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|Address:||Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA|
|Tel:||020 7201 3833|
|Price: £74.00||Wine: £35.00||Champagne: £75.00|
|Opening Hours:||Mon-Sun 12N-2.30pm 6.30-10.30pm|
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For those of you who have spent the last year only eating in MacDonalds, or who don't care a fig for fine dining, bald headed culinary Wonka Heston Blumenthal (he of the snail porridge and ‘food as theatre’ TV programmes) has just opened a new restaurant called Dinner on the most expensive street corner in Western Europe. Restaurateurs. Don't. Get. Any. More. Exciting. Than. Him.
The room is fairly generic opulent hotel resto chic. Neutral beige palate, expensive fixtures and a proliferation of arseholes in suits. It is the dining room of the Mandarin Oriental, one of London's most expensive hotels, after all. That being said, there are moments of zany Heston-ism scattered around; jelly moulds act as light fittings, the back bar is lit with gummi coloured bottles of booze and serried ranks of pineapples roast on a spit powered by the largest Swiss watch you'll ever see (I'll come back to those…).
It ain't another Fat Duck. Neither is it just a posh food pit for fat cats to roll around in. It's somewhere between the two, but mostly just a five star hotel restaurant. It's less complex than you'd expect. There's no nine course set tasting menu here (no tasting menu at all, unless you're in the Chef's Table overlooking the pass), just three simple courses, each with 8 or 10 options. Recipes aren't beset with foams and gels and carnival flourish, but are taken from the annals of British food history, the grand dishes served to our forefathers (or at least the forefathers belonging to the monied arseholes in suits).
As you'd expect, the prices are challenging in places, challenging to those not on expense account dining certainly. While there are a number of wines in the 28 page list below £100, the vast bulk of the list is pitched above this point (some considerably so), that being said, we found a very pleasant Fleurie at £45. More surprising is a three course lunch set menu at a very reasonable £28. I go for this while my guest plumps for the a la carte option. I've seen one too many reviews not to have heard of the Meat Fruit, a chicken liver parfait coated in mandarin gel, shaped and textured like a little mandarin. We add one of those to the table too, with the current waiting list at 6 months it's going to be a while before I'm back to try it again. My Ragoo of Pigs Ears is a real star. It's been braised for hours with sweet onion and parsley and the cartilage is sweet and soft, an intensely concentrated meaty kick. My guest goes for the Salamagundy, a perfectly constructed and flavoursome hot salad of chicken oysters, bone marrow and a light horseradish cream. If anything it's a little soft and texturally lacking, but that's not much to lay against it. And the Meat Fruit? It's a ball of chicken liver parfait. Strangely tasteless without the char of the sourdough. I don't think I saw a single table go without one though.
The Roast Quail from the set menu was another flavour triumph for my cheaper menu choice. The turnips served with it were subtly smoked and then roasted, just the sort of thing you hope for from Heston. Soft game breast worked well barely cooked, though the just cooked meat was remarkably difficult to separate from the tiny quail legs. The 72 hour slow roast rib of angus beef managed to arouse high passion on arrival, a thick lozenge of dark meat, served with a thick jus, cubes of ox tongue and baby veg. It was good, but certainly not brilliant. The meat had the texture of a hunk of salt beef, and was relatively one dimensional in its flavour. Definitely one that didn't live up to my hype.
That being said, we finished on a storming note, with the Tipsy Cake. A baked brioche, crystal studded with sugar, cooked in cream, Sauternes and brandy. It came served with a slice of the pineapple from earlier mentioned spit roast and my rapidly expiring heart. Pudding perfection from 1810; no wonder they had a life expectancy of less than 45 back then.