Sunday, 19 June 2011

foodgasms (n. pl)

Let's take a detour. This blog may be called 'Sarah Serves' but this will not mean that it is restricted to tales of my culinary adventures. At times I will also share my views on those who Serve Sarah. And a few weeks ago, it was Heston Blumenthal, via the brilliance of his right-hand man at Dinner in the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Knightsbridge, Executive Chef Ashley Palmer-Watts.

Devotion to the cause, plus a nifty app, meant that S bagged a table for 6 as soon as round two of reservations opened and after a leave request, a painstaking wait and a guestlist shuffle, The Day arrived.

For those not in the know, Heston, of Bray's Fat Duck fame, rather enjoyed exploring what and how the British used to eat centuries ago, firstly through recreating dishes as per historical cookery books and then adding a modern twist to them, and this is the premise upon which Dinner is based. As such, the menu has dates and a bibliography.

The restaurant is within the Mandarin Oriental hotel and we rather enjoyed taking a pre-Dinner cocktail in the bar, which is suggestively decorated with beautiful back-lit liqueur bottles projecting their colours through opaque white walls like the ghosts of tipples future. The airy restaurant itself is shaped to allow a greater sense of intimacy than space between tables allows by breaking it into smaller sections, with a glass-walled kitchen so you can catch the magic on action. Including the spit-roasted pineapple (more on this later!)

We'd managed to secure ourselves a table overlooking Hyde Park, from which we could watch the Boris bikes and horses go by - if we could take our eyes off our plates for long enough. We got straight to the business of choosing dishes, with a desperation to try as many if each others' as possible. Nothing brings out the primeval pseudo-altruism more than a great meal, and it was clear that we would all feign charity with our own dishes because we simply HAD to try everyone else's.

Our beautiful-eyed cockney waiter talked us through some of the technicalities of the menu and we set about our battle plan with the zeal of oil prospectors. I assumed I'd have the meat fruit but did a deal with S, R and M, to secure a taste of it as well as Salamugundy (R's choice; as a medievalist by profession she was determined to restrict her meal to a set date period) and lemon salad in exchange for some of my marrowbone. Not my actual own personal marrowbone, you understand, although in retrospect, I possibly would.

Roast Marrowbone

Meat Fruit

  Roast Marrowbone (c.1720)           Meat Fruit (c.1500)                Salamugundy (c.1720)

The Marrowbone salad was surprisingly light and subtly complimented with parsley and anchovy. I am usually wary of anchovies, finding the often limp fishiness atop a pizza to be a world away from the lipsmackingly melted saltiness in a lamb joint, but here it worked. The meat fruit was smoother than I had imagined, having seen it born on Heston's Dinners and remembering it more as rillettes, and was like the most sublime foie gras in it's butteriness, the mandarin jelly coating adding the perfect amount of intrigue. Salamugundy involved chicken oysters, the revered mouthful of dark meat from the back of the chicken ( ) which Louis XIV would insist on being the only part he ate. I now see why.

                                 Lemon Salad (c.1730)                         Roast Scallops (c.1820)

The lemon salad made me mourn the fact that goats curd cannot be bought within 500 yards of
my kitchen.  I missed out on trying the scallops, and need to overcome my unreasonable grudge about this, having not shared any of my dish with J in return.

Main courses followed a similar sharing pattern. Most ordered the powdered duck or the spiced pigeon, and M ordered the roast quail.

Powdered Duck
Powdered Duck (c.1670)

Spiced Pigeon
Spiced Pigeon (c.1780)  

Roast Quail
Roast Quail (c.1590)

Powdered duck is most closely related to a confit, with the addition of a protective salt shroud - the powder - which keeps the flesh moist and tender during it's six-hour cooking. The rich gravy helped this further. Fennel - which I really should cook with more - is not an accompaniment I would usually place with duck, nor one I would smoke, but it both took on the duck juices and leant a vibrancy to the meatiness of the dish. The puréed potato was a star in itself, a beauty that must easily have been 50/50 butter to potato, and that avoided being greasy but not having my greasy fingers swipe the bowl clean. See, primeval, like I said.

The quail was accompanied by smoked parsnip, creating a harmonious rich, sucré salé mouthful. The pigeon was beautifully tender and delicately, yet sweetly spiced, served with artichokes artfully arranged as camouflaged bones.

And then dessert. I may have surprised myself by not having the meat fruit, but I sure as hell was having the tipsy cake. This is where the famed spit-roasted pineapples mentioned earlier come into play. Tipsy cake is a brioche pudding, steeped in a sweet, buttery light rum liqueur to create a rich, custardy puddle at the bottom of its individual casserole and served with pineapple. The pineapples are roasted for 2-3 hours, depending on size, and the dessert must be ordered at the beginning of the meal. This is because it takes 30 minutes to cook, and requires 'basting' with liqueur every three minutes throughout this time.

Wow. My tipsy cake was luxurious, and yet light, the pineapple lending citrus freshness despite their caramelised syrup.

Chocolate Bar (c.1730)
I'm normally a stickler for a chocolate dessert but had no interest whatsoever in the 'Chocolate Bar' on offer this time, leaving it to J to enjoy, as much as the passion fruit and ginger ice cream intrigued me. Today, I was all about the fruit.

Summer Tart (c.1720)

I also tried R's summer tart with camomile and a biscuit ice cream, bang on trend with edible flowers and satisfying in its lightness.

Chocolate Wine (c.1710)

M enjoyed the chocolate wine, the two warm ingredients of dark chocolate and red wine having been merged through centrifugal force, and the accompanying Millionaire Tart would have taken a minimum of 5 hours to put together by R's reckoning based on Heston's 'In Search of Perfection' recipe.
Malted Barley Ice Cream (c.1830)

S decided to treat himself to a rather regal glass of dessert wine to accompany his malted barley and salted caramel ice cream, and having been allowed a sip I can attest to it's being worth it for a special occasion.

Still with me? We've not finished! Our beautiful-eyed cockney waiter brought us an earl grey ganache in a tiny teacup with a caraway biscuit. It was rather dribbly and therefore difficult to eat but no less delicious for it, it's bergamot notes singing through. E in particular enjoyed getting messy with this one.

I enjoyed an espresso with mine, but there was also some white tip tea and a 1970 Puerh on the table.

Dinner done, and at a price not at all unreasonable for such an experience, we went for a wander in the nearby rose garden in Hyde Park as a perfect finish to a wonderful few hours. Senses overwhelmed, I sat in the glorious sunshine people watching, and contemplating how lucky I am to have a table of appreciative gourmets in my close circle until sunset, when I headed home with a wide grin.

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