Heston Blumenthal Serves Up Smoking Cocktails at HeathrowRichard Vines
The fried eggs are served with a splash of browned butter with sherry vinegar. The beurre blanc on the tomatoes is enriched by smoked thyme, rosemary and garlic.
Order the fish and chips and your waiter will spray an essence of fish & chip shop -- pickled onion and vinegar -- in the air above the plate. Speaking of essences, perhaps you’d also like a cocktail?
Chef Heston Blumenthal’s latest establishment, the Perfectionists’ Cafe, which opened airside at Heathrow’s new Terminal 2 yesterday, is not your average airport restaurant.
I went along for a preview on Tuesday and I am happy to say that the place looks great, the food is imaginative and the prices are reasonable. It beats the airline lounge by a mile.
The full English breakfast is 9.50 pounds ($15.90), which compares with 9.75 pounds at Jamie’s Italian at Gatwick. A bacon sandwich is 4.50 pounds; pizzas are priced between 9 pounds and 11 pounds; burger and fries costs 13 pounds and nitro ice-cream is 4.50 pounds for two scoops, with three toppings.
The Rob Roy cocktail is 11.50 pounds and Champagne starts at 62 pounds a bottle (10.50 pounds a glass) for Delamotte Brut.
Attention to Detail
“Heston wanted to create a restaurant where you could come in for whatever you feel like, but there’s real detail that’s gone into everything,” Ashley Palmer-Watts, the Fat Duck group’s executive head chef, said in an interview in the cafe.
“This is going to be a big restaurant: 1,200-1,300 covers a day,” added Palmer-Watts, who is usually to be found running Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, a restaurant where it’s easy to spend more than 60 pounds on food alone. “We’ve never done this kind of restaurant before, but Heston really wanted to do it.”
The menu is based on “In Search of Perfection,” a BBC television show in which the chef -- best known for his restaurant the Fat Duck -- traveled the world to discover how to create consummate dishes. For pizza, he visited La Notizia in Naples. Palmer-Watts went back there to develop options for the Perfectionists’ Cafe with his head chef Julian O’Neill
(O’Neill was head chef at the Bank restaurant in London before moving to Quaglino’s and then to the Wolseley, where he was executive chef.)
Understandably, the Heathrow airport authorities had safety concerns about the pizza oven and liquid nitrogen required for the ice creams. (The nitrogen freezes so quickly that the ice crystals it forms are minuscule, making for smooth ice cream. The dish is served with an edible chocolate spoon.)
“There were no huge disagreements” between regulators and restaurateurs, Palmer-Watts said. “A wood-fired pizza oven? A nitro ice-cream parlor? It isn’t what you’re going to find in most airports.”
The 2.5 billion-pound Terminal 2, which opened yesterday, will be used by 23 Star Alliance airlines. Other food outlets include Yo! Sushi; Leon natural fast food; and Gorgeous Kitchen, an establishment fronted by four women chefs.
The Perfectionists’ Cafe reminds me of a makeover Blumenthal did for the Little Chef chain in 2009. In both cases, the dishes are thoughtful and successful. Just don’t go thinking you’re in for a gourmet experience. The economics of such a high-volume restaurant mean that some items, such as chips, are bought from outside suppliers rather than made on the premises.
At the preview on Tuesday, half a dozen journalists were served a lunch of charcuterie, smoked salmon, three pizzas, hamburger and fries, fish and chips, and liquid-nitrogen ice cream. Yes, all of that. Airport rules meant the visitors were not allowed to consume alcohol -- rare for a journalists’ meal.
The closest we got to booze was a demonstration of the Rob Roy cocktail, with a quick sniff. I admit it: I inhaled.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Bloomberg. Opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines)