Arguably one of the greatest chefs in the country, if not the world, Heston now has an empire of restaurants that excite foodies the land over, thanks to his scientific approach to food and cooking. I have been dreaming of trying his food for years now, and while a meal at the 3 starred Fat Duck is something I will probably only ever dream of (the average meal costs in excess of £350 per person) I have now been lucky enough to try two of his offerings, one in our very own Knightsbridge, and the other situated within the Michelin village of Bray in Berkshire.
The first of my two Heston experiences started in London. My wonderful best friend spoilt me completely rotten on my birthday last year, showering me with beautiful gifts, drinks, and a meal at Dinner, at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
Walking into the restaurant, you immediately know you’re somewhere that serious money gets spent. We were guided to our table past two huge glass cabinets filled with a fantastic range of wines, and placed at our table in front of the glass walled kitchen – this way all 170 covers per service get a chefs table experience!
The concept of the menu at Dinner is that each dish on the unique menu is an historically inspired British dish (if you saw any of Channel 4’s “Heston’s Feasts” series you may already have a good understanding of what this means, and if you haven’t, you should head to 4oD now and give them a watch!) We both started with the Meat Fruit (c.1500) – a £16 dish of Mandarin, chicken liver & foie gras parfait with a side of grilled bread. This dish was always going to be delicious because to me, nothing tastes quite as decadent and tasty as foie gras, and the presentation was intrigingly beautiful, but i’m not quite so sure this was a mark of gastronomic genius. I mean, it wasn’t quite the best foie gras i’ve ever had…
And when it came to my main of Powdered Duck Breast (c.1670) with smoked confit fennel & umbles (which according to my dictionary is the heart, lungs, liver, etc. of a deer or other animal!) I wasn’t overly impressed! Yes the duck was cooked beautifully, and the fennel complemented it really well, but for me, the jus that dressed the dish was too overpowering and took away from the flavour combination, and considering it was £32 a plate, I couldn’t help but feel this meal was very over priced. It needed something bring the dish together. More vegetables, maybe even a side of buttered potatoes…
We forwent the desserts for two reasons: we had already spent enough money on two courses and a bottle of wine that we could have wiped out the debt of a small African town, and also, nothing really struck our fancy! I might have been tempted to try the signature Tipsy Cake £14 (c.1810) which is essentially a spit-roasted pineapple that must be ordered at the beginning of your meal if you want to avoid a half an hour wait… but I didn’t order it at the beginning of the meal, so I didn’t have it! Maybe that would have turned the meal around for us a bit…
I’m glad i’ve had the chance to try this restaurant, but i’m not so sure that this expensive Knightbridge restaurant is worth the £170 bill, or the two recently awarded Michelin stars. For a start, for a restaurant that prides itself on the fact that it recreates dishes from the previous centuries, there wasn’t nearly enough information given about the origins of the plates, so the magic was lost slightly. But I really can’t knock the service at all, the staff were attentive and pleasant, wishing me a happy birthday, and that was a lovely touch. Although free pudding with a sparkler candle in it would have been nice… but i’ve always had unrealistic expectations when it comes to my birthday! This wasn’t TGI Fridays, after all…
My meal at Heston’s one-star pub was more recent. We visited The Hinds Head in the beautiful quaint village of Bray a few weekends ago, and were kindly welcomed into the unassuming pub by the attentive staff. There is no doubt that this is a relaxed pub rather than a fine dining restaurant – the door way is low (with cheeky signs above warning you not to knock your head), the beams are dark, the decor is traditional and homely and children and dogs are welcome. There is no pretence in this restaurant at all, much like Tom Kerridge’s Hand & Flowers in Marlow.
The menu hosts all of your favourite pub classics. Steak, Fish Pie, Bubble & Squeak, Scotch Eggs, Treacle Tarts… nothing too fancy, but without doubt, everything cooked to perfection!
I chose to start with one of their scotch eggs which is technically classed as a ‘snack’ and priced at £3.75. It came served with an addictive pot of mustard mayonnaise and was absolutely beautiful. The meat surrounding the well cooked runny quails egg was seasoned well and tasted good quality, as you would expect. Josh on the other hand enjoyed a plate of snails on toast (Hash of Snails £9.95) which came with a list as long as your arm of dietary and allergy warnings due to the sheer number of ingredients that goes into making this flavoursome dish.
We kept the mayo from my Egg for our side of Triple Cooked Chips (£4.25) which came with our mains, of which mine was the Oxtail & Kidney Pudding (£18.95) and Josh’s was the Raw Highland Estate Venison, Carrot & Horseradish Puree, Shallot Dressing (£10.50 – another starter dish due to a small appetite and and inability to choose from the brilliant selection). My Oxtail & Kidney Pudding was divine, swimming in a little puddle of rich gravy that was deep in flavour (perfect for chip dipping!) It was a traditional hearty pub dish, with great big chunks of Oxtail meat that were tender and delicious.
To end the meal, we took the recommendation of our waiter and opted for the “Wassailing” Caramelised Butter Loaf with Apple & Pomona £7.95 and the Whipped Chocolate with Hazelnut Ice Cream and Orange £7.95. The Wassailing (my dish) came with a small fact sheet about the history and story behind the dish, which I thought was a nice touch (more information than I received about any of the dishes at Dinner) and it tasted beautiful. Very light, and with fantastic textures; the butter loaf was soft and warm, like a gooey brioche, and the small quenelle of ice-cream was rich and went well with the sweetness of the apple. Josh’s Whipped Chocolate on the other hand was rich, thick and creamy, sticking to the roof of your mouth as you licked it from the spoon, making the taste linger longer.
This three course lunch with service & a round of Virgin Mary’s (which were a little strong for our taste, but looked beautiful!) came to £85. Just slightly over half the price of Dinner and in my opinion, twice as good. The service in each restaurant was on parr, but the food was by far superior at The Hinds Head. Maybe my expectations were simply too high when it came to Dinner, but at those prices, and with those accolades, can I be blamed for that? I think not.
Now it just leaves for me to save up my pocket money and treat myself to a Fat Duck experience… or perhaps hope that a holiday will eventually see me at Heathrow’s Terminal 2 after June, when Heston’s Perfectionists Cafe will be opening to holiday makers & travellers alike. I should be able to afford a reservation in about 5 years.