Thursday, February 10, 2011

Jumping on the Dinner Bandwagon

I know, I know... Dinner, Dinner, Dinner, that's the most talked about restaurant of late, at least in London. And by luck, when I clicked on the reservations website to bookmark it, it was live....two hours before the designated booking start! So by pure dumb luck, we got in on our anniversary during the second week of service. On the booking form was a space marked special requests. I wrote in "Anniversary", not expecting anything. However, the staff were very thoughtful and wished me a Happy Anniversary when calling the day before to reconfirm the room. I had also left instructions that lunch was to take no longer than 2.5 hours as we had a show to go to in the afternoon.

When we got to the Mandarin Oriental, we followed the sign for 'Restaurants' and saw one but with no signage and just an illuminated pear, we retreated to enquire at concierge, only to be told that was Dinner. We were shown into the bar to await our table. We leafed through the extensive menu, ordered drinks, then settled down only to have an insanely piercing alarm go off. The alarm went on for a good few minutes and I was the only one who was half out of my chair in alarm, everyone else carried on with their cocktails. Sadly even after the alarm went silent (it was a test), we still didn't have our drinks, which we still hadn't received even after being seated at the table.

As soon as were sat down and before our drinks had arrived and before I had even had time to glance at the menu, our waiter arrived. He asked what we thought about the place, the decor, whether we had read the reviews and then told us what to look at, what to notice, where the private function room was and pointed out the Ebel clockwork powered rotating spit and the chef's table. All in all, it was a bit much. He also mentioned that they had rave reviews and a lot to maintain. In reality, I read a few raves but many mixed reviews but what could one say in face of all this? The boy pointed out that Heston was sitting at the table behind us and I got so excited I switched seats. Yes I admit I'm sad but I don't give a shit. Then after all this, asked us if we wanted drinks. I pointed out that we had ordered drinks at the bar. He then *finally* withdrew for us to look at the menus when someone else came by, asked about drinks yet again and then explained some of the menu items. Particularly the tipsy cake, which he said took 35 mins time in order to continually baste the brioche with a rum concoction and roast the pineapple.

We then ordered, greedily ordering the set lunch menu (£28) in addition to two starters, a main and two desserts. Yup, we ordered enough for 3 people. That's how we roll.

The starters all arrived at about the same time, I had the Ragoo of Pig's Ears (anchovy, onions and parsley) as part of the lunch set menu. I was curious about how Heston would cook the pig's ears, which I quite like as a cold starter, cut into thin strips and marinated so I get the jellyish crunch if that makes sense. Heston served his on a piece of grilled bread...burnt grilled bread to be exact... in fact, we smelled something burnt when it arrived but we thought it might be the slightly burnt grill marks on the bread which came with another starter. But when I took a bite, I could only taste the bitter acrid taste of burn bread. It was really really awful. I had to have a few sips of juice and eat something else to rid my mouth of the taste. I very rarely send stuff back but I sent this back. It was ruined. They graciously took it back to the kitchen and we started on the Meat Fruit.

The Meat Fruit is one of the most famous dishes already and comprised of mandarin, chicken liver parfait shaped like a mandarin orange. I had read raves about it looking incredibly lifelike. I also saw the episode of Heston's Feasts where guests were able to pick it up and bite straight into it. Having incredibly high expectations (have you seen the pics of Fat Duck?!), I really thought I would be wowed. It was nice. It was a bit deflated looking and not as lifelike as marzipan but pretty and tasted nice...not on the burnt grilled bread but on the sourdough bread they provided for the table. It was good but not outstanding.

The Ragoo returned, on a very lightly grilled bread, the waiter told us. The pig's ears had been cut into strips and cooked in what I think might be a braise as it was very tender. Even the inner cartilage bit was quite soft to the bite. It was salty, sticky and quite nice but very sweet. I kept thinking it needed a hit of acid as it was just a bit too salty sweet.

The last starter was Rice and Flesh (saffron, calf tail & red wine). An exotic name but was not as impressive. Perfectly cooked saffron rice with tiny nubs of calf's tail braised with what tasted like a similar sauce to the Ragoo. Very tender and tasty but I was a bit disappointed. I love ox tail and I thought this would be similar but maybe more tender and different but it was such a small piece that there was very little chew so not anything distinguishing. Again, I thought this dish could have been enlivened with a bit of lemon or something to bring out the flavour a bit more.

Moving on to the mains, I had Roast Quail with smoked parsnips and thyme which was part of the set lunch. It was beautifully cooked, pink inside and very very tender. The parsnips were nice and perfectly cooked but I thought that the mashed parsnips were a bit too much of the same thing.

The boy had Beef Royal, 72 hour slow cooked short rib of Angus (sous vide), smoked anchovy and onion puree and ox tongue. He loved it! Barely wanted to give me a taste. It was very very tender and the sauce was very nice, rich, sticky and tasty. This is the second time I've had sous vide beef short rib in as many weeks and I have to say, I don't think I'm a fan. Something about the texture of the meat makes it a bit ... plasticky to me. I don't know what it is but it just doesn't appeal to me. The boy enjoyed every bit of it and I had to steal a cube of ox tongue off his plate when he wasn't looking. It was very good but made me want a huge piece of ox tongue!

Halfway through my dinner, I asked for a glass of coke. Ten mins later when it still hadn't arrived and I was feeling extremely thirsty, I asked the waiter whether it had been ordered. He assured me the bar had the order. Another 15 mins passed before my coke arrived. 25 mins. For coke. Out of a bottle he poured at the table. Really!? The restaurant was busy but when I reminded the waiter, I would have thought he would have gone to rush it or even get it himself. Especially since he hovered around the tables a lot despite having other staff supporting his tables. I did notice, much to my dismay, that tables which ordered wine got their orders much quicker, although it may be because they were served by the sommelier rather than the bar.

Moving onto desserts, we had the Tipsy Cake, which was served in a petit Staub pot divided into 6 segments. It was very good, soft, custardy and rummy. Actually it reminded me a lot of a very good Baba au Rhum. Alongside it was a long wedge of the roasted pineapple. It was good. It just didn't blow me away. Roasted pineapple, which they made a huge deal about didn't thrill me. I've had my fill at churrascarias before, where they come around to the table and carve you these lovely wedges of warm, just charred roasted pineapple and squeeze a wedge of lime all over before you tuck in. It was good, it just didn't feel 'new' or exciting.

Then my most anticipated dessert, the Brown Bread Ice Cream. I had fallen in love with the brown bread ice cream I had a few years ago at Betty's Tea House in York and was very much looking forward to it. Upon first bite, I was surprised to find that it was not sweet but mildly salty. Truth be told, I hated the first bite. Then as the flavours developed a bit, it was fascinating. Yeast extract was drizzled over the top of the ice cream and it was mildly bitter, malty and yeasty with a crunch or crumb texture around the bottom layer of crunchy praline cracker. Even after ingesting a good third of it, I couldn't decide if I liked it... But at the same time, it was the most interesting dish I'd had as it was unusual and different.

The last dessert was one I almost didn't order. It came with the set menu and was the Orange Buttered Loaf (mandarin and thyme sorbet). It was delicious! Described by the waiter as a take on Millionaire's shortbread, it was nothing of the sort. Crisp caramelized praline encasing thin bittersweet citrus custard, it was the most delicious take on french toast. It was lovely and really refreshing at the same time. Bar one bite given to the boy, I finished the lot.

They gave us a lovely table due to it being our anniversary and served us a complementary finishing dessert of white chocolate earl grey ganache, with cardamon shortbread. When it was first served to us, we were exchanged glances. We share a hatred of white chocolate and shortbread. However, it was very well done and couldn't taste the white chocolate and the shortbread was really nice, light and fragrant.

So, after that epic review and if you're still with me, here are my thoughts. It was good, not great, not new and not as exciting. I like that they took a lot of inspiration from historical recipes and reinterpreted them but I felt a bit let down. The names of the dishes sounded exciting, primal and exotic. The food was of a high standard but nothing exciting. The service was a bit patchy but overall very friendly. The prices were reasonable and the service charge was 10%. We did tip extra as we appreciated the efforts made by our waitstaff... especially as he asked Heston if he would come say hello to take a picture with me! I'd post the picture except I look crazy and Heston looks scared....

I liked it but I think my problem was I went in remembering the new and exciting new flavours from Fat Duck. I'd definitely go back and I think I'll enjoy it more keeping in mind that it is not supposed to be exciting and new, just tasty and enjoyable. The boy went in just expecting a high end hotel restaurant and was a lot more satisfied than I was. In fact, his comment at the end of it was that he could go through the whole meal again...immediately!

PS. Anyone know an easier way to put in pictures and make the font stay the same fricking size?????


dimsumdolly said...

Congrats on your anniversary Sui Mai! I must say I like the look of that chicken liver kawaii...too bad it didn't live up to your expectations.

Brown bread ice cream sounds really interesting. I'll have to try that if I ever get a chance to!

Anyway, hope little Izzy has been well! Is she now as wai sik as her mummy and daddy? ;p

Jane - Kitchen Stools Direct said...

Well-written review of this rather popular restaurant. Totally agree with you about the uniqueness of their Brown Bread Ice Cream, but I actually ordered it again the next time I dined there. Will check out York's Betty cafe too, have read a lot of good things about it. Thanks for that tip.

Medifast Coupon said...

Wow now that is a review. Good job, love the pictures, made it worth the read because you helped me feel like I was sitting with you.
I think I will avoid them, doesn't seem worth it all that you went through.