Saturday, 26 February 2011

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal - Meh

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Meat Fruit. Shoe Cake.

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.

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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.

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(photo copyright Optomen/Channel Four)

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.

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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.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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".

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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.

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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".

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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".

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"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.

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"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.

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For a similar take, see A Rather Unusual Chinaman

Dinner by Heston
Mandarin Oriental
Hyde Park
66 Knightsbridge
London SW1X 7LA
www.dinnerbyheston.com


Dinner by Heston Blumenthal on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Matryoshka Measuring Cups and Spoons by Fred

Matryoshka Measuring Cups and Matyoshka Measuring Spoons by Fred



You'll have seen from previous posts that I like a bit of kitchen whimsy.

As well as bento bits and bobs, my house is rammed with culinary nonsense from Alessi (including that Phillipe Starck Juicy Salif lemon squeezer), Koziol, Guzzini and, last but not least, Fred and Friends, purely because the design tickled my fancy - functionality not necessarily a priority (see again Juicy Salif).

It's an easy and not too expensive way of getting a little designer fun into your surroundings.

Smallest M-Cup used for Butterbean Dip
Smallest M-Cup used for my Butterbean Dip


My latest loves are the M-Cups and M-Spoons from Fred & Friends - a ridiculously adorable range of Russian doll kitchenware, which (obviously) stacks away for your convenience.

The Matryoshka Measuring Cups aka M-Cups come in 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, 3/4 and 1 full cup sizes, making them perfect for American recipes.

The Matryoshka Measuring Spoons aka M-Spoons come in 1 tbsp, 1/2 tbsp, 1 tsp, 1/2 tsp, 1/4 tsp sizes.


M-Cups and M-Spoons by Fred


They're both available in Paperchase and Urban Outfitters, and on Amazon - prices vary as I believe they're imported from the US (in fact I got the M-Cups in Chicago before they were available in the UK).

I'm now after their Store-Ms - their Russian Doll stacking tupperware lunchboxes - but sadly have yet to find a UK supplier ...

M-Cups by Fred (from £9.99)
M-Spoons by Fred (from £5.00)


Thursday, 17 February 2011

#MEATEASY, New Cross

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There are only TWO things you need to know about #MEATEASY.

Number One: New Cross is not a shithole.

The #MEATEASY is situated at the top of Goldsmiths Tavern in New Cross, South East London. If I hear one more comment about New Cross being a dangerous dump, I will scream.

Those lovely, middle-class boys from Blur studied in New Cross and held a comeback gig here. Damien Hirst and Jools Holland started their careers here. Goldsmiths Tavern itself saw the very first gigs by Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer.

Local school Aske's is
the most popular state school in the UK, with top GCSE results in London and 10th best in the country (Rafe Spall was there at the same time as my OH and used to claim it was a "ghetto school" to look hard. Tool).

Look, even
Princess Beatrice went to college in New Cross.

I know it sounds like the lady doth protest too much, but frankly this lady has had enough of people taking liberties and resorting to lazy stereotypes about South London. There really are much worse places at all points of London's compass.

Number Two: I went to the #MEATEASY twice in a fortnight.

I never do that. It's not just the food - the fact is, the #MEATEASY experience just rules in the same way the Big Lebowski does. A piece of down and dirty Americana in full technicolour glory.

Go while you can - it's there till around mid-March.


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#MEATEASY
Above Goldsmiths Tavern
316 New Cross Road
London
SE14 6AF
(halfway between New Cross & New Cross Gate stations,
both 5 mins from London Bridge)
http://www.themeatwagon.co.uk/
Opens 6pm, closed Mondays
No booking, sometimes they limit the no. of items you can order

#Meateasy on Urbanspoon

Monday, 7 February 2011

Meat Fruit is NOT a Double Entendre

Foodepedia's Review


So this morning, Foodepedia published their review of Heston Blumenthal's new restaurant Dinner. Like every other review under the sun, it focused on Blumenthal's signature starter Meat Fruit, but not in a way you might expect.

I've screen-grabbed the piece as it was first published above, but the writer Nick Harman seemed to think it would be amusing to suggest that "Meat Fruit" was in fact the name of a gay man with a sidekick called "Bull Dyke".

A few of us on Twitter and in the comments on Foodepedia objected to this cheap and childish homophobia, and its derision of the efforts by local authorities to teach and inform.

Rather than apologise, Foodepedia's response was to align itself with Jeremy Clarkson (a figure notorious for his unreconstructed views) and to insinuate that we just didn't get the joke. See screen-grabs below - the equivalent of a big f*ck you.

Foodepedia's Response to our objections

Foodepedia's Amended Review


And when we expressed disbelief at this Twitter response and their amended review, they actually enquired if they should reinstate the original text.

Foodepedia's Tweet


So why are we getting so worked up about this?

"These are just words", said one critic;

"There are better things to get angry about", said another;

"It's political correctness gone mad", said a third.

NO. This is not just a case of political correctness.

These kind of comments, published in a forum which people will take seriously, are an example of the type of insidious and invidious homophobia which pervades the world and needs to be held up as intolerable.

To suggest that such words have no effect or power is naive and dangerous.

Accepting this kind of language breeds contempt, prejudice and hatred.

Accepting this kind of language means somehow in 2011 Clintons thought it would be okay to sell a greeting card where a superhero called "Batty Boy" wears a pink frilly costume just to sledgehammer the "humour" home.

And of course, now I come to think of it, Paki and nigger are just words too, right? Right?

Because casual homophobia isn't the only form of stealth prejudice polluting this world.

There's AA Gill with his casual racism evinced by references in restaurant reviews to "Chinky takeaways" and latterly his slightly more subtle, but equally hateful, "round-eyed Westerners".

We get it, Adrian. You're round-eyed, because us Orientals are slitty-eyed. Hilarious.

And of course, you're rather fond of the word "dyke" too.

Or what about Frankie Boyle and his entire career taunting disabled people?

"Don't be so over-sensitive - we're just having a laugh".

Just because they're not actually hanging homosexuals or wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood, it doesn't excuse this behaviour.

And Hanlon's Razor ie the argument that the words come from stupidity rather than malice is no excuse either - the effect is still the same.

It is not funny or clever to pick on people for being different. It's lazy and bullying. It can cause people to become withdrawn, depressed, even suicidal.

All of this is why we have to make a stand and object.

The first few years of secondary school, there was a group of boys who would constantly yell "Currant Bun" at me because I had a "brown face and little black eyes". They made me hate them and worse, I'm ashamed to say, hate my own skin.

Eventually I got my eldest brother to have a word with one of them. The next day they all stopped.

This is just me having a word.


Stewart Lee says it best (added after a tip-off by Food Urchin)


Friday, 4 February 2011

Andy's Frozen Custard

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My husband just got back from another long work trip in Chicagoland. It was windy (appropriately), but it was also freezing cold, as winter had set in with a menace bringing snowstorms with it, so I'd packed him off with thermal undershirts and even a few pairs of long-johns.

We Skyped on a daily basis, and one day he said to me, "Hey, you know Andy's is open? How weird is that?"

Andy's is a purveyor of frozen custard, which is far as I can tell is pretty much like home-made ice cream - rich and eggy with a custard base. With branches all over the Mid-west, the outlet my husband was referring to is on Church Street in Evanston.


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Founded in 1986 in Osage Beach, Missouri by John and Carol Kuntz (heh), Andy's particular speciality is seasonal frozen custard-based desserts.

So in the Autumn, they offer pumpkin pie concretes and apple pie concretes (where whole slices of pie are blended into the frozen custard), and in the Spring and summer they offer peach cobbler and blueberry pie concretes. "Concretes" are so called after the fact that nothing will drip if you turn them upside down.

When we visited Andy's together last Summer, after a lot of dithering, I chose their best-seller, the "Ozark Turtle", and my husband went for the Key Lime Pie Concrete.

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The Key Lime pie was a beauty with fat chunks of short, crumbly pastry and the tang of real limes, but the Ozark Turtle was heaven - gooey creme caramel, hot fudge, warm chocolate sauce, sweet, almost toffee-like roasted pecans and glace cherries whipped into the frozen custard.

Having tasted such iced gems, I guess I can see how the need for frozen custard can hit at any time, even in the very depths of winter.




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Andy's Frozen Custard
719 Church Street
Evanston
IL 60201
(847) 864-8009
http://www.eatandys.com/

Andy's Frozen Custard on Urbanspoon