written late Sunday night or early Monday morning, whatever: We put our clothes in suitcases while the bagpipes skirled outside, night flight to Heathrow, and there was another St Paddy's Day parade! Rather tame after New York's, but a statement of presence nonetheless. It was also Mothering Sunday (Mothers' Day) in England, so we were happy to find a table at Dinner By Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin - yes, that's its name and it's quite a mouthful, even before you get anything to eat. The Mandarin Hotel was the Hyde Park Hotel in a previous life, and in any of its incarnations it's had at least one pretty fine restaurant. Now it's the home of Dinner.
You enter the hotel to a glimpse of Victorian comfort:
and are greeted by young ladies in long black aprons and light tan bodysuits. Himself looked hopeful for a moment, but then realized that they were in fact quite fully clothed.
The restaurant is modern, subdued, wooden tables, no tablecloths. The menu is based on, or rather, inspired by recipes for English dishes that HB found in old cookbooks, some dating to 1500. The glassed-in kitchen is ultra-modern, however, and so is the preparation and presentation of the food. This is not a theme restaurant, no jugglers or minstrels. HB is championing the best and most sophisticated English cooking, as a great English tradition. I put aside a terrifying early memory to the contrary ("What's today's soup?" "It's brown, Madam.") and prepared to be historically thrilled by this renowned master chef. Guess what? The food was terrific! Here's what we had:Our starter was a custard-y little warm crab loaf, with some chopped cabbage and fresh herbs in mayonnaise, and a generous blob of fine caviar on top. English crab is just not in the same league as the Maryland species, but if you're going to eat crab over here, this is the way to do it.
We shared a slow-roasted "wing rib" of beef, really a daring act of faith on my part since I have only had fish and game in this country since the Mad Cow business. I know it's said to have been eliminated, or controlled, but it's not in my DNA to believe anything the British Ministry of Agriculture says. However good St Pat was looking out for me, as I haven't collapsed yet (writing 24 hours later). The roast was accompanied by "thrice-fried" chipped potatoes (really good French fries), a lovely hash of chopped cabbage and cream, and mushroom catsup. The original meaning of catsup was "anything tangy that's put on food and isn't Worcestershire sauce," and this was essentially chopped mushrooms in gravy.
Meanwhile at a neighboring table, dessert was being served in a cloud of mystery which we shared.Yes, that's a standing mixer, and something icy and steamy was being mixed into the custard in the bowl to make ice cream, which was immediately served up in cones with sprinkles. A more imaginative historian than I could place this in British culinary history, I have the feeling it didn't come over with William the Conqueror. From the way the lucky guests wolfed them down, however, you could tell they had come to eat, not to study.
My dessert was a lemon custard inside a cake shell, with a lemon sauce. Lemon possets are much in the air lately, HB started with that for inspiration and came up with this delight. Himself had brown bread ice cream with salted caramel. He didn't offer me any.
What else? Well, the coffee was hot and strong, and was accompanied by a chocolate parfait. We could have walked back but the weather had turned cold and drizzly, more "traditional British" if you will, so we treated ourselves to a cab.