Chef Heston Blumenthal cut a ribbon and dotted the eyes of a Chinese lion yesterday as the opening of his first London restaurant was marked by a dance to the sound of drums and cymbals at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park.
Blumenthal has achieved such fame through his television appearances that it’s easy to forget that he owns only one other restaurant, the Fat Duck, which first welcomed diners in 1995. His other two venues, the Hinds Head and the Crown, also in the village of Bray, west of London, are pubs with dining rooms.
If you want to eat at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, good luck. Booking for May opens today at 9 a.m. U.K. time on +44-20-7201-3833 and there are no evening tables available before then and very few for lunch. (The word Dinner in the name connotes the main meal of the day; the place is open for lunch and dinner.)
“The response has been quite frighteningly crazy: The restaurant seats 130 and when the phone lines opened, we took 6,000 bookings in an eight-hour day,” Blumenthal said in an interview before the lion dance.
“I want this restaurant to reflect what’s happening in eating in Britain today. People are for more interested and knowledgeable about food than ever before, they’re far more foodie, but also they don’t want to be surrounded by pomp. I want a bit of noise, I don’t want it to be all hush-hush. People should be able to have fun and the food also reflects that.”
Dinner is a British brasserie serving historically inspired dishes that can be traced back as far as 1390 in the case of Rice & Flesh, a starter with saffron, calf tail and red wine.
The menus were still being completed yesterday morning. There’s a three-course set lunch for 28 pounds ($44.60), which on the opening day included Ragoo (ragout) of Pigs Ears; Roast Quail with smoked parsnips and thyme; and Chocolate Wine, millionaire tart. For the time being, dinner will be entirely a la carte.
Starters begin at 12.50 pounds for Meat Fruit (chicken-liver parfait in a mandarin jelly) and rise to 16 pounds for Roast Scallops with cucumber ketchup and borage. Mains include Cod in Cider with chard and fired mussels (22 pounds) and Sirloin of Black Angus, with mushroom ketchup, red-wine juice and triple-cooked chips.
If you look into the open kitchen -- the large windows that surround it hide little -- you can see pineapples cooking on a spit. They accompany Tipsy Cake (10 pounds). Or you might prefer Chocolate Bar with passion-fruit jam and ginger ice cream.
Diners alarmed by Blumenthal’s more unusual dishes at the Fat Duck -- Pommery grain mustard ice cream and sardine-on-toast sorbet spring to mind -- have little to fear. Blumenthal has balanced the experimental with the accessible. Having said that, one starter is Savoury Porridge with cod cheeks, pickled beetroot, garlic and fennel.
Adam Tihany, who designed the dining room that formerly housed Foliage -- which he also designed -- was on hand yesterday, putting in the finishing touches. How might an American designer help to create a British brasserie?
“With a certain degree of caution and reverence,” Tihany said. “To me, it’s all about Heston: his perspective, his food and his personality. We tried to use materials that were appropriate for the period -- wood, leather, iron, very simple - - and add a little of the mystique and humor he’s known for.”
Daniel Boulud, the New York-based chef whose Bar Boulud opened at the Mandarin Oriental last year, was on hand to wish Blumenthal well. If there is any rivalry between the three-Michelin-star chefs it doesn’t show.
If you do have a reservation at Dinner, it’s probably a little optimistic to specify where you would like to sit. If you want to try: Table 41 is known within the restaurant as the Rock Star Table. It’s the first one on the right as you enter.
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7LA. Tel. +44-20-7201-3833 or click on http://www.dinnerbyheston.com/ or http://www.mandarinoriental.com/london/dining/heston_blumenthal/
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)