened in 2015.

Situated at the Crown Complex with views across the Yarra River and city skyline, the menu’s at this restaurant, awarded two hats by the Good Food Guide 2019, include several classic Dinner London favourites, as well as Aussie dishes – with a twist – such as Ice-Cream with Vegemite (circa 1920) and Lamington Cake (1830).

A meal at Dinner, Melbourne, will set you back from $175 per person (degustation $295 pp). But in terms of culinary magic, it’s priceless.

(All images: Dinner by Heston / supplied) 

Published 19 August, 2019