"I was wowed by the surroundings, but sadly not by my dinner"Review Rating: Reviewed by All In London
The cab pulled up and a whisp of self-importance got the better of me as we were invited to proceed up the main staircase into the grand, marbled entrance of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The grandeur of the hotel’s lobby was impressive (although in all honesty, rather OTT), but as we entered the restaurant both my companion and I involuntarily both ‘wowed’ as we walked past the wine stores and noted the pristine open kitchen and beautiful views of Hyde Park towards the back.
The restaurant (on a Sunday evening) was packed; there are 126 covers in total making this a huge restaurant by anyone’s standards, not least Heston’s own with his other non-London restaurants having a comparatively piddley 40 covers on average. The volume that accompanied all the diners as well as the bustling staff was something that we commented on as a buzz initially, but as the evening wore on, our feelings changed and we decided it was more akin to sitting in a canteen. At least eavesdropping wasn’t an option for anyone here!
We were seated very efficiently, although then the drinks order was a little slow in being taken and when our water was poured (ok I know this is picky!) both glasses had spillages next to them; a little slapdash at this level? We perused the a la carte menu with interest; you’ll likely know that the restaurant’s ‘USP’ is its use of historical recipes in the design of the modern menu. Each of the restaurant’s dishes had printed next to it the author of the original recipe on which it is based and its original print date ranging from 1390 for the ‘Rice & Flesh’ to 1940 for ‘Cod in Cider’.
The wine list was impressive with many countries, regions and vineyards represented. There was also a good selection of wines available by the glass, and prices per bottle started at £35. We chose a smokey and delicious Pomerol (£55).
There was one vegetarian main course and there were no vegetarian starters on the menu; I have been spoiled of late with top class restaurants offering full vegetarian tasting menus and courses, so this was a slight disappointment. Five years ago I would have expected nothing more – I still remember the waiter at J Sheekey
having to dust off the vegetarian menu which he got down from a top shelf (with the help of a footstool)! Once the head waiter came over however, he was able to go through several options which were adaptations of the standard carnivorous versions.
I had the Nettle Porridge - £14.50 (c. 1660) to start which was served with smoked beetroot, garlic, parsley and fennel. The nettle was a very gentle flavour and was complimented in flavour and texture by the sharpness and crunch of the beetroot. I struggled to taste the fennel or parsley they were so subtle. It was an interesting dish and tasty, but unfortunately didn’t have any knock-out qualities.
My companion ordered the Buttered Crab Loaf - £16 (c. 1714) which was served with cucumber, pickled lemon, herring roe and stone crop. The loaf itself was delicious and buttery, similar to a savory brioche. The presentation was perfect and all the flavours (including the accompanying crab) worked beautifully together; this was a triumph.
For the main course I had the Rice and Flesh (c. 1390) (minus the flesh!) which is normally served with saffron, calf’s tail and red wine, but in my case came with pickled beetroot. The rice was undercooked to the extent that it crunched and stuck to my teeth! I also found the picked, acid flavours very strong and despite it being a reasonable sized dish, failed to finish it all. I mentioned to the waitress that I felt it was underdone as she was clearing the plates, and she told me it was supposed to be like that due to the aged rice that they used and that it’s cooked al dente. I didn’t appreciate this; I know al dente from undercooked!
My companion’s main faired a little better; the Hereford Ribeye - £32 (c. 1830) served with mushroom ketchup and Heston’s famous triple cooked chips. The plate was brought with a huge piece of meat and nothing else; the condiments and chips being served separately. The cut was very clearly ribeye despite the hefty price tag with a good portion of gristle and fat. The chips were delicious; perfectly crunchy on the outside and still moist and floury on the inside. The ketchup and beef sauce were lovely and flavoursome, but in all honesty this dish was ‘just’ steak and chips as you’d find in any good pub.
For pudding, we pre-ordered the Tipsy Cake - £10 (c. 1810) served with spit roast pineapple, which we’d been told had a ½ hour preparation time, and then also chose the Quaking Pudding - £10 (c. 1660) which came with an intriguing combination of pear, perry, caramel and lime. The Tipsy Cake was lovely, light and flavoursome, in a light brioche-style; not knock-out, but very good. The Quaking Pudding really did wobble to perfection as it was brought over to us, and the accompanying flavours were bold, but delicious. This was the stand-out dish for me. Unusual, flavoursome and hugely tasty!
I haven’t mentioned much about the service, probably because it wasn’t really a notable feature. It was good, but there were so many different people involved and none engaged in any conversation (because of the volume of people that they had to serve I assume) that it felt rather impersonal, although efficient and professional.
In summary, I was wowed by the surroundings and interior, but then (particularly given Heston’s reputation for producing ‘wow’ food) rather underwhelmed by the offering, and to quote my companion felt rather like I was in “a Michelin-starred Pizza Express”; friendly, efficient and perfectly tasty, but impersonal and catering to the masses (of sorts).
All In London reviewed Dinner by Heston Blumenthal on Tue 22 May 2012