Exquisite food with precise and accomplished classic British cooking, yet let down by its service that was professional but severely lacked love and passion.
“An amuse bouche arrived on the table. I picked up the fork and started dissecting it: filo pastry… girolle mushroom… spinach base… feta foam…”
No, that was not served at The Dinner. That was the dream that I woke up to (drooling) on the first day of 2014.
At the end of 2013, we thought we should celebrate the new start of the year by visiting a nice restaurant. Having called up a few on our wish list, we figured most were going to be closed on 1/1, and we kind of have forgotten about it then. Having woken up from a delicious dream, I decided that I will do whatever it takes to secure a table today, even if I had to go far, even if I had to dig deep into my pocket. 1pm, 9 calls down, and I was still determined. For my 10th call, I decided to try The Dinner. To my surprise, someone picked up the phone, and happily offered a table for two for a late lunch at 2.30pm! Mission number one accomplished.
For me before I visited The Dinner, anything with Heston’s name tag on equated to molecular gastronomy and insane sensational journeys. Think Fat Duck. Think Heston’s TV shows. Think his cooking methods. Think meat fruit. Think liquid nitrogen ice cream. Perhaps these are still true facts, but I certainly did not expect The Dinner to be quite as classic as it turned out to be…
We were greeted by the door man, a huge Christmas tree, the spit roast pineapple, the cloak room lady, the maitre d’ and were swiftly shown to our table near the window. At 2.30pm, the restaurant was still almost full nearing the tail end of their lunch service. The first thing we noticed was how clinical the whole place was. The room was big with over 100 covers, high ceilings, floor to ceiling windows looking out into Hyde Park, a weird (bizarre) acoustic that made the noise 10 times worse, wooden tables with no table clothes that felt a little lack of the fine dining cosiness – basically we felt like we have walked into a big loud Asian restaurant.
This is when we started to notice a few odd things in relation to the service that we really didn’t expect from a 2 star Michelin restaurant. For at least 10 minutes, there were no further greetings, no one even bothered taking a look at our table, no one offered to take drinks or water order, no explanation of the menu. And when they did, it felt like a man filled with boredom reading off a script that said “would you like something to drink”. And when they did, it was a robot with minimal machine learning and response capability who literally just took the order and walked away. And when they did, there were no offers for the sommelier’s time.
We felt like we were in desperate need for some improved dining love and passion.
I hope it was me feeling hungry but it felt like the bread took forever to arrive. And when the bread did finally arrive, Mr Waiter kindly placed it onto the middle of the table with a portion of butter, without saying a single word, and walked away… (Hello??!! It would have been nice to be explained what you’ve just gave me?)
And so when we got topped up on bread (which we had to actively ask for because no one cared enough to ask us) I asked Miss Waitress what the bread were. Ta-da. Her face went from shocked to confused to lost to spitting out the words “… Erm… White… And brown bread…?” OMG, alas. Were they made here? “They are from north London, a place called the Bread Factory” well, at least she knew something. I must say, I do wish the bread were made in house so that we could admire the pastry chef’s skills.
Then came our starters. No amuse bouche. Noted. This got me thinking. Are fine dining obliged to give their customers amuse bouche, palate cleanser and petit fours? No, absolutely not. But would it be nice? Yes, totally. I guess it is just something that customers do appreciate with their little extra effort. It would not make me like a restaurant any less because there were no little extras, but if the little extras were good and well made, it would totally make me like a restaurant more.
I couldn’t help it but to shake my plate vigorously as soon as it arrived. Wobbly wobbly soft boiled egg… And a big smile on my face… The plating of the food was awesomely precise. The ragoo had an insanely thick and intense sauce with the pigs ear cooked for long enough that it just melts in your mouth. The puff pastry underneath was buttery, very thin and well made. Perhaps we spent too long admiring the look of the dish and dissecting the elements before tucking in, the pastry was a little soggy by the time I got to it, but that didn’t bother me! The sauce. The sauce was just one word – wow. Thick, sticky, intense, simply well made. No splitting, no excessive oil. The egg yolk oozes out running across the plate binding with every other element on the plate. Already satisfied!
P had the lemon salad and gave it a 7.5/10. Clean and well balanced. And the plating, so precise to the dot as if there was a ruler used. Smoked artichoke was earthy, balanced by a nice creamy curd, beetroot (that didn’t taste too candied) and a well selected range of baby leaf salad.
I couldn’t help it but to have spent at least a few minutes admiring the dish. So simple, so elegant, so classic, so little ingredients, yet so beautifully put together in a precise manner. Dehydrated pork crackling, a deeply intense and velvety sauce, the smoothest apple gel-like sauce with just the right consistency. The pork was slow cooked finished in a pan fry. I don’t remember when I last had a pork that succulent. It had just the right amount of meat to fat ratio, was slow cooked to a point that it takes no effort to cut through the meat, was extremely tasty and juicy. We both ordered the pork, but did notice that the pork on the other plate has significantly less fat and there the piece was much less flavoursome and succulent. To be fair, no two pigs are the same, no two slices if pork collar would be the same. We ending up sharing our pork so we both had one brilliant and one good piece.
One would have thought that for a pork dish, the pork is the star. No, not in this case. The star by miles was the smoked cabbage. How Heston turned a humble ingredient into this cabbage star is simply brilliant. The cabbage was first cold smoked, then confit vacuum packed into a water bath for slow cooking, and finished off on a chargrill. The resulting cabbage was soft but still with a bit of crunch, moist but not oily. Quite simply delicious. It was by far the best cabbage I’ve ever had.
Do I even need to comment on this photo of mash? Silky smooth. Extremely luxurious and yummy, but I can’t help but wonder if it was made with 50-50 butter to potato.
Very good starter. Brilliant main. Just as we wondered if the desserts would continue to go up the same exponential curve or if it would follow a projectile curve to take a drop like many other restaurants, our desserts arrived.
Steeple Cream is an 18th century dessert made with jelly and cream, set in glasses that when popped out would form a miniature steeple shape. A little like Panna Cotta… And yes, it was the second time during this meal that I couldn’t help but to shake my plate vigorously! Wobbly wobbly steeple cream had put a big smile on my face. The steeple shaped vanilla panna cotta’s texture was just set enough to hold its shape and yet without excessive gelatin. As you cut through it, you will find a hidden biscuit base to give the panna cotta a crunch. The plum and plum syrup gave the dish an acidic tang that compliments the sweetness from the panna cotta. There was a subtle hint of lemon verbena but personally I wouldn’t have minded a little more.
No soggy base tarts here. Brilliantly made pastry. Consistent thickness throughout the base, round the corners, up the side. Perfect layer of jam of prune with a hint of tamarind. Filled with soft custard that is stiff enough to hold its shape but soft enough to still be called a custard (instead of having some gelatin-custard-like-consistency) and a sugar burnt crispy creme brûlée top. One can’t be more impressed by a simple tart like this. It doesn’t even need any dress up. One slice. One plate. One very yummy dessert.
With fine dining, there is something that I don’t understand. Why serve petit fours without coffee or tea? It’s like serving you roast without the sauce unless you order for it. I’d rather my menu was charged a little more, but we get a coffee or tea included. You kind of need that tea to compliment the intense chocolate served, otherwise your customer is left with a mouth of yummy sticky chocolate that is just a little too heavy.
We didn’t order the extra tea. The ganache was thick and smooth with a hint of earl grey finish that slowly comes through. For someone who likes earl grey, I wouldn’t have minded a tad more earl grey flavour, but I guess this has to suit the palate for the wider public including those who dislike earl grey. Shortbread was crunchy and butter, also nicely made. The only thing is that it was crying out loud for a cup of nice tea. We didn’t order one, wish we had, but by then we thought we’d have finished the petit fours so there really wasn’t much point.
The bar area, and wine, on display, under bright spot light. Hmm… To be honest, this upsets me seeing the wine stores there. Yes it may look impressive, but no it didn’t impressed me. The only thing it did was made me feel the pain all the wine were in.
During our 2 hours of lunch, we saw almost every table ordering Heston’s dramatic dessert – the liquid nitrogen ice cream. FUll marks for dramatic effects, but I’m not convinced by whether it would taste as nice as gelato made using the traditional method. Perhaps for our next visit, we will give this a try…
All in all, we absolutely loved and adored the food served at The Dinner. We are definitely coming back for the a la carte soon. It was very obvious that every plate was carefully designed, every element that sat on the plate had a purpose, the balance of flavour was like music in our ears, the love and passion, the extra effort in recreating historic English dishes, the execution of the cooking was simply brilliant, the plating was precise and insanely beautiful. What more can you expect? It was a long time since we last had a meal that we could not find a single fault in every big or small dish served, and The Dinner certainly surprised us with the quality and love put into their food. This was solid 2 star cooking.
However, service was disappointing, extremely disappointing. It barely matched a decent non-starred restaurant. To be fair, it felt professional, so professional to a point where it was almost inhuman. Oh, did I mention that we never got water re-filled? Oh, did I mention the extended wait until order was taken? Oh, did I mention that explanation to all dishes were “short and sweet”, with no more information than having the waiter reciting what was on the menu? Oh, did I mention that when asked how a dish was made, we were greet with “shocked face” by one, odd information by another (apparently the cabbage was confit’ed in goose fat), and only because we were not convinced and finally had a third time lucky answer that “The cabbage was first cold smoked, then confit vacuum packed into a water bath for slow cooking, and finished off on a chargrill”? Oh, did I mention that the staff were all marching along the restaurant like an army of brisk walking soldiers?
To be fair, it was very apparent that the staff were all well trained, professional and polite, but they all lacked the love, passion and knowledge of their own food and wine as if they were unemotional robots. Is it so bad that it has an impact on whether or not we liked The Dinner and whether or not we will come back? No, not at all, because the food were truly good. But it certainly did not hit any of our expectation from a michelin restaurant.
Damage to pocket: £60 per head (set lunch menu with paired wine for starter and main)
Number of accumulated visits: 1
Date of visit: 01/01/2014
Will we return? Yes