Dinner by Heston Blumenthal (London, UK)

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
Mandarin Oriental Hotel
66 Knightsbridge
London SW1X 7LA
United Kingdom
Dining date: 10/16/14

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Heston Blumenthal is one of the most notable chefs in the world; his flagship The Fat Duck was once named the best restaurant in the world and has consistently garnered three Michelin stars. He has a number of restaurants in Bray (about an hour outside of London), but Dinner was his first restaurant in London proper. Opened in 2011, it’s achieved much praise of its own, currently holding two Michelin stars and standing at #5 on the 2014 S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants List. Having dined at The Fat Duck a couple of years ago, I was eager to try Dinner while in London.

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Bread Street Kitchen (London, UK)

Bread Street Kitchen
10 Bread Street
London, EC4M 9AB
Dining date: 5/26/12

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After dinner at The Fat Duck, my friend Shawn chose this lunch spot for my last meal in London before returning home. It seemed fitting to try one of Gordon Ramsay’s many restaurants during my stay, and this was one of the few open early enough to squeeze in a quick meal before my flight back to LA.

Ramsay has about a dozen restaurants in the UK and Bread Street Kitchen is his newest, opened in September of last year. While he’s probably best known for his fine dining restaurants, Ramsay does have a number of more casual restaurants (including a pub) in his portfolio. Bread Street kitchen falls into the latter category, with a menu that features a raw bar and items out of its wood-burning oven among a host of other options.  It’s a pretty large space with floor-to-ceiling windows throughout and a long, open kitchen.

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Tamarind chicken wings, spring onions, coriander

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The wings were covered in a delicious sweet glaze, yet still held up a pretty crispy batter. The meat itself was juicy while the chopped onions provided a little bit of cool freshness to complete the bites. Well done.

Braised pork collar, mustard glaze

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I’d have to say this large hunk of meat looked really appetizing as it came out. The pork itself was smoky and sweet, rich with a few gelatinous pockets. I’m not a big fan of the gelatinous part, but anyone who does would probably love this.

Slow-roasted Dingley Dell pork belly, spiced apple sauce

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Another meaty dish, this was a generous chunk of pork belly – not too fatty. The skin was delightfully crispy, while apple sauce provided a sweet, fruity (albeit typical) accompaniment.

Steamed bass, braised leeks, razor clams, samphire, shellfish dressing

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I ordered this dish, wanting something a bit lighter. The fish was moist, complemented by light flavors of the leeks and a shellfish essence in the sauce. Little pieces of razor clam provided subtle chewy texture, while samphire (a plant I’ve never seen in the US, apparently indigenous to the UK) provided some earthy balance.

Hand-cut chips

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Carrot and red onion coleslaw

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Macaroni and cheese

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We also ordered a few sides to go along with the entrees (all a la carte). They were good, albeit nothing special. I ordered the fries and liked how they came pretty thick-cut, crispy with a fluffy interior. Kind of reminded me of my grandmother’s french fries.

We passed on dessert since we were a little short on time. Plus, we had Oddono’s gelato just before this meal so we kind of had dessert for breakfast.

Bread Street Kitchen provided a casual atmosphere and simple, well-executed food. The food isn’t particularly unique but it isn’t trying to be. After the dinner the night before, it was a welcome sight to come back to something more comfortable. Next time though, I’m ready for Royal Hospital Road.

The Fat Duck (Bray, UK)

The Fat Duck
High Street
Bray, Berkshire SL6 2AQ
Dining date: 5/25/12

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I recently attended an extraordinary four-day wedding in India. On the way back, I wanted to capitalize on the fact that I was halfway around the world and stopover somewhere interesting to explore/eat. Options throughout Asia piqued my interest but my friend Shawn proposed that I visit him to spend a couple of days in London with the main reason being to dine at The Fat Duck. He’d been wanting to go but hadn’t had a chance to yet – I didn’t need much convincing.

Opened in 1995, The Fat Duck has become a world-renowned destination (~30 miles outside London), having been bestowed 3 Michelin stars each year since 2004 and being named the best restaurant in the world in 2005 in one particular survey (it consistently held a spot in the top 5 until dropping to #13 in 2012). The chef, Heston Blumenthal, is known for modernist cooking (and a lot of molecular gastronomy) and a wild sense of imagination when it comes to his cuisine. Needless to say, I was very excited for this one – this would be one of those rare meals where I walked in expecting a meal that I would remember for a lifetime. It wouldn’t disappoint.

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The Fat Duck is tasting menu only, around 14 courses for £180. The first thing that came to our table was this trolley filled with cold champagnes. Dining at the Fat Duck seemed like a festive occasion in itself, so we kicked off the meal with a glass.

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AERATED BEET ROOT Horseradish Cream

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The first dish to hit our table was this amuse bouche. Looking kind of like a macaron (and having a texture similar to one), the shell exhibited a strong beet flavor, while a subtle spiciness crept up in the cream.

NITRO POACHED APERITIFS Vodka and Lime Sour, Gin and Tonic, Campari Soda

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Three choices of cocktail aperitifs came next. Some type of powder was frozen tableside with liquid nitrogen, resulting in a light and airy shell that melted once it hit my mouth. I had the campari soda and, indeed, it did taste pretty darn similar to the real thing.

We decided to start with a lighter white and progress to something bolder later in the meal.

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RED CABBAGE GAZPACHO Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream

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The mustard ice cream was the most pronounced flavor in this dish, which was both refreshing and mildly spicy. The red cabbage gazpacho itself was sweet, balancing out the ice cream nicely.

JELLY OF QUAIL, CRAYFISH CREAM Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast

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I had seen a picture of this dish ahead of the meal and was very curious how it all worked; it’s easily one of the most memorable presentations I’ve ever seen, resembling something like a foggy forest floor. Dry ice is hidden under the grass, and a dense fog billows out as water is poured over. Food-wise, we started with a film that we placed on our tongue – the film gave off a smoky/woody essence on the palate. The two main edible components were the truffle toast and layered quail jelly, crayfish cream and chicken liver parfait. An odd combination of ingredients, but they worked well together to make some delicious savory bites.

SNAIL PORRIDGE Iberico Bellota Ham, Shaved Fennel

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The porridge itself was tasty with a rich creaminess. Tender chunks of escargot were a nice pairing too, as were the thin slivers of fennel. I didn’t think the jamon iberico was too pronounced though.

For the next dish, we had the option of the foie gras from the tasting menu or a special scallop dish that day. Three out of the four of us decided to stick with the foie gras.

ROAST FOIE GRAS Barberry, Braised Kombu and Crab Biscuit

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The foie gras itself was cooked perfectly, topped with a sweet fruity topping. It was good, but I thought the flavor profiles were a bit “typical,” especially considering our previous dishes.

Our fourth did really enjoy his scallop, though.

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MAD HATTER’S TEA PARTY (c.1850) Mock Turtle Soup, Pocket Watch and Toast Sandwich

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Our next dish brought back the whimsy with its tower of sandwiches and a teapot. We were presented with gold pocket watches (presumably the Mad Hatter’s) which were placed into the teapot. We were instructed to stir gently and marveled at how the watch disintegrated and ended up turning the liquid into a sort of rich bouillon. Crazy. A quail egg and some caviar accompanied the delicious soup, which we ate with toast sandwiches….as in, crispy toast in between slices of bread. So cool, and tasty too.

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“SOUND OF THE SEA”

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The assault on our senses continued as a sea shell was brought to our table. A small iPod was in each shell and we listened to sounds of the sea/beach as the next course came. A selection of fresh sashimi including mackerel, halibut and cured abalone were accompanied by tapioca sand and a seawater foam. I can’t say for sure that the sounds elevated the flavors, but this was another fun dish. The fish was good, as was the strong sea flavor of the foam, and I found the texture of the tapioca sand to be addicting.

Given I had flown in from Mumbai this morning (the 7:30 dinner began at midnight Mumbai time), I needed a bit of a pick-me-up. Three espressos definitely did the trick.

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SALMON POACHED IN A LIQUORICE GEL Asparagus, Vanilla Mayonnaise and Golden Trout Roe

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The poached salmon was cooked rare with a surprisingly subtle liquorice flavor. The salty trout roe and excellent asparagus may have overshadowed the salmon itself.

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POWDERED DUCK (c.1860) Blood Pudding, Umbles and Apache Potato Puree

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Our last savory course involved the restaurant’s namesake ingredient (there had to be some kind of duck served in this meal right?). It was a tasty and succulent piece of duck breast, though the skin was disappointingly a bit limp. I enjoyed the potatoes and blood pudding though, and the duck spring roll was a fun way to present the duck, as well as provide texture.

HOT AND ICED TEA

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An intermezzo of sorts, I was very amused by this one. We were advised to drink this as soon as possible and were awarded with distinct warm and cold liquids. Aside from the playfulness, it was a good cup of tea too.

MACERATED STRAWBERRIES Olive Oil Biscuit, Chamomile, Coriander, Jelly and Ice Cream Cornet

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The first dessert was this creation – an earl grey ice cream cone followed by this macerated strawberry dish. The strawberries were very sweet, balanced by a sort of savory olive oil biscuit. Everything on the plate was edible, including the picnic tablecloth look-a-like.

THE “BFG” Kirsch Ice Cream and the smell of the Black Forest

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We progressed into the richest and final dessert of the evening. The server sprayed the aroma of “Black Forest” into the air just as we began to dig in. I can’t say the aroma consciously did much, but the gateau was a good one, with cherry and alcohol notes working in tandem with the chocolate. Chocolate crumble was crucial too in adding just a bit of crunch.

The cheese course supplement was a relatively reasonable £15 (given it was a generous portion); two in our party decided to partake.

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WHISK(E)Y WINE GUMS

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Next to arrive at the table were these gummies. SO cool! These were gummies of various whiskeys (reminded me of the Haribo happy-cola bottles) from around the world. They packed a punch too, having a strong whiskey flavor…as they should’ve. Maybe I was just pretty full or buzzed, but I had a difficult time distinguishing the nuances between the whiskeys.

“LIKE A KID IN A SWEET SHOP”
AERATED CHOCOLATE Mandarin Jelly
COCONUT BACCY Coconut Infused with an Aroma of Black Cavendish Tobacco
APPLE PIE CARAMEL with an Edible Wrapper
THE QUEEN OF HEARTS she made some tarts..

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Lastly, we were left with a bag of sweets. Of course, these were fun and whimsical too, particularly the pop tart-like Queen of Hearts.

I do not hesitate in saying that this was one of the most (if not the most) unique and imaginative meal I’ve ever had. The creativity, the whimsy and the execution of these plates combined to make something pretty extraordinary. Having said that, when people ask if it’s the best meal I’ve ever eaten I don’t think I can say yes to that. While there were a number of delicious dishes, none of them made me think “this is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.” Still, I thought the meal spanned a wide variety of ingredients and flavors, all of them working pretty well. This was an excellent all-around meal and easily one of the most memorable I’ve had; it’s surely a destination worth visiting when in London.

Full picture set can be found here.

Oddono’s (London, UK)

Oddono’s
Selfridges Food Hall
400 Oxford Street
London W1A 2LR
Dining date: 5/26/12

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Oddono’s is an Italian gelato shop in London. It all started when my friend Diana tasted this place during a summer abroad in 2005 and returned to America to rave about it. Apparently, she ate it almost daily for a while. I tried it myself in 2007 and approved it as well, subsequently telling my family about it for their trip later that year. Needless to say, my family loved it too and it’s been a craving ever since. I think my dad was almost more excited to hear about Oddono’s than The Fat Duck.

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The first shop opened in South Kensington in 2004; its success has now spawned 4 locations. One of those locations is a stall in the food court of Selfridges, which was the most convenient location for me during this last trip. I knew I had to squeeze in a visit; with all of my lunches and dinners booked, this stop took the “late breakfast” slot.

This shop is definitely smaller than what I remember the actual storefront to be, but the product is exactly the same. There were probably around 15 flavors on offer and I think I tried about half of them. My friend and I each settled on a couple of flavors.

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coffee and cookies and cream

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coffee and stracciatella (chocolate chip)

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As expected, it was an excellent cup of gelato. I am by no means an expert on the matter, so I have a hard time ranking this scoop with others I’ve had, but I enjoyed it. The flavors were spot on and I loved the creamy mouthfeel – not too frozen. Now, if only I could find a way to smuggle this into the US…

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (London, UK)

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
13-15 West Street
London WC2H 9NE
Dining date: 5/25/12

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I arrived in London pretty early on a Friday morning upon the completion of a red-eye flight from Mumbai. One of my friends was working and another would be arriving later in the morning, so I was on my own for lunch. After thorough research, I chose this place: chef Joel Robuchon’s lone UK restaurant and a 2-star Michelin.

I’ve been to L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon a few times to two locations: Paris and Las Vegas. The former was one of my most memorable meals to date. While part of me wanted to try something new and London-specific, this branch drew me in. Much of it was due to the casual atmosphere and counter seating; since I was dining alone I felt much more comfortable in this environment.

While I was tempted to do the full tasting, the £125 menu translated to $200, way more than I wanted to spend. Plus, I didn’t want to over-eat; 14 courses at The Fat Duck were waiting for me at dinner. A 4-course £40 lunch option sounded like a pretty good deal for London standards, and much more manageable for my stomach. I put my hands in the server to guide me through some of the restaurant’s more popular dishes.

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Seats at the counter provide a full view of the kitchen (awesome!), a staple at all of Robuchon’s Atelier establishments. I could easily see Executive Chef Olivier Limousin slice off a few slivers of jamon iberico for my first course.

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foie gras cappuccino

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The kitchen sent out an amuse bouche to start with. The light custard inside was pretty light with a strong foie gras flavor. A thin layer of a port wine reduction provided sweetness to complement the rich liver flavor.

les asperges blanches warm salad of white asparagus with nuts and ‘iberian’ ham

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This was an interesting myriad of flavors on a plate from the rich fatty ham, sweet caramelized hazelnuts, peppery arugula and a cool mustard seed vinaigrette. Surprisingly sweet and juicy asparagus was at the center of the mix of well-balanced flavors.

l’oeuf soft boiled egg on a “piperade” with parsley oil

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As expected, the poached egg was cooked perfectly, breaking apart and running over the rest of the plate with a gentle poke. To absorb the yolk, the egg was placed atop a sweet piperade of tomatoes, green peppers and onions. I thought the mix of flavors was a good one, while a little bit of parsley oil provided another dimension of flavor.

le cabillaud roasted cod bouillabaisse style; mashed potatoes; carrots and fennel with tumeric

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I went with this cod bouillabaisse as my entree, and the kitchen graciously gifted two additional side dishes. The cod itself was moist and flaky, delicious when dipped into the rich saffron and shellfish-flavored sauce. I loved the mashed potatoes, something I’ve often requested at any Joel Robuchon restaurant. They’re just so rich, creamy and decadent…some of the finest mashed potatoes I’ve had. A vegetable side of carrots and fennel with tumeric was another strong side, making this dish feel almost healthy.

le chocolat-tendance creamy manjari chocolate, bitter chocolate sorbet and oreo cookie crumb

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Finally, I went with this chocolate dessert. Layers of chocolate were presented in this cup, with the creamy manjari chocolate at the forefront. There were small crunchy chocolate balls dispersed throughout; I enjoyed the textural crunch but found them to be overbearing at times. Overall I initially liked the dessert but quickly found it slightly one-note and tiring.

In all, I had a very good lunch at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. I wouldn’t say it reached the highs of the meal I had at the Paris outpost, but that was a completely different meal (given that it was the tasting menu at dinner). Execution was top-notch and the atmosphere fun and convivial, it’s always fun to be able to watch and interact with the kitchen. It was an excellent start to my stay in London…dinner on this evening would be even better.