Dinner by Heston Blumenthal – It’s Technically Delicious

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
at The Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park
66 Knightsbridge
London SW1X 7LA
Website
Map
Online Reservations … but you will likely need to try the old-fashioned way on +44 (0)20 7201 3833

  • Menu: starters £13.50-16, mains £26-36, sides £4.50, desserts £9-12; the chef’s table accommodates up to 6 people and there is a minimum spend of £900 for the table
  • You can view the entire set of photos from this meal on my Flickr site

Heston Blumenthal’s first London restaurant has set the UK’s food media into a frenzy. And with some good reason – the food is pretty good. In a similar vein to the Fat Duck, there is a lot of work that goes into the creation of each dish – both intellectually and in terms of the technical skill required to consistently replicate each deceivingly simple dish on a much grander scale than any of his Bray outposts. The kitchen generally pulls it off, and the service seemed to be pretty spot-on when we dined there (though we were at the chef’s table, so you would expect nothing less). Don’t come expecting the dramatic culinary theatre that Heston is famous for at the Fat Duck – and on many of his TV programs – as the dishes here are far more straightforward in their presentation, with a few exceptions. With a windowful view of Hyde Park – thanks to the newly installed floor-to-ceiling windows – and its very own Swiss watchmaker-fashioned rotating gas-fired rotisserie for pineapples, it’s definitely worth trying when in London.

Much ado about something

First things first. This post is late in coming. Very late. I won’t bore you with why, but apologies for the lack of activity for the last month or so.

This is the last of my posts from the at-one-point recent trip to London I made earlier this year. And what a way to end. But in every end there is a beginning, as one of my favorite poets often said.

The only way I could actually score a table at what was then being billed by most as the hottest restaurant opening in London in a long time, and by some as the best new restaurant in the world (which was probably taking things a little too far), was to book the chef’s table. When I enquired, I found out that there is technically no fee for booking the table, but there is a minimum spend of £900, which can be split amongst up to six guests…so definitely the more the merrier. The £150/person price, in the case of six, pays for the tasting menu, which enables you to sample much of the à la carte menu. Drinks and service will cost extra.

One small point, which relates smaller people. We wanted to bring our daughter with us (who at the time was nine months old), and although this seemed to present a problem at first, the issue was eventually resolved (indeed, there had been no issue in the first place but we seemingly had been misinformed the first time around), though not without some time and effort.

In any case, I will assume for the benefit of most readers that you know who Heston Blumenthal is (if not, see my previous review of his Michelin 3-star restaurant in Bray), and that you know that ‘Dinner’ is his first restaurant in London. You can read about the word play – a typical example of Heston’s historical whimsy – on the restaurant’s website or in many of the other reviews out there. Apparently, the Mandarin Oriental, in which the restaurant is housed, insisted that they use his name on the masthead, even though he personally will not be the chef at the restaurant – a fact he has been refreshingly transparent about from the beginning. Heston’s right-hand man, Ashley Palmer-Watts is in charge of quite literally a small army of chefs (there are more than 40) and kitchen staff, most of whom remain cleverly shielded from the restaurant’s customers, who are likely none the wiser.

Conference of the chefs at the pass

There are 126 covers at Dinner, which makes it by far the largest of Heston’s restaurants – the Fat Duck only has about 40 covers by comparison, and his two pubs in Bray (the Hinds Head and The Crown) are also far smaller. The part of the kitchen that is visible to diners is open, though mostly covered by a sheet of glass that comes down from the ceiling. There are two large islands in the kitchen, which were custom-made by Rorgue, that utilize multi-point induction hobs. As many readers will already know, Heston is well-known for using the sous-vide (or ‘water bath’) method for cooking many of the proteins in his dishes, and there are correspondingly seven large built-in water baths in the main kitchen itself. There is also a Josper oven, which can reach temperatures of over 930° F, which is used for the beef dishes.

A chef in the hidden prep kitchen behind the chef’s table (the thin windows can be automatically made opaque whenever they wish so diners can’t see through)

In addition to all of this, there is a pastry kitchen, which is more or less hidden behind the chef’s table, and there are more prep kitchens located out of site in the bowels of the hotel.

A casual yet carefully considered interior

The design of the restaurant is pleasant enough, without demanding your attention. But once you begin to look around, you do notice that in true Heston style, no detail in this Adam Tihany designed room has been left unconsidered. The space is very open, with high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows that were newly installed with the changing of the restaurant’s guard. Brown and gray hues dominate the lower reaches, with wood flooring, unadorned wooden tables, and classy cushioned banquettes. Then there are the oft-noted jelly mold (or possibly cake mold) lamps and the Swiss watchmaker Ebel-designed chrome and steel pulley-operated rotating gas fire rotisserie…for what else but pineapples. The front of house is also smartly attired in well-tailored suits and waistcoats.

We were lucky enough to be dining at the chef’s table

Being at the chef’s table, we had the benefit of each course being presented by the head chef himself. The table itself is very spacious and comfortable for the full party of six, and is arranged in a u-shape that directly overlooks the pass of the semi-open kitchen. Ashley wasn’t there on the day of our visit, but we couldn’t have been happier with the extremely personable Sous Chef Dale, who was heading up the kitchen in his absence.

With Baby LF comfortably seated in one of the corners of the bench seating, some of us opened the beautiful boxes that had been laid down in front of us to peruse the tasting menu.

Lunching at Dinner

The good thing about sitting at the chef’s table is that you get to try a lot of what the normal menu has to offer. In fact, there are no special courses, but rather tasters of the à la carte menu, plus a little surprise at the end which has not yet been rolled out to the main dining room so far as I am aware.

No, it’s not a jewellery box, it’s just your menu, complete with a metal scroll-holder

We did have a quick a look at the menu, although you can obviously keep it a surprise and take it home as a souvenir. However, I wanted to ensure we would be able to taste all of the dishes I had in mind – by this point I had distilled all of the reviews into a list of must-try dishes – so we ended up adding a couple more things to share between the table, something the kitchen was happy to accommodate.

Bread & Butter

While we waited for the first course to arrive, we nibbled on some good quality bread and salted butter, and got comfortable in our little semi-private enclave.

HAY SMOKED MACKEREL (c. 1730): Lemon Salad, Gentleman’s Relish & Olive Oil

This was a pleasant, light and flavorful beginning to the meal. Gentleman’s relish is the nod to history within the dish. Also called patum peperium, it is basically an anchovy paste, which in this case was quite mild and was formed from garlic and anchovy paste as well as a lemon mayonnaise. The pickled lemon salad on top interplayed well with the smoked mackerel, which had a good texture to it. It was perhaps not the most cleanly plated dish, but the flavors worked harmoniously and I enjoyed it. 7/10.

MEAT FRUIT (c. 1500): Mandarin, Chicken Liver Parfait & Grilled Bread

I don’t think there is much to say about this dish if you have already read about it elsewhere. Suffice to say that if you did not know that the inside consisted of chicken liver parfait, you could easily be forgiven for thinking it was an actual mandarin orange, so accomplished was its guise (for those interested, the parfait is frozen so that the gel can set and then it defrosts naturally). The only thing that was not edible was the faux stem and leaves plucked into the top of the creamy spread. What I will say is that the mandarin flavor provided by the outside jelly casing provided a faint but lovely citric counterpoint to the rich foie gras pâté. Jelly is historically a common partner to foie gras, so perhaps this was the nod to the past that the dish was going for. The bread was grilled nicely, with five distinct lines of char, and was the perfect vessel to carry this little ball of mandarin madness to your eagerly waiting mouth. (As a side-note, I am sure the hotel is not too upset that the this dish has almost become the mascot for the restaurant given the fruit after which it was fashioned :)). 9/10.

2006 Disznókö Tokaji Aszu, 4 Puttonyos

Much like Billy Joel, we were quite content with a bottle of white and a bottle of red for our meal (even though it wasn’t an Italian restaurant) as not everyone was drinking. However, with the meat fruit I sort of made people have a glass of this above Tokaji. Good thing too, because it was pretty remarkable. It was elegant and had a lingering clean finish that kept it from being anywhere in the vicinity of cloying, and it paired remarkably well with the meat fruit. Highly recommended.

RICE & FLESH (c. 1390): Saffron, Calf Tail & Red Wine (Extra Course)

I had really wanted to try Heston’s version of Risotto Milanese, which at Dinner dons a rather more evocative moniker. The table was split on this one. While the rice was perfectly al dente and the calf tail was gorgeously rich, the dish did have a very strong zing of acidity to it – I would assume from the saffron – and while I didn’t find it off-putting, some did. I thought the garnishing of red amaranth was a nice touch. I will refrain from scoring the dish as everyone just had a spoonful or too and it wasn’t mine alone.

SALAMUGUNDY (c. 1720): Roast Quail, Marrowbone & Horseradish

This dish seems to have gotten a bad rap from many people who have been to the restaurant and reviewed or commented on it. I am happy to be contrarian here as everyone at our table – including me – thought it was pretty excellent. Maybe it was because ours had quail, and I think that the version most people have had contains chicken oysters instead. The quail’s breast was very nicely cooked and went well with the little wobbly discs of bone marrow and the roasted vegetables. The dish was bound together by a horseradish fluid gel, which was made from milk that had been infused with horseradish and then thickened. Some people have commented about the (lack of) quality of the salad leaves, but they seemed perfectly acceptable to me on this occasion. The plating, as with the first course, did seem a little haphazard, but I guess this was purposeful. 8/10.

ROAST TURBOT (c. 1830): Cockle Ketchup & Leaf Chicory

There were lots of varieties of ketchups swimming around before Mr. Heinz reared his head (there is cockle, cucumber and mushroom ketchup on Dinner’s menu alone), and this was the historical element in the turbot dish. Besides the fish, there were baby chicory leaves which were quite bitter and some cockle ketchup which was meant to offset the astringency; the ketchup was made from thickened mussel stock, combined with fresh cockles, capers, gherkins, pickled lemons, pickled shallots, herbs and a tiny bit of tartar. Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone enjoyed the flavors of this dish too much, although the turbot was skilfully cooked. A persistent taste of the sea, which was not particularly pleasant to me, seemed to overwhelm everything else on the plate. Possibly someone else’s cup of ‘t’, but not mine sadly. 5/10.

BLACK FOOT PORK CHOP (C. 1860): Pointy Cabbage & Robert Sauce

Our palates were soon enjoying themselves again, however, as the next course was one of the favorites of the afternoon. This was one of the best pork chops I have ever tasted. We were only given a few slices each, but the whole chops are very thick and come from the fabled Spanish Pata Negra pigs which have excellent marbling that helps to create a very juicy piece of meat. The crunch from the cabbage and the punchiness from the small amount of the modernized Sauce Robert were the perfect complements for this perfectly simple dish. This was a case of sous-vide cooking working perfectly. The texture wasn’t gummy and it almost felt as if you were eating a fine piece of steak. 10/10.

Heston’s famous triple-cooked chips

I had forgotten to order some of Heston’s famous triple-cooked chips, but luckily the kitchen had taken care of this without me asking, and was kind enough to bring out a number of little tins of these thick-cut beauties. They were simply divine. Although I do prefer a thinner frites, it is hard to argue that these are not textbook perfect – so crispy on the outside and so soft and luscious at the core. It was a wonderful bit of starch to go with the last savory dish, which arrived at the same time. 10/10.

SPICED PIGEON (c. 1780): Ale & Artichokes

Dale explained that when they were doing their research for the menu, they came across two historic pigeon dishes, one served with ale and one with artichokes. So they decided to combine these. The pigeon breasts had been gently cooked in a water bath at 56° C for 20 minutes, which rendered them nice and tender; however the skin did have some welcome crispy caramelization to it. Amongst the artichokes were also sprinkled a smattering of onions, rocket and thyme, and the pigeon sauce was finished with an organic ale, which was fairly bitter – but this contrasted nicely with the sweetness from the artichokes and onions. Mrs. LF has never to my knowledge enjoyed a pigeon, but she couldn’t stop raving about this one. I had been worried that the sous-vide cooking might make it a very bland dish (I have recently had meals at very accomplished restaurants where this method took the enjoyment out of the main meat courses) but it again worked well in this instance and made for a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable dish. 10/10.

POACHED RHUBARB (c. 1590): Rosehips & Rhubarb Sorbet

The first of the sweeter dishes was upon us, and there was a bit of controversy here. Most people didn’t care for it too much, but more interestingly, all of us could swear that we tasted beetroot somewhere in the dessert. Not that this was a bad thing, but the kitchen confirmed that this was definitely not the case. We were stumped. So far as I could tell, it was composed of a rhubarb sorbet with fromage blanc and rosehip jam beneath it, plus a (possibly raspberry) tuile. The beautifully presented stalk of rhubarb on the side had been soaked in Campari and was nice enough. It was a fresh and pleasant dessert but the taste of it certainly didn’t wow me. 5/10.

What do you do for a living? Oh, I glaze pineapples

I decided to have a closer look at the craziness of the pineapple grilling apparatus, and got a few pictures of the glazing process. It may be gimmicky, but it is a pretty classy gimmick if you ask me. Luckily, I got to taste the fruits (literally) of the poor pineapple glazer’s labor a little while later.

TIPSY CAKE (c. 1810): Spit Roast Pineapple (Extra Course)

This was without a doubt my favorite of the desserts we sampled. The brioche cake was soaked in the most luscious mix of sugar and brandy (and quite a bit of brandy, hence the name). I can never get very excited about bread and butter pudding – although it is one of Mrs. LF’s favorite things – but I would definitely look forward to eating this most nights. The effect of the rotating roasting on the pineapple was perfect as it had been cooked evenly through and was nicely caramelized on the edges. I thought it was a marriage made in heaven. 9/10.

TAFFETY TART (c. 1660): Apple, Rose, Fennel & Blackcurrant Sorbet

We had eaten what I believe was pretty much the same dessert at the Fat Duck a while back, and I remember writing that besides being one of the most beautiful desserts I had ever come across, it was also truly delicious. I don’t know if my taste buds have moved on or what, but I just didn’t enjoy it this time around. The dessert divided opinions around the table, as had a few of the earlier courses, and I was very let down as this was one of things I was most looking forward to. It still looked very pretty, though instead of being rectangular it was now triangular, reminiscent of the poshest slice of pie you might ever see. It consisted of caramelized puff pastry, and from the bottom up there was a caramel jelly, then caramelized apple, then fromage blanc with rosewater. Beside the blackcurrant sorbet were some crystalized rose petals, fennel seeds, apple fluid gel and some actual fennel. To me the sorbet was too strong and the lovely apple flavor I remember from the Fat Duck version seemed to be absent this time around. 5/10.

NITRO ICE-CREAM TROLLEY

I am not quite sure how the white futuristic ice-cream trolley, from which ice cream is fashioned before you through the use of liquid nitrogen, harkens back to the Halcyon days of British gastronomy, but this is Heston, so you have to give him some leeway, right? In any case, the pastry chef came out of the kitchen and whipped it up in front of us. They said they were still trying to work out some of the kinks with the machine and this is apparently the reason that they haven’t brought it out to the main dining room yet. They said they wanted to make it look like it could have actually been a mixer of some kind way back when, which I guess they have succeeded in doing, but I am not sure why they made it look like something from the Jetsons instead of something more archaic (like they did with the spit roast, for example).

Getting my nitro fix

In any case, there was only one option in terms of flavors: vanilla. So we all had this plus any combination of the four toppings we wanted. I chose freeze-dried raspberries, as the above picture can attest. I didn’t particularly like the ice cream itself because it was simply too soft and hadn’t set properly yet (you can also see this from the photo, which was taken right after it was handed to me). The cone, however, was downright delectable, and was made in-house. After so much of a build up, the ice cream was a bit of a let down. I am sure they will perfect it eventually though. 5/10.

Earl Grey Tea & White Chocolate Ganache with Caraway Shortbread Biscuits

This intensely sweet concoction was served in a little teacup (without a handle) and saucer in a nod to the tea-flavored component of the ganache. I found it slightly awkward to eat and it was also a little too sticky and sweet of an ending for me. The bergamot taste came through well, but it was just too overwhelming for me after all we had eaten. 5/10.

All’s well that ends well

I don’t want you to get the wrong idea of my overall feelings about the restaurant from the somewhat mixed thoughts I (and my friends and family) had about the food. Generally speaking, there is a tremendous amount of technical skill that goes into each dish at Dinner before they even make it to the open kitchen to be finished for serving. There is also a ton of thought put into not only the historical inspirations behind the dishes, but also into the flavour combinations and balance of textures within each plate of food. While it may not be presented as fancily (or fancifully) as it is at the Fat Duck, the technical prowess of the kitchen would be hard to fault. However, this undertaking is at the other end of the spectrum from other new and interesting restaurants in London and elsewhere, which tend to focus on the quality of the produce itself and attempt to let the natural ingredients speak for themselves to different extents. These establishments do not employ the technical wizardry (or the 45 or so chefs) that Dinner does. This doesn’t make one better or worse than the other, as the enterprises have very different philosophies and aims, but it does make it a very different experience.[1]

Our own experience at Dinner was overall a very positive one. From the moment we were greeted and seated at our table, we were exceedingly well looked after. (The only instance where this didn’t happen was right toward the end as service was winding down, where things seemed to lag a little bit). Mathilde (@mathildecuisine), who joined us for the meal, was observing Lent at the time and they catered to her needs well from what I could see. Being Mathilde, when Mrs. LF asked the kitchen for some yogurt for Baby LF, she also asked for some too. Yes, this is the same woman who asked for hot chocolate at noma when only tea and coffee were offered :). As with the Danish hot chocolate she received then, she was very impressed by the quality of the simple offering of yogurt at Dinner.

I generally enjoyed the food, but the lows and highs seemed to be more exaggerated that I had expected they might be. I suppose the only dishes I didn’t really enjoy were the roasted turbot and the Taffety Tart. Although a few of the other dishes didn’t stimulate my taste buds all that much, the pork, pigeon and tipsy cake were pretty amazing in their own right.

I didn’t feel like a lot of things were all that new at Dinner (though their descriptors may try to convince you otherwise with their historical verbiage) but I did think a lot of things were excellent. And they made us feel very comfortable. We had a lovely long lunch, with Hyde Park as our backdrop, and got to catch up with old friends in a splendid setting. And you can’t really complain too much about that.[2]

Rating

Ambience: 8/10 (for the chef’s table only; I haven’t dined in the main room)

Service: 8/10 (again for the chef’s table)

Food: 7/10

Wine: the list is comprehensive (as you would expect) but the mark-ups can be stiff, and seemed to average about three times what it would cost you in a retail shop.

For more about my rating scale, click here.

*Note: I have dined at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal once, and it was for lunch at the chef’s table* 

*Note regarding the title: In case you were wondering (I know you weren’t), the title of the review is a play on words with regards to the famous jingle (in America) for the iconic breakfast ‘cereal’ Lucky Charms.*


[1] For example, this other breed of restaurants – call it the ‘new naturals’ or what you will – also focus heavily on seasonality and availability of local ingredients, whereas I could envisage the menu at Dinner could remain more or less the same throughout much of the year, serving what it wants to serve, rather than what is abundant and fresh during each season. This is not a criticism so much as an observation.

[2] One thing I think they should watch out for is not to fall into the same trappings of the Fat Duck with regards to the menu remaining fairly static over time. As this is a larger restaurant and people will be able to return more easily than at the Fat Duck, they need to mix things up to keep it interesting for diners. I would also humbly suggest that they try to at least acknowledge the changing of the seasons when introducing new menu items.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal on Urbanspoon

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Bar Boulud – The Right Place at the Right Time

Bar Boulud
At the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Hyde Park
66 Knightsbridge
London SW1X 7LA
Website
Map
Online Reservations

  • Dinner: starters approx £6-11, mains approx. £12-22, desserts £6-8, plus a number of special menu items such as charcuterie (individual items £6.50-11, platters at £14 or £28) & burgers (£12-13.50)
  • You can click on any of the images below for full-resolution files

I didn’t know what to expect from Daniel Boulud’s first UK outpost. Reviews upon its opening came in thick and fast. Most of the sentiment was positive, though some commented that its interior was devoid of personality. For my part, seated in the bar area on a weekday evening, the place seemed quite lively (this was probably enhanced by the animated and captivating sommelier, who was our unofficial host for the evening) and had a nice buzz to it. The food was generally very good (though desserts were somewhat of a disappointment), the charcuterie was nothing short of spectacular, and the restaurant is not as expensive as you might think. It’s a good addition to the neighbourhood and is a clever move from the prolific and successful Franco-American restaurateur...especially given that Heston will be serving ‘Dinner’ very soon in the same building.

Bar Food at Bar Boulud

Food blogging is a peculiar pursuit. You often get invited to events, you sometimes go, and once in a while they are really great. This was one such occasion. I met Heather Cowper at a rather random event hosted by lastminute.com a few months back. This was interesting because she is not a food blogger, but a travel blogger – another obscure species – and I had never met one before (I had seen them in cages, though). We had a nice chat and, somehow, I must have not come off as a complete bore and/or tosser.

How do I know this? Because when she organized a meal at Bar Boulud (BB) at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park (MO) for a table of bloggers (Krista and Gourmet Chick were also in attendance), she for some inexplicable reason decided to invite yours truly. Laissez fare enough. Pardon the appalling pun-itive damage (gag), but I am stuck in an airport and my plane is more than three hours delayed and ain’t leaving until midnight at the earliest. So there.

Anyway, back to the task at hand. The big DB and his BB (there are, as of yet, no plans for a BB’s Little Brother). From my experiences of his establishments in New York over the years, I like the guy, his food and the way he has his restaurants run. His flagship restaurant has always served excellent food, if a bit safe, and his less formal offshoots are generally very solid as well (check out a great review from Ulterior Epicure of a recent meal at Café Boulud).

For New Yorkers in particular, and to some degree throughout the US, DB has a big profile – á la GR (apt acronym?) in the UK. Along with Danny Meyer, Keith McNally and a few others, he’s definitely one of the big players on the Manhattan restaurant scene. So it’s interesting that he’s decided to give London a shot, especially when so many NY transplants have bombed so quickly.

They have a doorman

BB has its own entrance on the left side of the MO, if you’re facing the building. It’s fairly nondescript, so if you didn’t know about it and weren’t a hotel guest, you’d probably just keep walking, despite the doorman decked out in a black suit.

I managed to find it easily enough and, as usual, arrived a bit early, so took a stroll through Harvey Nichol’s fifth floor of food and drink (well, I just hung out in the wine department and contemplated their exceedingly good range of Champagne). I just barely managed to get out of there without purchasing anything.

They have their own napkins

Upon entering BB, I wasn’t exactly sure who else I’d be dining with, but was lead to a rectangular raised table in the bar area, which afforded me a good view of the front dining room. There were two other bloggers already there who I didn’t know (Anthony, who runs the very cool Mr & Mrs Smith travel blog and Eva), making me fashionably not first one to arrive. 🙂

Before moving on, I would like to clear up one inaccuracy that I’ve noticed in reports about the restaurant. There are windows, and they do provide some natural light – granted this is only in the front of the dining room, but they are there. So there.

And they have David, an extremely feisty & passionate sommelier, who’s the life of the party...and the lifeblood of the restaurant

Before I knew what had hit me, David Vareille, the restaurant’s sommelier had taken the stage at the head of our table and began regaling us with entertaining tales about the fermented grape juice he was bursting to tell us about. This guy is a treasure. He is outspoken, very knowledgeable and definitely beats to the tune of his own drum. There are some real gems within his cellar’s booty, and we were lucky enough to taste a few of them, many of which won’t set you back all that much.

Another great feature of BB is that they feature a large bottle of the day, every day. David picks a magnum (or other large format bottle) that he thinks is interesting for whatever reason and then comes up with a very reasonable price per glass, so that customers can experience a wine they may not otherwise be able to try. For example, if he opened up a Mouton or a Lafite, you might be able to sample a glass for around £45-55 (depending on the vintage), which although still ridiculously expensive, is reasonable within the context of this royal couple of the wine world. It’s worth popping down just to see what the large bottle of the day is. I think he should start a twitter account and announce what large bottle they will be serving that day and name the price.

But once again I digress. We were there to eat some food, right?

A Meeting of Meats

As I’ve already written a lengthy preamble – hey, what else is new – I will be sparse with my culinary comments. You may think this is a deliberate choice, but the reality is that I had a bit too much of David’s wines, didn’t take notes, and that my detailed recollection of everything is slightly patchy at best. So I am sparing you from my usual more anatomical dissections. Everyone can drink to that.

Charcuterie Board & Mustards

Okay, so if you don’t read another sentence after this, pay attention to this one. We were able to sample all of their charcuterie…and it is phenomenal – I would recommend going alone just for this if you’re in the mood for that kind of thing.

All of the chartcuterie is courtesy of Gilles Verot, who (from memory) supplies DB’s establishments on the other side of the pond, so you don’t need much more background than that. Of particular note for me were the Tourte au Canard (duck, foie gras, figs and pastry crust), Pâté Grand-Père (coarse country pâté, foie gras, truffle juice and port), Lapin de Garrigue (Provençal pulled rabbit, carrot, courgette and herbs) and the Jambon de Bayonne (Basque cured ham).

A plate with a variety of vegetables, olive oil-marinated cod, shrimp and aioli dipping sauce was also brought out (not pictured), and while the sauce was nice, I don’t think I would have paid the £18 for this platter. Strangely enough, the thing I enjoyed most on the plate was the exceedingly fresh and crunchy radishes.

Sausages in Small Pans

Next, some sausages appeared – and they just kept coming. I wish I had taken notes, but I didn’t, so all I can tell you is that I loved the spicy sausages on the left side of the above picture. The one on the right wasn’t bad, but was in my bottom two.

Boudin Blanc

I had read rave reviews of the boudin blanc sausages, but I would actually make these the other sausages in my bottom two. They were rich, due to the infusion of truffles, and soft, but they didn’t hold much interest for me. Not bad by any means, just not a personal favorite. The accompanying mash was pretty good.

Thai Sausages

I actually enjoyed the pork-filled Thai sausages a bit more. They had a firm texture, sort of like a Swedish frank, and were accompanied by a nice spicy sauce and Asian garnishing with papaya on the side – they went down a treat.

Boudin Noir

The darker boudin babies were rich, but not too rich for my blood (another bad pun, as they are made from blood and pig’s head), and were complemented by scallion potato and piment d’espelette. They would make a nice big appetizer or a smallish main course, and would probably leave you quite content with life.

The DBGB Piggie Burger

There has been a lot of hype about BBBs (last B = burgers, keep up already). We were lucky enough to have a sampling of all three. This meant that they cut each burger up into quarters, so we could mix and match. The disadvantage of this was that they got a little bit cold, but I wasn’t complaining. They were all cooked well (medium rare) and had brioche-type buns (the ‘Frenchie’ bun was slightly peppered and the ‘Piggie’ bun had cheddar baked in). As Krista pointed out, though, none of them were toasted, nearly a cardinal sin for some burger aficionados. The quality of the meat, and the rest of the fillings, was excellent and I enjoyed them all. They didn’t get me particularly excited, but they were some of the better ones (top three) I’ve sampled in London. Out of the three variations, I enjoyed the ‘Yankee’ the best (it’s the plain one, and I usually like my burgers fairly unadorned) and the ‘Frenchie’ (my wife is French, but that’s not why – I particularly enjoyed the green chilli mayonnaise and BBQ pulled pork).

Loup de Mer au Citron Confit

Better still was the main course of lemon sea bass which we shared. I only had a few bites, but the skill of the kitchen was obvious here. The fish was very fresh, had been cooked perfectly, with a crispy golden exterior, and kept moist and flaky inside. I loved the accompaniments as well. This was a simple but fairly flawless dish.

I didn’t take a clear photo of it (so no image), but we also sampled the Chop-Chop Salad, an homage to New York I suppose, which was quite refreshing given all the meat resting in our belabored stomachs by that point. It was actually a really enjoyable salad and it’s available at lunchtime for £6.50, though if you want to put a half lobster in it – which I thought was totally unnecessary and counterintuitive as lobster is a luxury ingredient and salad ain’t, right? – that will cost you an extra £15!

Gâteau Chocolat-Frambroise

Unfortunately, many of the desserts were a disappointment, a shame as they all sounded (and looked ) so good too. The chocolate and raspberry cake was perfectly passable, and was certainly nicely presented, but it lacked that certain je ne sais quoi. No X Factor, so maybe it should audition for Gâteau’s Got Talent.

Gâteau Basque

The humble Basque cake was also fine, and a pretty honest rendition of the classic dessert from the region. I guess these kind of simple cakes are not really my thing, so while it was good (not overly dry and plenty of flavour), it didn’t send my pulse racing.

Tarte Mocha Chocolat

The chocolate mocha tart was better, with a deep rich chocolate flavor and a luscious sphere of caramel ice cream plopped down beside it.

Coupe de Fruits Exotiques

The above dessert served in a Martini glass was as pretty as a picture, and was a refreshing taste after the aforementioned tartage. Again, nothing earth-shattering, but the mascarpone foam and the coconut-passion fruit sorbet were both enjoyable.

Íle Flottante

Possibly the best of the bunch was the classic French dessert of Íle Flottante. It was pretty perfect, and nearly as nice as the one I had at Arbutus a while back (which, by the way, is currently the banner image at the top of this blog), though it did lack the crunch factor that makes the latter one so memorable. Anyway, BB’s version had air-light meringue and the crème anglaise and strawberries were the perfect foil. It was very moreish.

Coupe Peppermint

The biggest let-down of the evening for me, however, was the chocolate mint dessert. Pourquoi? Because, despite my love for fine cuisine, I simply adore mint chocolate chip ice cream – it’s a childhood thing – and always order it if it’s on the list and doesn’t look too fake a shade of green. I pretty much love anything that has chocolate and mint together (Aqua Fresh, you listening?). I don’t know why, but this just tasted wrong. Something in the mint smacked of artificiality. I would doubt that they use any dodgy ingredients at BB, but it just let me down…so I went back to my work as producer of Lost, i.e. I made that floating island disappear.

Unloved Regions, Lovely Wines

David walked us through some brilliant regional French wines over the course of the evening, selecting particular bottles to go with the different courses. He is particularly partial to Burgundy as he hails from near Chablis (coincidentally one of my favorite wine regions).

2006 Domaine Sylvain Loichet, Ladoix

My favorite wine of the evening came from the Southern end of the Côte de Nuits in Burgundy’s Côte d’Or. It was a stow-shopper, especially when considering the price when compared to some of the fine white Burgundy that it might be mistaken for during a blind tasting. A complex, exotic and highly perfumed nose of apple, peaches, pears and subtle smokiness revealed a superbly balanced and full-bodied behemoth of soft fruitiness, honey, cream, a touch of spice and a vibrant streak of minerality. This was wonderful stuff, and while not cheap at £15.50 a glass at BB, you can get a bottle at under £25 retail. Highly recommended.

2006 Domaine Didier Charavin, Rasteau (Prestíge)

Many people have probably not heard of the area around Rasteau in South-eastern France (the Provence-Alpes-Côte- d’Azur region)…either had I…but this wine will make you stand up and take notice. The Charavin family are well-known in the region and Didier took over the domain in 1985. They make three cuvées and the Prestíge draws upon Syrah (30-40%) and old vine Grenache for the rest, being aged for 6-9 months in demi-muids. It is certainly a full-on wine, similar in many ways to a powerful Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and it needs a strong dish to bring out its best. A melange of gamey notes, lots of dark fruit, and maybe a bit of leather, it was very round and hugely satisfying. Not one to sip on its own, but when paired with a hearty stew or meaty dish, it is a special wine. It goes for £32.50 a bottle at BB, but I’d be surprised if it cost much more than £15-17 retail (if you can find it).

2009 Domaine Les Yeuses (Vin De Pays d’Oc, France), Vermentino & 2008 Salomon Undhof (Hochterrassen, Austria), Grüner Veltliner

Toward the end of the meal, a pair of whites emerged. The charming Vermentino was a good example of the grape, and produced baskets of exotic fruits and bouquets of fresh flowers in my mind. I had a few glasses of that, and found it more intriguing than the perfectly acceptable but not particularly memorable Grüner pictured above.

As a side note, another wine I really enjoyed during the meal, but forgot to photograph, was the 2007 Benoit Cantin from Irancy in France, which was crafted from 100% Pinot Noir. I have had a few other Pinots from the same appellation and not been overly impressed, but this was a beauty. A somewhat typical nose of cherries and berries, what sticks out in my mind was the elegant and soft tannins and the depth of the cherry flavour. It had a nice finish too, not all that long, but refreshing. It sells for £10/glass at BB, but if buying retail by 6-bottle case, it goes for about £16/bottle, which is good value indeed.

Lastly, as we dusted off the desserts, David brought a nice alternative of a sweet wine out for us to try. Actually it wasn’t wine, per se, but an ice cider (cidre de glace) from Quebec. It was new to me, but it was a wonderful idea, and would complement any dessert with apple or pear very nicely – it was perfectly balanced with great hit of acidity to balance the sweetness of the dominant apple flavor.

Perfectly Fine to Wine and Dine

My overall experience at BB was a positive one. There were no real duds in terms of the food (and we had a lot of it), although I don’t think the aioli would be worth ordering. As already mentioned, the charcuterie was as fine as I’ve had in London and the burgers were prepared with good ingredients, cooked well and tasted like…well…proper burgers. I thought the sea bass was fantastic, and would order it again. Aside from some of the desserts, many of which sounded and looked better than they tasted, the kitchen showed a very good pedigree and potential.

Open Kitchen & Bar Seating

Of course, I was sitting with a group of chatty and friendly bloggers, and the restaurant did sort of pander to us throughout most of the meal. Plus we didn’t pay a penny. So I can’t vouch for the experience you would have if you came as a couple or small group for dinner at BB, but my guess is you’d like a lot of it, and that the service would be pretty polished. But eating out is a subjective thing, and a lot of it can depend on the day.

It’s a weird thing: while I really enjoyed it at BB, I haven’t felt a strong urge to return since – nothing against them, probably just more to do with my food cravings at the moment, or possibly the fact that we pretty much ate the entire menu so there are no surprises left (?) – although I would certainly drop by to see what magnum they were serving by the glass, and maybe munch on some sort of meaty number(s) to keep me sober.

I also found it personally amusing that DB had decided to come to London at around the same time I had decided to move back to New York – I hope that both of us have chosen the right place at the right time. At the worst, BB can serve as spillover for those who can’t eat ‘Dinner’ with Heston from the beginning of December (according to the good folks at the MO), and he does have all those well-heeled hotel guests, so I would guess that BB will be around for a while.

Storm Troopers would feel at home

Finally, I found it odd that the B-room at BB was completely stark – all white, no red (and certainly no blue). What a contrast to the burgundy-themed restaurant. I don’t mention it for any other reason that I took a photo of it and thought it odd while perusing the shots I took from the evening. So there.

PS – last random bit of info – in the middle of our meal, the former MP and PM, MT, walked into BB with an entourage of about three. I guess right now, this is somehow the place to B.

*Note: I have been to Bar Boulud in London once, it was for dinner, and I was a guest of the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park (and thus didn’t pay anything toward the bill).*

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