Restaurant rankings are a funny old game – it’s a bit like scoring artwork: terribly subjective and prone to fads, trends and conservatism. While in America systems like Zagat and their own ‘star’ system reign supreme and in the UK AA rosettes are a good indication – anywhere in the world Michelin and the ‘World’s 50 Best Restaurants’ are the gold standard.
Michelin has a reputation for being a little stuffy, a little conservative – it rewards the fine dining and reverence of tradition, though more recent additions – like the Hand and Flowers – are challenging this view. Anonymous inspectors visit restaurants several times over a period of months before meeting to agree a score.
The ‘World’s 50 Best’ or San Pellegrino rankings, is a little more relaxed – it rewards innovation and dining experience in the broadest sense. It’s voted for by a panel of some 900 respected food industry types and is updated yearly at a glamorous awards ceremony.
Only a few restaurants manage to make it onto both lists – delighting that diverse group is very difficult. I’ve been to Momofuku Ssam Bar, which was, at the time, number 37 on the list. That was a great experience – but nothing compared to this evening when I visited No. 7.
Dinner by Heston Blumental – Seventh Best Restaurant in the World, One Michelin Star
I’m a huge fan of Heston – I love his lack of traditional training, his attention to detail and his pursuit of scientific solutions to cooking problems. Dinner is his first major restaurant outside of the Fat Duck and is run by Ashley Palmer-Watts, who was instrumental to the Fat Duck gaining it’s third star and topping the San Pellegrino rankings. It does something very unique – celebrating Britain’s culinary heritage while using the latest techniques. Tradition and Cutting Edge in perfect harmony.
Situated in the opulent Mandarin Oriental hotel in Knightsbridge – the dining room is gorgeous. The kitchen has glass walls and is visible from almost anywhere in the room, which I really like! Light fittings made from antique jelly moulds provide a quirky aspect and hint that this isn’t your usual stuffy fine dining establishment.
This is one of their signature dishes – a medieval centrepiece disguising one food as another. The mandarin is in fact a delicious foie gras and chicken liver parfait, served with some excellent toasted brioche. The flavours blend beautifully – rich creamy foie gras, fragrant liver and just a gentle hint of alcohol cutting through the richness, all lifted by the sharp mandarin jelly-peel. I was delighted when the waiter spotted i’d almost demolished the brioche and still had half the parfait left – he promptly signalled the kitchen and a second slice appeared as if by magic. Excellent service.
Earl Grey Tea cured Salmon
I’m not a big fan of Earl Grey in it’s own right – I find the bergamot a little astringent, but this was delicious. The rich smooth salmon seemed to soak up the flavours of the tea, little bursts of relish and smoked roe added contrast and the sorrel was perfect – unusual and fresh.
Black Foot Pork Chop
I don’t normally order pork in restaurants – it’s easy to screw up and can be terribly bland. This has got to be the best pork i’ve ever eaten – cooked sous vide and just medium it was moist, rich and thoroughly piggy. It came with a delicious savoury glaze, a ham hock and sauce Robert. It’s sprinkled with some crispy lardo (a terribly trendy ingredient) but it did bring some lovely texture
Fillet of Aberdeen Angus
I’m wary of Angus, and especially of fillet. In my mind a steak should be a rib-eye and ideally from an English Longhorn. This was a truly marvellous piece of meat – cooked on a Josper grill with a great deal of care and attention. The beef jus was nicely reduced without being too sticky and some bone marrow on top was a lovely touch. It came with the famous ‘Triple cooked chips’ which were superb – well seasoned, very crisp but with a soft fluffy inside.
In terms of sides we went for ‘carrots and carroway’ and ‘braised lettuce and peas’. Both were excellent – cooked lettuce is fast turning into one my favourite accompaniments!
For dessert I had to order their signature dish. It consists of a spit roasted pineapple slice, served with rich doughy cake in a sauternes and brandy cream sauce. The pineapple is a revelation – rich and sticky without the excessive sweetness you often get when it’s cooked. The cake was divine – pillowly and surprisingly light. The cream was delicious, nicely tieing together the cake and fruit.
The tart was a piece of very precise pastry work. Think of a millefeuille with a lovely complex flavour profile, first sweet, then vanilla and finally an aniseed hit.
Chocolate Ganache and Orange Blossom Biscuit
We were brought this little extra dessert with coffee – a morsel of lovely light chocolate ganache with fragrant, floral biscuit.
The overall experience was marvellous – they’re cooking food that you won’t see anywhere else, the service is excellent and the environment is lovely. The wine list is extensive, if a little steep but otherwise – for the quality and class – the meal represents very good value.
I love that they celebrate Britishness – both in tradition and ingredients, it’s presented in a sophisticated, modern manner, but with all the warmth and comfort of something much more traditional and closer to home. It fully deserves it’s accolades and if you love food – you owe it to yourself to visit.