Expressing his own philosophy and science of fine dining, Heston Blumenthal has made a mark in the culinary world. After choosing to move his entire Fat Duck restaurant and staff to Melbourne and back again, he decided to keep his premises at the Crown Towers in order to open a sister restaurant to Dinner by Heston at the Mandarin Oriental in London.
After noticing the incredible amount of acceptance and adventure in the rapidly developing food culture of Australia, it made sense for him to do so. The man at the helm of this restaurant however, is none other than Ashley Palmer-Watts, making dinner an institution and not a habit. Heston? Well he pops by every now and then but has given full reigns to Palmer-Watts to hit the mark and maintain it.
While Dinner by Heston is not overtly theatrical, or as much of a play on emotion and the senses as three Michelin star restaurant The Fat Duck, Heston's restaurant in Melbourne is just as delicious and as high a standard as his two Michelin Star sister restaurant in London. Dinner by Heston offers an unforgettable food adventure through centuries of British cuisine.
As a restaurant that entices the tastebuds and fuels the senses, it ensures the delivery of full and flirting flavours. Service is on another level and the staff are earnestly friendly, well trained and well read - ready to answer your every question or to educate you on the flavour profiles and history of the ingredients forming the dish on your plate.
Guests are first confronted by a long and dimly lit hallway that doesn't appear to lead anywhere. You're left standing there for just enough time to consider if you've made the wrong turn when a door slides open - a play on his guests he's kept from the Fat Duck and his love for Lewis Carrol's Alice in Wonderland.
Each and every dish on the menu pays homage to traditional British cuisine, recipes sourced from century old cook books and even recipes from cooks of the royal family. Wrapped around napkins are paper holders on the back of which a few words on British cuisine and Heston's vision are written. Each napkin is different and it's here that the attention to detail even in the table setting is first showcased. Although some recipes are old in flavour, they have been redefined and re-imagined in a modern light, take the Meat Fruit for example.
Now a trademark dish, the Meat Fruit appears to be an unsuspecting and deliciously sized mandarin placed alongside grilled sourdough bread. For many who are familiar with this surprise, it is in fact a wonderfully smooth chicken-liver and foie gras parfait rolled into a sphere and dipped into a mandarin jelly made from mandarin puree and essential oils.
Although it appears to be rich, it's light, perfectly smooth and somewhat creamy. The mandarin jelly caught on the back of the spoon adds a little freshness to the flavour. Also - if you have more parfait than bread left, don't worry as the bread is free to be replaced upon your request. In fact, the staff will insist.
The Frumenty was so full of depth. Made primarily from grain, the dish itself resembled coral and seaweed - the kind that washes up onto shore. The grilled octopus sat tall above the transluscent smoked sea broth and sea herbs. The sea herbs looked delicate but gave an extra crunch to an otherwise soft textural dish. The octopus was not at all tough or rubbery. It was hard to believe that this was in fact an entree and not a main course.
I cannot fail to mention that all dishes are brought out at once for the table. Two waiters came to our table, paused, signalled at each other with a nod and placed the dishes on the table at the exact same time - a resounding clunk following. They then began to explain each dish, the history and its elements in a conversational and professional manner.
The duck had been sous vide, was incredibly tender and made me wonder if I should have also chosen duck over the pork belly because it was so perfect with the fennel. That's not to say the pork belly was bad, it certainly wasn't.
The flavours were deep, wholesome and rich. The Robert Sauce was on another level and I've never had pork that was so easy to cut. The snapper? Well I barely had a taste as my mother was a little territorial over this dish she now loved.
The strawberry fields dessert was and is a beautiful feast for the eyes. I do not think I have ever seen sorbet look as smooth or as creamy (sorbets are rarely creamy) as this one, perfectly sitting atop crumble. Almost too pretty to eat, all elements on the dish act as support and accompaniment both visually and tastefully.
Hot, soft and sticky caramelised brioche straight from the oven, divided into five guilty pieces soaked in alcohol was hard to share.
Although super light and fluffy, the brioche is still reasonably heavy on the tastebuds by itself. The tart spit roasted pineapple is what balanced the flavour and you couldn't help but go in for another piece.
A short while after our desserts began to digest, one of the waitresses suggested wheeling over the nitrous ice cream trolley. With such theatre, who could resist? Certainly not myself or my brother. Although my stomach was on the verge of popping from being so full, I was easily tempted by the nitrous vanilla custard turn ice cream that was coated in toppings of your choice that ranged from white chocolate and raspberries with popping candy and fish and chips flakes.
Just be aware that the ice cream is so incredibly cold. The waitress explained to us the process of making the custard ice cream, even telling us a few facts about the custom made nitrogen ice cream trolley. What is brilliant about this dessert is the little palate cleanser of strawberries and orange blossom compote at the bottom of the cone, which provides some much needed relief and freshness throughout the creamy custard scoop.
Just when I thought I couldn't possibly have anything to eat ever again in Melbourne because I was so gloriously full and satisfied, out came an unexpected meal finisher, a post-dessert dessert. In a small glass sat Earl Grey-infused chocolate ganache and a caraway biscuit sat on the side. The tea infused ganache was refreshing, particularly as most tea infused desserts rarely have notes of the tea at all. The consistency of the ganache was so smooth but full-bodied that it fluidly fell from the spoon with each small scoop.
The interior of the restaurant is of course incredible - although I did keep searching for remnants of The Fat Duck Melbourne in the hopes that they had forgotten to take something back with them to Bray. I was unsuccessful but I did find the interiors for Dinner to be of equal attention to detail, even with people smoothing down the lush velvet lime green seats with gloves to ensure no tush marks.
The blinds moved up and down, triggered by the way the natural light filtered through the windows and you often found yourself staring either through the open kitchen in awe, out over the beautiful Southbank of Melbourne or at the ridiculous food on your plate.
We left drunk on food and wine, and if I didn't have my eyes set on Vue de Monde as my next food frenzy splash out for when I next visit Melbourne, I would revisit Dinner by Heston.