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Heston Blumenthal's Dinner: Restaurant review

While Heston Blumenthal hasn't got the same veggie-hating rep as Gordon Ramsay at his most scenery-chewing, I would never think of his restaurants as places ready to welcome flesh-dodgers with open arms.

As I've mentioned before, I sometimes get invited interesting places that I normally wouldn't get to visit thanks to my job. So, when an invite to be taken to lunch at Blumenthal's new restaurant, Dinner, crossed my desk I felt duty bound to sign up.

Dinner's schtick is serving dishes based on those in English cookbooks of centuries ago - it's apparently known for its signature dish of meat-fruit (yes, that's a simulacrum of fruit made of meat), which is based on a 16th century recipe. When friends asked me what Dinner would serve a vegan, I told them I hoped it was fruit-meat - a fake pork chop made of banana maybe.

No such luck but the meal kicked off with a choice of two - count 'em, two - vegan choices: lemon salad or mushroom broth, both based on recipes from 1730.

I opted for the latter and got the high point of my meal - a freakishly complex broth that after every spoonful I'd have to ponder for a minute all the interesting flavours racing across my palate.

The rich broth was studded with all sorts of fascinating veggie nuggets - tiny cauliflower florets with a garam masala tang, micro pickled onions, radishes and other goodness. It wasn't a fruit-meat, but it was still an absolute stunner and pretty as a picture to boot.

Equally almost enough to bring me to tears was the wine - I know nothing about wine, but I knew this shiz was good. As in goooooooooooooood. If I was every going back on my own dime (highly unlikely given my wage packet) I would do so just for the wine.

The main course (no choice here, alas) was another 1730 dish - braised celery with chanterelles, pickled walnuts and cider apple.  I wanted to love it - I'm fond of all its constituent parts - but the whole thing just seemed a bit, well, average. There's only so much you can say about celery at the best of times, right? It was all perfectly cooked, but the only flavour that stood out was the vinegar tang of pickled walnut.

I know in 1730 cooks didn't have the same luxury of ingredients we do today, but if its absolute authenticity they're after, surely the restaurant should have a starter of black plague followed by open sewers and public executions? Authenticity yes, but not at the expense of a good feed.

Side note: while my host had ordered a series of veggie side dishes, none of them turned out to be vegan. Lovely server raced off to fetch something Flicking the Vs-compatible and returned with a dish of butter-free, olive oil-doused green beans.

Pudding - mandarin frozen ice with rosehip jam, barberrie granite and redcurrant - also suffered a bit for its art. Sugar would have been a hard to come by commodity in 1590, when the recipe originated from, but in 2011, the ice was crying out for a bit of sweetening.

It was followed not too slowly afterwards by a palate-cleanser (or something of that ilk) of another sorbet - cherry and plum maybe? - served on freeze-dried strawberry pieces. It was beautiful to look at and rampant with flavour, but again in need of a bit of sugar.

The whole experience was an interesting one - top marks to the place for its service, for atmosphere and for making a vegan feel like a normal customer not a burden - but I ended up feeling like I had to suffer for Dinner's art.

I came to Dinner wanting to love the place, but I just couldn't manage it. I loved the wine, the service, the decor. But the food? We're just good friends.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal 

Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park

66 Knightsbridge
020 7201 3833

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