Dinner by Heston Blumenthal must be one of the most successful restaurants in the world at this point in time. There was so much demand for tables that the restaurant closed its reservations office for a few months, with the next available dates being months away. How come this 120-seat venture is already such a hit with in London just a few months after opening?
First of all, it has to do with Heston Blumenthal and his personality. Unlike Gordon Ramsay, he has been playing a more quiet and unpretentious role over the past years. His TV appearances have always focused on cooking and the food itself, rather than the person doing it, and he has taken up none of the airs of the aforementioned man. Another point would be the slow growth of his “empire” or duchy, as it did not stretch too far from his flagship, the Fat Duck in Bray. Right now he controls only a handful of mostly modest pubs, apart from the Fat Duck, which looks very human compared to the megalomanic division of eateries that Ramsay has opened. All those points made him one of the most respected and liked chefs in Britain and the world, which meant that expectations were sky-high at the opening of Dinner.
A second reason might be the successful PR campaign that preceded the opening. Apart from having people call for reservations a good year before its actual opening, Dinner has been one of the very few restaurants in London that received glorious reviews from a large number of print journalists. These usually tend to destroy any serious restaurant opening (although mostly, if it is run by a French chef). This certainly helped in filling the reservation books.
However, all of this wouldn’t last long, would the restaurant experience the diner gets not be up to it. In this case it certainly is, at least in most points. The room has been vastly improved from the old Foliage. It is spacious, sports stunning views on Hyde Park, has an open kitchen where you can see a spit roast on which pine apples are caramelised,… Yet, at the same time, it is as unpretentious a room as you could imagine in such an establishment.
Another strong point of the place is the food. The dishes are efficient, simple and mostly very tasty. Stylistically they seem very close to what is being served in Bray, and are not far away from that standard in terms of precision either. However, the preparations at Dinner are more simple, as most dishes show. It is great to see someone draw so much inspiration from the UK’s culinary culture, which is usually said to be inexistent. Thus, Heston has to be applauded if only for this point. But, fortunately it doesn’t stop with the ideas.
When you have the infamous meat fruit in front of you, you’ll have a hard time not enjoying it. There is a great balance between the beautifully flavourful liver-paté and the slightly tart and sweet mandarin “skin”. It is a dish that could not be simpler, and is served in a refreshingly clever way.
Another great example of the cooking here would be a risotto with braised calve’s tail. It is perfectly cooked, full of flavour and a technically perfect rendition of a glorious classic (be it an Italian one some would say). Even the desserts are great. Be it the brown bread ice cream, or the tipsy cake you’ll have a great time finishing your meal here.
Despite such perfect cooking, there is one point, which is still lacking: The product quality. Whilst dishes such as the risotto, meat fruit or the desserts don’t make this problem stand out, others do. Take the scallops with cucumber ketchup. They are of pretty mediocre quality and cut into very small pieces. The accompanying grilled cucumber is watery and a little uninspiring, making this one of the weaker dishes on the menu. Similarly a salmagundy lacks flavour and vegetables that make it stand out. Whereas the Sportsman serves a beautiful version of this salad, here it is a little disappointing.
The other weakness is the service. At times it is still unpolished and a little chaotic. Whilst not being unfriendly, you are constantly being asked if you don’t want another glass or bottle from the cripplingly expensive wine list. That makes the overall experience a little less enjoyable.
That being said, Dinner is a great addition to London’s restaurant scene. It brings to the city the kind of weird combination of avant-gardistic technique and classic flavours that make Heston’s food so interesting. Apart from the slight issue with the product quality and the unstable service, there is a lot to like about this place indeed. So, one can understand if the tables are so much in demand.