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Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

December 28, 2015

This year, my husband and I went through a couple of different itineraries trying to decide on our big trip of the year.  We started on one continent and plans for 1 week away over Thanksgiving.  But, in the end, those plans changed and we ended up on a totally different continent and a 10-day trip.  We’re off to Europe this year with an itinerary that includes 4 countries, all 4 of which my husband has never been to and 2 of which I’ve never been too.  Our trip started with a flight from Los Angeles to Boston then Boston to London.  We’d be spending a very quick 24 hours in London as a starting off point for our European vacation.  With little added money, we realized that we could add London to the front end of our trip without taking that much more time while doing a blitz of the city.  Twenty-four hours of traveling with very little sleep mixed in there, our 1-day blitz of London was a whirlwind, with the highlight being a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament.  While we first thought we’d wing it with fish n’ chips or something equally as British for our meal while in London we discovered that there was actually a very famous, world-renowned restaurant located just across the street from our hotel at the Madarin Oriental.  We just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to dine there.

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Recently ranked the No. 7 Best Restaurant in the World, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, located inside the Mandarin Oriental, is the brainchild of famed chef Heston Blumenthal of Fat Duck fame.  Dinner, whose definition is “the main meal of the day, taken either around midday or in the evening,” is the name of the restaurant that celebrates the history of traditional British cuisine.  The restaurant menu focuses on taking old-school British dishes from the 13th-19th century and remaking it in today’s day and age with modern ingredients and modern cooking techniques.  As described by Heston Blumenthal himself, “It is never easy naming a restaurant.  On this occasion, I wanted something that represented our menu that is inspired by historic British gastronomy, so I searched for a name that had a bit of history, but was also fun.  In the past, the main meal – dinner – was eaten at midday, before it got too dark.  But affordable candles and, later, gaslight saw dinner shift.  By the mid-1800s people were dining later.  People working in the cities were taking ‘lunch’ to work and having their meal at 5:00 pm when they got home, while in rural areas the main meal was still taken at midday.  Even today, depending on where you are in the British Isles, ‘dinner’ might be served at lunchtime, suppertime or, indeed, dinnertime.  This made ‘Dinner’ the natural choice for its typically British quirky history and linguistic playfulness.  If nothing else, I hope it’s easy to remember.”

When you’re presented with the menu upon sitting down at the table, you notice right away that the menu not only has the name of a dish, most likely a dish you’ve never heard of, but it also tells you an approximate date, or time period, in which this particular dish was made famous or became known.  On the backside of the menu, when the history of the dish is known, you’re given an explanation as to where the original recipe for the dish can be found, or from what source the recipe was acquired.  So, it’s like a little bit of British history with your dinner.

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Before we were seated at our table, we spent a few minutes waiting at the restaurant’s bar where my husband decided to order his go-to drink of an Old Fashioned with rye whiskey.  The drink had a very distinctive citrus aroma which had to have come from the orange peel placed on top of the drink.  But something tells me that the wonderful scents coming from the drink must have been due to the orange peel having been heated with a lighter prior to being placed in the cup in order to release the natural orange oils.  My husband said that the drink was really good and tasty and that the bartender didn’t skimp on the alcohol at all as it was strong.

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We started our meal off with a couple of appetizers.  My choice for a starter was a dish called the buttered crab loaf.  According to the menu the dish is from circa 1710 and comes from a book called “A Collection of Above Three Hundred Recipes In Cookery by Mary Kettilby.”  The menu says that the buttered crab loaf is made with crab, cucumber, pickled lemon, golden trout roe and rock samphire, it makes this very complicated dish sound so simple, when it wasn’t at all.  The buttered loaf, looked like a grilled and toasted loaf of bread, when in actuality it really was terrific crab meat shipped into a loaf and grilled.  The best description of it would be like a fancy crab cake, but that description doesn’t do it justice since the dish was so much more than that. On top of the loaf there was a crab salad with rock samphire, a type of plant, and topped with golden trout roe.  And to the side was a cucumber ketchup, a sort of sauce, meant to tie everything together.  The loaf itself was so wonderfully grilled and toasted that it almost felt like you were cutting into a crunchy airy bread loaf.  How they achieved the texture they did was amazing.  The flavors of the crab salad were fresh and tangy with the pickled lemon.  The salty, briny flavor of the golden trout roe cut right through the sweetness of the crab and was a terrific compliment.  The cucumber ketchup was different but somehow did tie everything together into one cohesive dish.  The crab was so fresh and so plentiful it was delightful.  Such an interesting and simple, yet complex, dish all at once.

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My husband ordered for an appetizer one of Dinner’s most well-known and highly acclaimed dishes, the Meat Fruit.  This dish is from around the 1500s, though no description is provided as to the history of the dish itself.  So why is it called meat fruit, and is it meat or is it fruit?  Well, the dish is chicken liver parfait shaped in a round ball and covered in gelatin dyed a mandarin orange color.  The ball is then molded to resemble that of an actual mandarin orange and a stem with some leaves is stuck in the top of the ball.  The dish is served exactly in this form along side some grilled bread.  This makes it look like you’re being presented with a mandarin orange on a carving board.  It looks like an orange, it even is scented to give off the smell of a mandarin orange.  You’d be the none the wiser as to what it actually is.

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It’s not until you take the butter knife provided and cut into the orange that you discover that it is not a mandarin orange, or any fruit, at all, but in reality is chicken liver parfait.  This is where the “meat” in the name Meat Fruit comes from.  Take some of the chicken liver parfait and spread it out over the grilled bread and enjoy.  I told my husband that this whole dish was all his as I am not a chicken liver anything kind of person.  Meat yes, I love it.  The stuff that comes from inside an animal, no thank you.  My husband cut into the “mandarin orange” and took a taste and his eyes lit up.  He told me that the chicken liver parfait was out of this world.  After having eaten about half of it, he told me I should give it a try because I might like it.  Now, I generally would never eat anything like this, but for the most part, my husband has never steered me wrong as he knows what I like and what I don’t like, so I agreed to have just one bite.  Um, surprisingly, it wasn’t as terrible as I imagined it would be.  It was actually ok, a little tasty.  It was extremely rich and decadent.  Something that you just can’t have too much of.  The chicken liver parfait was smooth and creamy and extremely flavorful.  If I was someone who liked chicken liver, I’d imagine that this was some of the best that you could find.

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For my meal, I went with the safe choice of the Hereford ribeye served with mushroom ketchup and fries.  The recipe comes from 1830out of The Cook and Housewife’s Manual by Mistress Meg Dodds.  The ribeye was incredibly rich and flavorful and cooked to perfection.  Not only did the ribeye come with sides of fires and mushroom ketchup, there was a dollop of marrow butter on top which added a great deal of richness and a whole lot of flavor.  I usually find ribeye cuts to be too large and to fatty for me, but this one was really tender and really didn’t have too much fat at all, which was great because you could just enjoy the meat.

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My husband didn’t go with the safe choice at all and chose Powdered Duck Breast from 1670.  The recipe is out The Queen Like Closet or Rich Cabinet by Hannah Woolley.  The dish is served with smoked confit fennel, spiced blood pudding and umbles.  The waitress explained to us that umbles are duck heart coated in bread crumbs and lightly deep fried for some crunch.  That didn’t sound at all like anything I’d eat, but my husband thought it would be fun to have a dish with duck breast, duck heart and blood pudding.  Surprisingly, he loved it all.  He tried the umbles first which he thought was really flavorful and he really liked the blood pudding as he thought that was incredibly rich.  The duck breast itself was perfectly grilled and in my husband’s words, “awesome.”  He’s always been a big fan of duck, and he thought this was one of the best duck dishes he’d ever had and he was really glad that he tried this dish, even with the duck heart and the blood pudding.

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My husband isn’t a big fan of after dinner drinks, but I like getting a cup of coffee when I can to go with my dessert.  In this case, a latte for me with some beautiful milk art.  Just a little added bonus.

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I chose the Chocolate Bar from 1730 for my dessert.  Created by using the recipe inspired by The Complete Practical Cook by Charles Carter, the chocolate bar contains passion fruit jam and ginger ice cream.  The ginger ice cream sat atop a bed of cocoa nibs and was perfect.  The ice cream was mild and light.  It was only slightly sweet and it had a really subtle ginger flavor, so it didn’t have that in-your-face bite, but that actually worked as it paired better with the chocolate bar this way.  I think that the ginger ice cream was actually my favorite part of the dessert.  The chocolate bar wasn’t too sweet, which was perfect, and it had a hint of tang to it from the passion fruit jam.  You could definitely taste the thin layer of jam at the bottom of the bar and the flavors of the passion fruit paired really well with the chocolate.  I loved all the subtle flavors and different nuances of this dessert.  This was perhaps my favorite dish of the night, but that’s not surprising since I have such a sweet tooth.

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On the other hand, my husband ordered the restaurant’s signature dessert, the tipsy cake from 1810.  Introduced in The English Cookery Book by J.H. Walsh, the dessert features warm brioche bread in a cast iron pan drowning in rum, hence the name tipsy cake, served alongside a spit roast pineapple.  Since I don’t drink, I obviously wasn’t going to order this dessert, but my husband was all for it.  The spit roast pineapple was amazing, hands down.  My husband asked me to try it since it wasn’t soaked in alcohol, and all I can say is that it is unlike any other pineapple I’ve ever had.  It’s spit roast whole (after having been peeled) the same way you would spit roast a pig or rotisserie a chicken.  The spit roasting creates a terrific caramelization on the pineapple using the natural juices of the fruit.  The dessert comes with a quarter section of the spit-roasted pineapple and it is just incredible.  The flavors of the fruit that’s been cooked and caramelized is just unbelievable.  My husband said that the tipsy cake itself was fabulous as the rum is soaked into the bread and because rum is so sugary, it adds an element of sweetness to the bread itself which goes well with the pineapple.  Overall, my husband thought this was a fantastic dessert.

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But our meal wasn’t done yet, compliments of the chef, we were each given a little shot of dark chocolate ganache infused with Earl Grey tea and served with a caraway bar.  As my husband isn’t a fan of caraway seeds at all, in fact, they are one of the few items he actually despises, he just had the ganache without the bar.  It was absolutely delicious.  I think we were both full by this time, but this little added dessert hit was worth it.  The dark chocolate ganache was rich and flavorful with just the hint of Earl Grey tea flavor infused throughout it.  A little ganache goes a long way and it was a positive note on which to end this incredible meal.

For my husband, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal lived up to its reputation.  The meal, in his words, was “perfect.”  He thought that everything he ordered was rich, over-the-top, but excellent.  He enjoyed the creativity of the meal, and liked the fact that the meal was based on historical British dishes that just aren’t served any more.  It’s a little bit of the past in the present.  For me, I enjoyed the meal, but I’m not sure that it was what I would call the 6th best restaurant in the world.  But that is more a reflection of the fact that I like traditional food and am not that adventurous in my eating.  Dinner is definitely the type of restaurant where you need to have an adventurous palate in order to be able to take advantage of all of the amazing flavors that the restaurant develops.  This is a trait that my husband is much better at than I am, so it’s natural that he would appreciate the restaurant much more than I would.  I was just proud of myself for stepping outside my comfort zone and trying something (chicken liver) that I never would have considered before.

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