For a birthday treat we took a trip to London to experience Dinner by Heston in the Mandarin Hotel. We’re in London fairly infrequently, despite having lived here previously. This has been on my to do list for a while as the historical recipes do intrigue me, plus after we had booked it was swiftly announced as the 7th best restaurant in the world!
Based in Knightsbridge, it’s in a fairly high end part of town. The Mandarin Hotel itself is ornate, grand and full of glamour without being tacky. It was a classic muggy evening in London and we just wanted to be somewhere cool and light, of which there are not a lot of these kinds of corners in the hotel!
On arrival it was obvious that this was a seamless and slick operation. We started with cocktails in the bar. Seats were found for us in seconds, as were menus. The cocktails themselves were swiftly made and brought over before we had time to take breath. Had this been a cocktail bar in Leeds I daresay we would have fought for a seat for a while before deciding whether to stay or not, and the bar would take hours to get to you and make your drink! This was certainly not the case here. At £16 a cocktail these were not cheap but the list was fairly intriguing. I went for a bon vivant, which was a very grown up cocktail. Smoked vermouth and aged amontillado sherry gave the tobacco and leathery tones that I love in a drink. It came with a little skewer of stilton cheese dunked in it, which sounds odd but was a wonderful savoury pairing. Susie had a pretty little green concoction made with Japanese tea infused gin and matcha tea. Set in a bamboo steamer it had all the pomp and ceremony injected into it with the obligatory dry ice display! Plus the drink was tasty too! To accompany drinks we nibbled on nuts, seeds and berries anointed with truffle oil, moreish to say the least!
As soon as we had finished our drinks we were whisked away to the dining room. The main dining room is quite dark, however there is a corridor bit which lies next to the kitchen and which looks out on to Hyde Park. Luckily this was where we were sat, I may have found the dark area far too claustrophobic. We’d already dissected the menu on the train down and were fairly confident of our choices. The menu was a pretty little concertina with dishes on one side and stories of their historical origin on the other. For starters most of us went for the house dish of meat fruit. This was an amazingly realistic mandarin orange set atop a board with grilled sourdough bread. The orange was in fact a sphere of light and fluffy chicken liver parfait set inside a gel of mandarin orange. This was a taste sensation, light yet rich and nicely offset by the tangy gel. It was, however, a massive portion for one, but we wolfed it down. Our dining partner went for the salagamundy which had wonderful spicy aromas and woody bitter flavours from the salsify, marrowbone and horseradish – she was very happy! We noted that to supply the chicken oysters for this one dish alone would have required 2-3 chickens, so we’re not sure where the rest of the chicken goes!
Mains wise I hope we weren’t too boring but most of us went for the ribeye beef to share. This was a huge piece of Hereford beef, cooked medium and served with fries and mushroom ketchup. If I’m honest, the beef was nice but I’ve had better. The fries were well seasoned but nothing spectacular. The mushroom ketchup was the star of the dish, sweet and umami at the same time. A side of cabbage was stingy but again well-seasoned. Susie went for the Iberico pork chop. This was the thickest pork chop we’ve ever seen! She had a side of filthy mash with it, full of butter. It was creamy and comforting and I could have eaten just a bowl of that! She looked broken by the end due to there being so much food. As an aside, it’s worth noting that despite the prices and the Michelin stars, the portions are huge – you will not go hungry!
Only half of us went for dessert. The others looked crestfallen at having to turn it down, but they simply had no room after our meat fest! I went for the brown bread ice cream. This was a beautiful little quenelle of sour tasting ice cream. It came atop a massive wedge of salted butter caramel. Eaten all together, as advised by the waiter, this was stunning, if a little rich. I had to leave a lot of caramel once the ice cream had gone, plus I was reaching breaking point too! The best dessert I think was the marmalade pudding. This was a pretty little set cream made in a fun vintage jelly mould. It came spiked with bitter and sour elements from Campari and orange pieces. It was extremely tasty and refreshing and is what I would pick next time I’m dining there.
Wines are particularly eye watering. Ranging from £35 to £4550! Majority are priced at the top end but we managed to select a very good Muscadet at £35 and a Beaujolais at £45 and this was more than enough to keep us watered throughout. The waiting staff were not snooty about us preferring tap water and they kept our glasses well filled.
Just as we thought we were fit to burst a secret course was brought out in honour of my birthday. I thought some of us were going to break down in tears at the thought of eating another morsel!! However this was a dainty little pot of earl grey infused chocolate ganache with a fine shortbread biscuit. This was beautifully floral and surprisingly refreshing but definitely the last thing I was going to eat that night!
The bill came in at about £110 a head, which given the high profile of the restaurant and its namesake I was pleasantly surprised. We paid a similar amount at Man Behind the Curtain (which was a completely different experience) and left a bit hungry! It did get me thinking though about what I want from a meal. And I think thesedays I’m more about trying lots of different flavours, textures and experiences in food, rather than just going to be filled up. There were some fantastic flavours in this meal, but perhaps not enough to get me really excited – that’s probably my fault for going for the beef! Having said that, if I can get a table, I would definitely return, but I would pick some different things from the menu.