Tag: Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

London Restaurants: Filling a Tall Order

Over the years, the restaurant scene in London has gone from abysmal to laudable, so I am told. As far as I am concerned, it has always been pretty good. In my 16-year experience here, the capital has been on the upswing with celebrity chefs putting it on the food map.

The trouble with this is that when the chefs cease being celebrated or experience a seriously big hiccup, so might London’s food reputation, needlessly.

Celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal’s two Michelin-starred Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge is at the centre of a norovirus outbreak and thus, will be closed for at least 10-days.

This is, of course, a serious matter unto itself but what makes it even more serious is that the chef had to close another of his great restaurants, The Fat Duck in Bray, in 2009, for the same reason.

While judgements and suspicions are flying around—is he experimenting too much—I am quick to defend the restaurant (went there last year for my birthday and loved it!).

The chef, also known for integrating science into his cooking, is wildly imaginative, creating dishes such as snail porridge and nitro glycerine ice cream.

I will have none of that, thank you. But absolutely love what he does with lamb, even beef, often slow cooking to perfection. We have tried it, at least Paul has, at home. Delicious!

To this end, abandoning Heston because he has had two unfortunate major events would be like turning my back on Rafael Nadal because he lost the Australian Open. Never!

Unless, Rafa somehow dishonours his public image in such a way that it is beyond a shadow of doubt that he’s no longer great, I’m standing by him. The same goes for Heston.

Anyhow, if you look at what the experts say, experimenting has nothing to do with norovirus.  According to the NHS, the illness, also known as winter bug, can spread rather quickly if an infected person doesn’t wash their hands before handling food, therefore, tainting it. Individuals can also catch it by touching contaminated objects and surfaces.

Recently, there was an outbreak on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship, affecting 600 or so passengers. In the case of The Fat Duck, it had to do with a bad lot of oysters. As for Dinner, the BBC reports that 24 diners and 21 staff fell ill.

Will I go back? Likely. Easy for me to say, you think. I didn’t catch the illness during my time at Dinner and, neither did thousands of others. But I do sympathise and can commiserate with those who were less fortunate. I have had food poisoning from at least two restaurants in my time–one part of a fine, fine hotel chain, and the other has plenty of accolades and willing dinners. Both places are still going strong.

And I have been back and am here to tell the tale. The difference in what is happening with Dinner and the places I had my bad experience is that it’s in the limelight. As such, the spotlight will shine on the restaurant and its celebrity chef in both good and bad times.

Let’s hope the bad times are over because if you ask me Dinner is one of the best restaurants in the capital and that’s filling a tall order nowadays.

England, full of tantalizing surprises

I hate to love surprises. You didn’t read wrong; it’s true.  Whenever someone has a surprise for me, particularly Paul, I do everything I can to spoil it. I snoop, I guess, I badger, but thankfully, he’s got my number and turns a blind eye to my childish behaviour most times.

Because when he unmasks the surprise, I love it.

This past birthday weekend he planned two grand surprises, as impressive as the time he got me all the way to the airport before revealing that he was taking me to Amsterdam for the weekend. Imagine! The first of the two weekend surprises, I had managed to finagle out of him, long before we set out, but the not the last one. I didn’t find out until we were yards away.

First things first,  a week away from surprise number one, I cajoled Paul until he gave in and arranged a guessing game. He would answer ten yes, no questions of my choice. 1) Are we staying in the United Kingdom? Yes! 2) Is it somewhere we have been before? Yes! 3) Is it Babington House? Yes!

Fireworks! I got packing and Paul got relaxing. He had planned the holiday well in advance to avoid disappointment. On the Friday before my birthday we drove to the English countryside in Somerset.

Long before we got there, I remembered that I hadn’t packed my toothpaste, my robe or a face cloth. I always take the latter because hotels in Europe don’t always have one. Well, well, well, I needn’t have worried. Luxury is the word at Babington House. Feasting my eyes upon the tree-lined driveway and then the grand house, I remembered.

Yes, they had all these amenities and more in our room. We didn’t have to ask for a thing, except a glass of champagne. Anyhow, the room was just as I remembered. Paul had arranged the same one. Spacious and attractive, it had a freestanding, elegant bathtub in the middle of the bathroom.

The main house had a few changes such a massive guestroom, off limits unless you were the guest, which used to be a huge relaxation room, where chairs hung from the ceiling literally. The location of the restaurant had changed, but the food, every meal, was fresh and delicious, although not a patch on surprise number two.

I am getting there. Bear with! From enchanting grounds with breath-taking views to a cosy library with the most exquisite and comfy chairs, Babington House is one of England’s best holiday spots.

Now, for the second surprise. The Monday after my birthday, Paul worked as usual, came home and suggested we go out for dinner around 8.30ish. And no matter how much I coaxed, he kept quiet until we arrived in Knightsbridge and even then I had to guess it—Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental.

OMG was all I could say. And after a wonderful dinner in the most delightful atmosphere, I can tell you that Heston deserves his most recent Michelin Star for this very restaurant. If you go there, get anything! It all looks wonderful and simply must be. But we had the prime rib for two, most uncharacteristic of us, and it was divine, as was the serving of brown bread ice cream. Heaven!

Shame that Heston didn’t actually turn up there, but he does cook, design each and every recipe and test, test, test like only he can, so I am told. What can I say, the man is busy. In his absence, I managed to stash a keepsake—the menu. Shush! Now, I have never been one to behave so ridiculously, but with two major surprises within days of each other, I was feeling elated.

Some might say it was the wine. Good point, but anyone who knows Paul knows that these two surprises, back to back, are to be cherished and remembered for a long time.

Just kidding. The man is full of surprises and so is his England. Oops! Mine, too.