Saturday, 28 January 2012

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal @ Mandarin Oriental

Dinner at Dinner was, frankly, long overdue. H had performed a minor miracle and secured us a table waaaaay back when it first opened but for one reason or another it was donated very reluctantly through clenched teeth concealed by a thin smile to the willing recipient Greedy Diva. Since then I’ve been itching to pay it a visit. So, what better way to start a New Year diet than with a meat fruit? (no, really…)

We started with a hiccup in more ways than one with cocktails in the Mandarin Bar. A delightful waitress came and took my order then turned on her heel and left. No drink for H apparently. Once resolved by a passing waiter, the drinks were pretty good. Not memorable enough for me to remember what I ordered other than the fact that mine came in a martini glass with the longest stem in the world. Ever. H's Apple Martini was pretty and packed a punch.
In all honesty the bar was a bit underwhelming and not “unbelievably cool” as per its website. Personally, I’d go to Bar Boulud instead for an aperitif or just have it at the dinner table. I’m also not impressed by the £5 “late licence charge” for non-residents after 10.30pm (although granted we weren’t charged for sticking around after dinner).

Moving swiftly on to the main event. Various online reviews of Dinner had commented on hostile waiting staff but we couldn’t have found this to be further from the truth in the restaurant itself. Our waiter was really keen to explain the history behind the dishes and how they had all had a team outing to Hampton Court Palace with Heston to see how dishes were cooked back in the bad old days.

Two dishes on the menu seem to be almost obligatory at Dinner, one being the meatfruit entrée and the other being the tipsy Cake pudding. Both were duly and promptly ordered. The tipsy cake needs to be ordered at the beginning of the meal for there to be time for the pineapple to roast and the cake to bake so there is a decision making onslaught early on.

The savoury porridge which apparently dates from c.1600 was interesting and was described as containing, snails, chanterelles, garlic and fennel. I’m not sure what more to say about it to be honest as I found it to be rather lacking in flavour which was surprising given garlic and fennel being on the ingredient list. The texture was all quite sludgy with little bite. I like to think I’m pretty imaginative when it comes to food however it was quite a frightening shade of lurid green. The snails could have been mushrooms and vice versa on the basis of taste and texture. I don’t regret trying it but would be intrigued as to how many repeat orders that particular dish gets! One final gripe before this post becomes more positive, but the way to make a £15 starter look bigger isn’t to top it with lots of cress.

Now you see a mandarin.....

...... and now parfait, magic!
The meatfruit was amazing. Make that AMAZING. It looks JUST like a mandarin- until you prod it then it is all cold and jellyish! I love the idea of reviving the 16th century tradition of concealing one food as another in a kind of trompe l'oeil fashion. The orange (peel) is a mandarin flavoured jelly which tasted just beautiful with the smooth, rich pink chicken liver parfait inside.

As a main course we shared the rib of beef which was a beautiful, marbled piece of meat served with its accompanying bits on a wooden board and it was cooked to perfection. (that said if it was specifically beef I was after I still haven’t found anywhere that beats Hawksmoor Seven Dials) The rib was served with the iconic triple cooked chips- great if you're a fan of super crispy chips. One of the real highlights of the meal for me was the mushroom ketchup served with the beef. Our waiter explained that apparently mushroom ketchup originated in Asia and was imported into and embraced by the British. When it made the trip across the Atlantic Ocean, for one reason or another tomatoes replaced the mushrooms and the rest was history.

Brown bread icecream with salted butter caramel and malted yeast syrup. Salted caramel remains flavour of the day on lots of London menus and I love it (although perhaps not as much as Nigella Lawson) and it was the redeeming feature of this dessert. The brown bread ice cream was not sweet and not savoury but floated somewhere odd in between. Wouldn't order it again.

Tipsy cake with spit roasted pineapple was by far and away the highlight of the meal for both H and me. The yeasty, gooey,  pudding arrived in its own cast iron ramekin topped with a golden sugary crust. Each mouthful melted releasing sweet custardy ooze. The pineapple was simply a revelation and Ive been trying to recreate it at home ever since. The length of roasting means that the pineapple just falls apart without any of the stringy, chewy down sides that pineapple usually entails. Cannot praise it enough.

Decor is sleek and modern with a feeling of space from the high ceilings. I loved the jelly mould lights on the wall and the fact that you could see the kitchen at work.
The clientele on a Sunday evening were pretty mixed between business and pleasure and groups vs couples but one guy stood out for me. In what world is it acceptable to sit at a table of six and have a large Bluetooth mobile thingy flashing in your ear throughout? The woman on his right got a bit of a look in conversation wise but who knows what his left hand dining companion had done to offend as he was out in the cold. To make matters worse, by the time we left the restaurant the Bluetooth had been exchanged for ipod headphones. Just bizarre.

If I was being hyper critical (which, let's face it I generally am) I would say that the breads on offer at Dinner are hard to the point that they err on the side of dental destruction and many dishes are quite salty. I’m usually quite a fan of salt but found myself glugging the water down on more than one occasion.

In summary I’m very glad I tried Dinner and think it is a great eating experience but don’t think I will be going back there. Not unless you could go and just order the meatfruit and tipsy cake that is.  The menu has been the same for quite some time now so I think it will be interesting to see how long they can keep up a full diary of advance bookings without having to make some changes as many of the dishes seem to have more novelty value than longevity of repeat appeal.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Burger & Lobster, Mayfair

I loved Burger & Lobster and that's why, bizarrely, I struggled to write this post. I'm not good at sycophantic and tend to veer more towards glass half empty than half full. In advance of my visit I had only heard good things about B&L, surely there must be something negative to write about it?! But there isn't. Really, there isn't. From start to finish it was one of the best meals I have had in ages.
Following what seems to be the current London trend, reservations are not possible. Therefore on a Saturday afternoon I was anticipating some lengthy queuing. This initially seemed true when an hour to an hour and a half was the estimate by the lovely, smiley lady on the door (such a nice change from many clipboards queens in no reservation establishments). What was a pleasant surprise was that you don’t have to physically queue, you can toddle off and await a mobile ‘phone call summoning you back. This is brilliant for several reasons: 1) you don’t get cold 2) you can have a drink 3) most importantly it doesn’t make other diners feel hurried or crowded.
Lobster implements at the ready!
One of my pet hates is the restaurant which misrepresents the wait knowing that you’re going to be stood there like a lemon for upwards of half an hour whilst being upsold drinks. I’m relieved to say that this couldn’t be further from the truth at B&L. We popped our heads in after an hour and a window table was ready and waiting.
Lots of other recent London eateries are currently very niche in their menu, whether it be burgers or bbq etc however B&L takes menu minimalism to a new level. Three options: Burger, Lobster or Lobster Roll. Admittedly you then have the decision of cheese/bacon on the burger or steamed vs. grilled lobster but that bit isn’t rocket science (cheese AND bacon please). The drinks menu is the main area that offers choice.
Like any committed carnivore, I’m never averse to a juicy burger but when both lobster and burger are on offer (especially when they are at the same price of £20) there is no contest for me, lobsters win hands -or claws- down. H, on the other hand, was happy to go down the route of burger so game on with the cow versus crustacean comparison!
When it comes to lobsters, for me, size DOES matter. My grilled lobster was thankfully a big, fat specimen- after a lobster-related fiasco at Claude Bosi's Fox & Grapes last summer, I've always been suspicious of lobster size. The next table actually laughed at me when they caught me just sitting and smiling at it for a minute or two. Lobsters are flown in live en masse from Nova Scotia twice a week then placed into two large tanks (which you can visit if you ask nicely and they aren't too busy). On the day I visited 600kg of lobster had just arrived. That is a whole lot of lobster.

On to the all important question of taste. Full marks go to the garlic butter that accompanied it. Warm and oozing a not overpowering amount of garlic, it was lifted by a gentle lemon flavour which truly brought out the sweetness of the lobster flesh. I've had garlic lemon butter themed dreams ever since. Maybe it says something about me, but I'm always a bit diappointed if a lobster is presented ready cleared out with the meat carefully placed back in the shell. Sure put a crack in the claws and halve the chap but let me do the dirty work digging out every last morsel of meat. I had my opportunity in spades at B&L and what I had thought might be a superfluous branded plastic bib turned out to be utterly necessary. 
The burger was excellent, cooked quite rare, particular praise was offered by H in relation to the pot of gherkins - the best ever tasted I was assured. *Warning* those who know me might be about to die of shock. It's an underestimation to say that I'm not a big rabbit food eater, cucumber repels me and watery iceberg leaves me cold.  However, the side salads that accompanied both burger and lobster were something of a revelation for me; simple but effective. Nice variation of dark green leaves, pretty little yellow heritage cherry tomatoes, strips of red and yellow pepper and slivers of red onion in a tangy dressing. For the first time ever I finished my salad. So proud.

There has been plenty of discourse over why anyone would pay £20 for a burger when a whole lobster is on offer at the same price but apparently the ratio of orders at lunchtime is current about 50/50 (although lobster tips the balance in the evening). It was a very good burger but both H and I agreed that on our next visit it would always be lobster.
If you were to put a gun put to my head and force me to find a fault with Burger & Lobster it would be the fries. Many other blogs have waxed lyrical about the golden crispy seasoned fries but, given the option, I prefer mine to be a bit softer inside and less salty. The thing about salt is that it’s quite personal; you can always add more but you can’t take away.
Two desserts are on offer; chocolate mousse or lime mousse so you had better like mousse. Served in a paper tub like a big version of a theatre ice cream, the chocolate mousse wasn't earth-shatteringly original but was very chocolatey and very tasty and that's all I need a mousse to be. After all the burger/lobster is truly the main event here.

The drinks list is not extensive but provides enough choice at a wide enough spectrum of price points. My favourite Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque is a comparative bargain if you're splashing the cash at £120 (on the basis its over £100 from a vintner) and wine starts from £15 a bottle. The cocktail list is fairly eclectic with a lot of egg white in there. I know that there is trend at the moment for old fashioned cocktails however I’m always going to struggle with the idea of raw egg in my drink I think. We tried the Bull and Beat (sp?!)  (Woodford Reserve, blackberry, raspberry, mure and zinfandel), the Clarges Buck (Chivas Regal, velvet falernum, lemon ginger syrup and pale ale) a Coffee disgestif (basically an Irish coffee of Martell, chocolate, coffee, cream and spice) and a Manhattan (Woodford Reserve, Lillet Rouge, Regans, Angostura and cherry).  All were nice if not mindblowing although the stand out ingredient for us was the Luxardo maraschino cherries in the Manhattan – a jar will definitely be joining my cocktail cabinet very soon.

Décor wise B&L surprised me a little. I had preconceptions of something rather more rustic and dark in line with other recent openings. Although it’s far from fine dining, and whether it’s due to the Mayfair location or the restaurant’s Goodman pedigree, its pale interior was rather smarter than I had imagined.

I really hope that B&L is able to maintain its price point and simplicity as, for me, that is the key to it remaining an outstanding restaurant rather than just a good one.
Clearly Burger & Lobster isn’t only hitting the spot with us mere amateur foodies, Angela Hartnett was sat at the bar during my meal and apparently AA Gill had been in earlier.  Were he not the epitomy of discretion, delightful and chatty front man Alex could soon be worse than a London cabbie: “Ere you’ll never guess who I had in the back of my cab the other day…..” And that is no bad thing when the people who are visiting really know their stuff.  In the words of one celebrity who- to the best of my knowledge- hasn’t yet been to B&L – “I’ll be back”.

Burger & Lobster on Urbanspoon

Monday, 23 January 2012

Encore Une Fois/Foie!

(Belated) Happy New Year! Welcome 2012! New Year Resolutions firmly in place so here I am back for a second ham-fisted attempt at this blogging malarkey (Look at me,  I’ve got a porcine reference into the first paragraph without even mentioning food yet, that’s got to be a good omen?)

Several things have kept me away from this blog including sheer laziness, a best friend on a big diet (resulted in waaaay less eating out in 2011- well done to newly svelte H) and lack of time, all in no particular order. 
Equally, various things have brought me back; lots of nice meals and plenty of travel booked into the diary, so many new(ish) eateries that I want to try, 2012 good intentions  and a revitalised interest in Twitter, social media and the myriad of amusing but generally time-wasting exploits it entails. Added to that the fact that someone I recently went on a date with did a bit of internet-based ‘research’ on me beforehand and found this self-same very out of date blog, not sure who was more embarrassed- me for letting it get so out of date or him for having been caught cyberstalking but that’s another story...
So, second time lucky, would be great to hear what you think once I get up and running again!
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