Food: Heston’s brown Dinner, with a side order of irritation

2 November 2013

9:00 AM

2 November 2013

9:00 AM

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, a brown cavern in the Mandarin Oriental hotel, Knightsbridge, has won a second Michelin star. These stars are food ‘Oscars’ (Hollywood has eaten everything, despite its tendency to despise food) and ensure that wealthy Americans make a detour to dine beneath the stars. This new elevation means that Blumenthal, at least technically, is Britain’s finest cook; the Meryl Streep of dripping and sweat.

Blumenthal is a historian chef, a successor to the celebrity chef; he is an intellectual. I say this not because he wears spectacles but because his website has a dictionary definition of dinner — ‘A formal evening meal, typically one in honour of a person or event — from old French Disner’. Blumenthal doesn’t cook food — he regards it, divines it, and rips it apart — and his devotees have fanned out, and spend their days designing salad in the shape of the elves of Rivendell, and vegetables in the shape of hurt. On eating a seafood dish at the Fat Duck, for instance, diners are invited to listen to the sea via iPod, an experience so synthetic I suspect it isn’t worth the trouble, and I’d get a train to Penzance and suck on a raw mackerel instead. (I hate an homage.) I wouldn’t mind Blumenthal’s molecular gastronomy so much if it didn’t remind me of both the idiocies of Paris couture and Alain de Botton. But it means that any meal at a Blumenthal joint carries almost unbearable expectations, for the diner and the food. Poor food.

If Dinner is a library of British cuisine, it looks oddly like Harveys the Furniture Store. Blumenthal may seek beauty and truth in food but he hasn’t got a clue about dining tables; the truth is, Dinner is irredeemably brown, brown as far as the eye can see, a prostrate homage to brown, in brown. The lights are translucent plastic jelly moulds and the cushions are a beady orange; it’s an ugly restaurant in an ugly hotel, and very masculine. This makes sense for the customers, an unceasing parade of youthful Scrooge McDucks, looking for meaning in their wallets. Why did they break their hearts to make money? So they could have lunch in Dinner, of course. This restaurant is a question in search of an answer; it is nearly, in psychological terms, a yacht. None of this is Blumenthal’s fault; he does his bit for normal folk by designing ready meals for Waitrose, and he once attempted to rescue Little Chef by making it serve coq au vin. But he is a man, like Rick Stein with his Magic Steineyworld in Padstow, for whom food, and therefore the earth he walks on, is not enough. No one can co-write a paper ‘Differences in Glutamic Acid and 5’-Ribonucleotide Contents between Flesh and Pulp of Tomatoes and the Relationship with Umami Taste’ and be content. Even so, he is very grand now; he has a coat of arms, featuring a portion of duck. One day, like the restaurant in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he will engineer a cow that wants to be eaten, even if, as I suspect, he sits at home sucking on McCain’s Oven Chips and Alphabetti Spaghetti.

So what lies here, in the land beyond food? My Broth of Lamb (c. 1730) was cool and slightly slimy; my companion’s snails were small and surrendered, with no promise of resurrection. She adored her sea-bass, and said it tasted ‘weird’, but my Hereford Ribeye (c. 1830 — really?) was over-seasoned and tough; I can always finish a steak but not one with a degree. Tipsy Cake (c. 1810), a glorious squelch of pineapple, was a marvel, but by the time we had ordered green tea at £14 a head, I was too annoyed to order the house special, ice cream frozen at your table, in the shape of your regrets.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Mandarin Oriental, 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1, tel: 020 7201 3833.

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Show comments
  • TowerOfBabble

    “Britain’s finest cook?” I think you will find Nathan Outlaw’s restaurant in Cornwall has had two Michelin stars for a number of years now.

  • What an enjoyable read!

    Is there a Hatchet Job Award for restaurant reviews? If there isn’t there bloody well should be.

  • Whatevs

    Terrible writer, dreadful review. To discuss the meal in one brief paragraph at the end of the article demonstrates only that the author hates food – but loves the sound of her own carping – and really has no place as a restaurant critic. Hell, that’s probably why no-one’s heard of her.

  • Colin

    “To discuss the meal in one brief paragraph at the end of the article demonstrates only that the author hates food”

    I doubt that, somehow.

  • Mark Holland

    Dined at Dinner myself a couple of months back, the food was fantastic, the service was attentive but not intrusive. The decor was a little bland but who cares when you eating like a king? Evidently you’ve taken a dislike to Mr Blumenthal and are using your column to get to him through your readers, because everyone who you actually talk to just tells you to shut up. Well…shut up Tanya. Sit down have a cup of tea and compose yourself before writing your next review, please for all our sake.

  • demob happy

    Tanya, you’re trolling.
    What a lame and uninformative review.. and comes across as not a little
    bitter. and not the delicious bitterness that’s one aspect of the complex flavour of Heston’s spiced pigeon with ale and artichoke (c1780), but the “I’m angry and jealous” bitter that leaves a bad taste in our mouths.

    While I’m sure Blumenthal will never read this snarky little wannabe hatchet job, considering there’s near total consensus from actual food critics that the food at Dinner By Heston is something special, I thought it worth pointing out that the author clearly has some irrelevant personal problem with the chef. Perhaps she prefers her celebrity chefs to be more hunky? or prefers the sadism and dull fussy food of a swarthy Gordon Ramsey type. Maybe the author has an unhappy history with bald bespectacled chaps? who knows.

    What is clear is that the writer had her mind made up on disliking the restaurant from the outset, and the tiny childish paragraph that actually mentions the food reflects this. “My friend liked her dish, but I HATED mine! so there. and the dessert was good, but I was already so annoyed that I didn’t enjoy it. harrumph, sulk etc”. Let me guess when people ask what you do, you say you’re a “journalist”. You might want to stop doing that.

    One other thing, don’t criticise The Fat Duck when it’s clear from the review that you’ve never been there. I’m not usually one for michelin starry restaurants,
    I tend to gravitate to cheap and spicy asian restaurants, but I can vouch that without question eating at Fat Duck was one of the greatest dining experiences of my life.

    The professionalism, artistry, imagination – and above all – hard work (ahem) that the team there put into making their food so uniquely delicious and enjoyable, makes your dismissive sniping when you haven’t even TRIED it come across as rather pathetically childish. Hard work, imagination, professionalism Tanya.
    You might want to shore up on those prior to your next review

  • Heston B.

    You clearly got drunk before writing this review as most of it makes no sense at all. Perhaps this tainted your memory of the food as although this is a subjective matter, the food at Dinner is universally liked so your comments are just wrong.

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  • Jex

    Not good enough, HB is taking people for fools, Better food, better service, better prices at plenty of London restaurants