It's Saturday and the husband and I set off for Knightsbridge, incredulous that we've managed to get a booking at Heston Blumenthal's "hot" new restaurant Dinner. I've deliberately not read any reviews (apart from one), so as not to have any preconceptions.
I do know this is not meant to be the Fat Duck Mk II, but a place of its own. Thus pyrotechnics are not expected - although, as I've heard many people raving about it already, I look forward to a memorable meal.
At Dinner, the schtick is historical food - dishes have been drawn from every period and reinterpreted for a modern audience by Blumenthal and the head chef Ashley Palmer-Watts. Some of the dishes have come from Blumenthal's TV series "Feasts".
If any of you saw Heston's Medieval Feast, you'll remember that he created an entire fruit bowl which turned out to be made of meat. Yes, Meat Fruit - and this is the dish I'm most looking forward to, because I do love a bit of whimsy.
So we get to the Mandarin Oriental, the hotel which houses Dinner, and we wander aimlessly trying to find the place and then give up and ask a top-hatted doorman who tells us to go inside and up the stairs.
The lack of signage continues as we veer left and see a couple of ladies behind a desk in front of a silhouetted pear. We walk over to them, admire their Robert Palmer slick hair and bright red lipstick and ask, "Um, is this Dinner?".
"Yes, it is", they say sweetly and they come to take our coats, and I have to suppress a desire to giggle, as they appear to be dressed like Amish people and I am very childish.
We go through a bar and then into the room proper and are taken to table 24 in the top right of the room. A comfy, private window seat with a pleasing view of rainy Hyde Park, but I realise the glass-walled kitchen is, as a result, completely hidden from us, which makes me sad as I'm up for a bit of food pervery.
The waiter arrives and says to us, "Shall we start with a glass of champagne?". I'm put out by this, as firstly "we" will not be doing anything together, but secondly I know that when we say "no" a shadow will pass across his face and I will immediately feel like a pauper.
So we say no, and yes, the shadow passes. I feel like I need to make up for this (though inwardly hating myself) and say, "But my husband will have a beer - what have you got?"
Oh, the joy of approval. We end up disappointing him a few more times though. "Would you like to see the wine list?". Er no, we don't do wine. "Are you sure?" says the waiter, and I blurt out, "I'm on antibiotics" (I am not on antibiotics).
"Fine", says the waiter, "Would you like still or sparkling water?".
"Tap water, please", I whisper, but I know it's downhill from here, as another flicker of displeasure appears on his face. Hey ho.
The menu is a joy to read with its description of the roots of every dish. I go for the fabled Meat Fruit, and the husband asks me to pick for him (knowing that I care more than he does), so I suggest the Broth of Lamb.
For mains, husband chooses Steak and (triple-cooked) Chips, and I pick Pigeon wih Artichokes, which the world and his wife have told me to order, plus a side of pommes purée because the waitress says I'll need it. We also pre-order the Tipsy Cake, as we're warned this will take a while to make.
Beer arrives, as does an inch-depth of lukewarm tap water which I gulp down immediately. The waiter snakes round behind me and tops it up by another inch. Again I gulp it down. Again, an arm appears and tops up the glass. I wonder how long he can keep this up. We had this same problem of water stinginess at Bar Boulud, the other restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental, and I wonder if it's some bizarre hotel policy.
Talking of bizarre hotel policies, my husband gets up to go the bathroom and is told by our waiter that someone will take him there. This seems a bit OTT, until husband returns and says that there's no loo in Dinner and that he was led round the houses to the gents' facilities in the hotel spa (which Bar Boulud also shares). I imagine it would be quite disconcerting for spa guests to keep bumping into diners. Thankfully the ladies' loo is just outside Dinner's bar.
We help ourselves to bread and butter, and the bread is frankly rubbish and shatters and explodes all over the table as we bite down into it.
Then the first course appears and I smell it long before I can see it, but the scent I'm getting is far from pleasant - it's basically burnt toast. My meat fruit comes with "grilled bread" (sic) with thick black stripes griddled into it, and that's what's causing the acrid aroma.
Strangely the bread tastes okay (not great - okay), but to be honest I don't care as the amber ball in front of me is manna from heaven. The "mandarin peel" is the finest, sweet citrus gel - like pimped-up aspic - and the chicken parfait itself is about as far from bog-standard pâté as it's possible to get.
I relish every silky morsel and think to myself that when foie gras finally disappears from the planet, this will be an ample substitute.
Husband is much less happy with his dish. His face crumples and he says, "This is just wrong. It's like a couple of Oxo cubes dissolved in hot water". We swap plates (I'm a little resistant) and I dip my spoon into the broth and sip.
I quite like it, but then I quite like drinking Bovril, and I completely understand my husband's distress. It does taste more like concentrated beef stock than anything else (I find out later that there's miso and bonito in it, as well as lamb, which makes for an umami triple whammy).
The bits and bobs that float in the broth are rather delicious though - fried sweetbreads, pickled turnips, softly poached egg.
So for me a great start despite the burnt toast, though the husband looks cross. Next come the main courses.
Husband's steak looks oddly like a VHS tape with two discs of bone marrow plonked evenly on its fatness, sprinkled with snipped chives and breadcrumbs. It's a nice steak, but that's it.
The mushroom ketchup is fab and saucy though, and I make a mental note to try to recreate it at home.
The much-vaunted triple cooked chips divide opinion - this time my husband is in favour, saying, "They're just like the overdone scraps at the bottom of a bag of chips", and I dislike them for exactly the same reason. I expected them to be crunchy on the outside, fluffy in the middle, but these are crisp almost all the way through.
As for my pigeon, it looks just like a MasterChef dish. Four pieces of pigeon, four wedges of artichoke, artlessly arranged with a drizzle of ale jooooo.
The pigeon is tender, but after a while, each mouthful is a chore. And the artichokes taste just like the ones on top of a Pizza Express pizza. It's all so ordinary. Accomplished but ordinary.
The pommes purée, more butter than potato, tastes like Mr Mash. I like Mr Mash so I'm quite pleased, but it's also way too gloopy. It comes in a little cup, so I'm tempted to turn it upside down to see if it the potato will pour out. I don't - I'm not that uncivilised.
Three-quarters through his steak, my husband says "You want some of this?". I say, "Why?" and he says, "I can't be bothered to finish it - it's just a huge chunk of meat".
I say, "It's a £30 chunk of meat", and he sighs and carries on chewing dolefully. I do relieve him of his marrow discs though, as he's not very keen on the idea.
Meanwhile the beverage battle of wits continues, as I down my inch of tap water and a hand immediately replaces it.
Time to order dessert. Our waiter hefts a huge cheeseboard towards us and asks if it appeals. We shake our heads and there's that look of disappointment again. I feel like I've drowned a kitten.
Back to the menu. The Tipsy Cake is on its way, but we also want the Brown Bread Ice Cream and the Taffety Tart. We elect to have all three out of greed and indecision. The waiter says, "Oh, now I love the Brown Bread Ice Cream, but I have to warn you it's not very sweet".
Soon the puddings appear and they are quite ridiculously beautiful to look at. The Taffety Tart is a delicate, colourful, tiered creation; the Brown Bread Ice Cream has ripples of salt caramel draped seductively on top; and the Tipsy Cake comes in the cutest little Staub pot.
We plunge our spoons into the Tipsy Cake and it's enjoyable enough. Like an excellent sticky toffee pudding.
The spit-roast pineapple wedge on the side looks more exciting, and I go to break off a piece when I realise that it's actually five pineapple chunks that have been pushed together to look like a slice, which seems a bit Del Monte to me. It tastes Del Monte too. There is somehow no hint of the caramelisation that we see - just warm, not very sweet pineapple. "You can have the rest," I say to my husband.
A waitress appears at this point and says, "Oh, have you finally started?" with a wink. I presume this is in relation to the fact that I took photos before digging in, and I have to bite my lip to stop myself saying, "Oh, fack right off - I want service, not an editorial".
Thankfully the Taffety Tart lives up to its looks, its nutty brittle layers particularly delightful, although its rosehippiness bothers my husband, and the accompanying blackcurrant sorbet is sharp to the point of astringency.
His Brown Bread Ice Cream is a real cause for upset though. "This is wrong," he says, pushing the plate towards me. I try a spoonful and say, "Ooh. Yeah. That's savoury. That actually tastes like Marmite. If that was a starter, I'd have loved it".
"Have some with the caramel sauce and oat base", he says. I oblige and I go, "Oooh. Yeah. That's not good".
By itself, the caramel sauce is delicious and sweet. Combined with the yeasty ice cream, it's actively disagreeable. Plus for some reason there's an occasional, ghostly waft of lemongrass which makes me feel slightly ill. As for the base, I bite down and wail as I get an especially tough oat. Eyes watering, I whimper to my husband, "Can you bruise your teeth? I think I bruised a tooth".
The ice cream is left to melt while I run off to the ladies to check out my molars.
When I return, the waiter brings us petits fours in the shape of two espresso cups of Earl Grey ganache and some caraway biscuits. It's just tea-flavoured condensed milk, but we both like it greatly - my husband says it's the highlight of the meal as we dunk away.
"Would you like some tea or coffee?" says the waiter, and we look at the menu, and when I spot the exact same tea I had at Viajante a week previously, but for £6 more, we say, "Can we just have the bill please?".
So we pay and we get up to leave, but before we go, I take my husband up to the glass wall of the kitchen to show him the clockwork pineapple spit.
"Seems like a lot of wasted effort", he says, shrugging his shoulders, and I can't help but think that this is an apt appraisal of our Dinner experience overall.
For a similar take, see A Rather Unusual Chinaman
Dinner by Heston
London SW1X 7LA