Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Out to Dinner

So, last Saturday D and I, along with my brother (D2) and his wife (V) kept a longstanding date with one Mr Heston Blumenthal. Or rather, Heston Blumenthal’s former right-hand man at The Fat Duck and now head chef at Dinner. Not that we saw either of them. But to be fair, if Heston had happened to pop in for lunch that day he would have probably have popped right out again when presented with a squealing fan girl (I have a tendency to get as excited around famous chefs as pre-pubescent girls get around JLS).

The outing didn’t get off to the very best of starts; D2 and V got stuck on the Underground which meant they were late meeting us which meant that we were late getting to our table. Both D and I, but especially D, are pathologically punctual. Well, actually, I’d say that I am punctual, D is early. He started getting agitated at about quarter to twelve (admittedly, we had made tentative plans to meet them in the hotel bar at half past eleven, but equally, they had to convey a six month old baby and all the luggage that said small child generates to his grandparents’ house before setting off, and so I was unsurprised that they were running slightly behind schedule). By five to twelve I was also getting a little twitchy, although getting stuck into an appletini of mammoth proportions was taking the edge off. D had stopped hoovering up the Kettle Chips at this point – when D stops eating snacks then you know that the balance of his mind is seriously disturbed.

But they arrived and disaster was averted and the very charming staff, with nary a reference to the fact that we were nearly quarter of an hour late sitting down, offered us a seat on the terrace, with pashminas for the ladies if the slightly brisk July (!) weather became uncomfortable. And D calmed down and we all had a glass of champagne, at which point he probably regretted not smuggling the bar snacks in with him.

The menu at Dinner is rather exciting. The dishes are all “inspired by historic British gastronomy” and so often peculiarly named with unexpected ingredients, with the sources of origin listed on the back of the menu (which we snaffled). Personally, I felt a little adrift. Usually when I go to a fancy restaurant, I order a tasting menu. Not only because I am extraordinarily bad at decision making but because I want to get a feel for the restaurant and the cooking. Actually, the second half of that sentence makes me sound terribly poncey…let’s face it, it’s probably because I had a deep seated need to be told what to do rather than have to decide for myself. Here, not only did I have to decide for myself, but the language of the food was not what I was used to. There was a starter on there called “Rice and Flesh” for goodness sake (of which more in a second).

We kicked off with a pre starter, the “Meat fruit” which was a chicken liver parfait presented like an orange. Look at the picture – you’ll see what I mean. We got two of these for the table so as not to ruin our appetites. I wish we had ordered one each. This was amazing. Seriously, the best chicken liver parfait I have ever eaten and probably ever will eat. Silky, rich, that deeply savoury tang of iron that you get from liver, but overlaid with a delicate sweetness and the fragrance of citrus. We were back in plate licking territory here.

Best.  Chicken liver.  Ever.
I must credit my photographer at this point.  I had (for once) remembered to bring along my nifty little pink Nikon but unfortunately had not remembered to check that the battery was charged.  So these pictures come to you courtesy of D's mobile phone and with his apologies if they are not as clear as they could be (he informs me that the camera on his current phone is not as good as the one on his previous handset).  Considering I manage to make everything I photograph look awful, I don't think he has anything to worry about.

Both the boys, being boys, had ordered Rice and Flesh for their starters. The name put me off – I’ll hold my hands up to that. But lordy. This was probably the best risotto I’d ever eaten (on the basis of the spoonful D allowed me to try). D and D2 suggested that larger lumps of meat would have improved the dish. I think serving it up in a bucket big enough to stick your head in is the only way it could have been bettered. I mean, wow. My salamagundy was fine, don’t get me wrong, but I think I mainly ordered it because I like the word and it didn’t cause rampaging flavour fireworks to go off in my mouth – if anything I would have liked more of a horseradish kick. And I think V was a wee bit underwhelmed by her scallops.
Best.  Risotto.  Ever.
Onto the mains – and again one stand out dish. The pork chop, served with pointy cabbage (I ate it and I’m still not sure what the difference between pointy and normal cabbage really is) was the best. Pork. Chop. Ever. That’s three best evers in one meal! I don’t know what the hell this pig had been doing throughout its life (perhaps strumming a celestial harp on a cloud?) or how the kitchen had coaxed such extraordinary flavour out of the meat (fairy dust???) but it was amazing. Amazing. I will never eat a piece of pork again without thinking, a little sadly, it’s not the angel-fairy pig that I had at Dinner. On the other side of the table, the powdered duck (no, we couldn’t work out what the powdered bit referred to) was not provoking similar raptures. I mean it was fine, it tasted good and gamey. The accompanying pomme puree had more butter in it than pommes, which is always a good thing, but it was not…special enough.

Best.  Pork.  Ever.
We moved onto puddings and the two Ds went for the dish which is apparently becoming a bit of a Dinner signature – the roasted pineapple with tipsy cake. It was good – cake and cream and brandy cannot fail but to be good. The two girls, on the other hand, went for a dessert called a Chocolate Bar (I think I’ve mentioned my feelings on desserts before; if it isn’t chocolatey then I am generally a little disappointed, no matter how lovely it is). Which was scrummy – accompanied by a tangy layer of passion fruit (chocolate and passion fruit – a revelatory combination for me and one I must experiment with at home) and a scoop of ginger ice cream which worked very well, bringing a spicy note to the dish. No best evers in this course though. Nice puddings, great puddings in fact, but they didn’t reach the lofty bar set by some of their savoury compatriots. I was rather impressed by a complimentary little post dessert though – a white chocolate and Earl Grey ganache with a caraway biscuit. Again, a very interesting new chocolate/flavour combination which made me wonder about experimenting with some sort of white chocolate studded tea loaf.

So, great food including three best evers, friendly staff, good location – what’s the final verdict?  I actually think I liked it more than the others.  My brother said (while leaning back sipping his dessert wine – if he had a moustache he probably would have been twiddling it) that he didn’t feel that he had been taken on a “journey”.  I told him he was a pompous git, but I kind of get what he means.  Because the menu takes dishes from a variety of eras it overall lacks a little cohesion and, to be brutally honest, some of the dishes are a little humdrum (sometimes there is a reason as to why a dish has gone out of fashion).  Others are superlative.  But when you’re paying that sort of money for a meal you expect consistency.  Overall, it’s a solid seven. 


  1. Oh my good lord - you should be a food writer. That properly made me giggle with delight (pigs on celestial clouds etc) and you have a beautiful way with descriptive words.

    That pudding also sounds gorgeous - I love ginger, and should think it works beautfully with the heat of the ginger. My friend did an earl grey tea loaf with veins of dark chocolate in a little while ago, and I can honestly say it was one of the most delicious loaf cakes I've ever had the fortune to taste - find a recipe and try it - it's a revelation!

  2. i feel like i was there with you....what an amazing treat! looked like a decent sized risotto for a starter...siiigh i do love a risotto...also...i use pointed cabbage (sweetheart cabbage) instead of regular white or green cabbage...the leaves are more tender and the taste sometimes milder (white cabbage can be pretty strong). Looks like a great meal out! yum yum

  3. I really want a pig strumming a celestial harp now...what a great addition to the household that would be! Would certainly put some pressure on the dogs to up their game!!!

    I really enjoyed that review. Talk about eating vicariously...and all calorie free!!

    Lesley xx

  4. Did you feel all the faffing added anything? It sounds like the food was good enough to speak for itself without adding the things like forming your pate into an orange. Pointy cabbage though? I know exactly what he means.


  5. Starfish - chocolate tea loaf is definitely going on my to do list!

    Victoria - ah, now sweetheart cabbage I have heard of. Thanks for that. Will have to look for some - you are right, the flavour was milder than normal and it had a beautiful texture.

    Lesley - I want an angel pig too!

    Peridot - I actually quite like the faffing, for me it is one of the reasons you eat out, to have something that you couldn't (or wouldn't) reproduce at home. But you're right, the quality of the ingredients here, particularly that pork, was such that they needed very little doing to them to make them sing.


  6. Loved this review. I've only just found this site, and was very interested on your opinions as my boyfriend and I went to Dinner in December 2011. He also had the meat fruit which looked amazing, I had smoked mackerel which was delicious. I was a bit boring and had fillet steak but my god, best I've ever had even now, and I'm a steakaholic!! My boyfirned had hallibut which is his favourte fish anyway, and he couldn't get enough. We were particularly impressed with the cheese board selection - we were introduced to 20 cheeses individually based on origin, taste and texture, then got to choose which we wanted on our board!
    That doubled with a direct view into the 'fishbowl' kitchen and we were both in heaven.

    1. Thank you for visiting! I don't think we had the cheese which was obviously something of an oversight but it sounds gorgeous. I'd love to go back (quite fancy giving that amazing steak a whirl as well) but the trouble is there are so many new restuarants to try...