Historical Food at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London

On Sunday we had lunch at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. The restaurant has just been awarded a much-deserved second Michelin Star, and is famous for serving his re-creations of historical dishes. 

For those not in the UK, Heston has become a British National Treasure for his self-taught molecular gastronomy and for his re-creations of fantastical feasts from the past, an era when English cuisine was as adventurous and exciting as in Europe.

Firstly the view ... They asked us where we wanted to sit, so I asked to be by the window, as I've always loved this view over Hyde Park ...

And looking into the kitchen ...

If you want to ask for these tables when booking, there are a few of them, and since the experience of eating at Dinner by Heston is as much about the spectacle as the taste of the food, I highly recommend them (as you go in, they are tucked down to the left).

Good bread is always an excellent sign, and an even better one is when the butter is bien chambré.

The others started with a glass of the Champagne of the month, which was so good they continued with it. I like a semi-sweet wine to go with parfait de foie gras, so I went for a glass of 2011 Jurançon. (And I'm such a light-weight when it comes to alcohol, I kept half the glass to go with pudding).

And this is the form the foie gras took:

Meat Fruit (c.1500)
We all ordered this signature dish, always the most popular one at the restaurant.

The parfait of livers is served in an illusion of a mandarin, whose gelatine skin is edible, although the leaves are not.

The dish it adapted from a Medieval one, where meat pate was disguised as apples, and served amongst fruit, for example at the coronation feast of Henry IV in 1399. This is the original recipe for Pome Dorres from the circa 1430 Harleian MS Leche Vyaundez (source):

I've posted Heston's recipe at the bottom of this post, for those brave enough to try it, and this image from Jean Fouquet, Les grandes chroniques de France, circa 1460, shows the sort of feast it would have been served at (BNF):

The original recipe's ingredient that interested me was pepper, since this came via traders from the East, and was particularly expensive. This illustration comes from a French edition of Marco Polo's Travels (BNF):

Spices where one of the main objectives of trade with the East, and the main difference between traditional English recipes and traditional French and Italian recipes was that spices featured prominently in the former, herbs in the latter. The Jewish trading clans known as the Radhanites brought many spices along the Silk Route and into France and Spain through the early Middle Ages; traditionally their trade networks are said to have collapsed not long after the fall of the Tang Dynasty in AD 908, but the Hebrew letters from Dunhuang push their activity potentially up to 1006 when the cave there was sealed, and the unpublished documents from the recently found Afghan Geniza into the 13th and 14th centuries.

Then I made a mistake - I stuck with water, when a tannic red would really have helped cut the fat in the:
Britain by this point had become famous for the quality of it's meat, which tended to be cooked and served without the heavy sauces other cuisines used to disguise their poorer quality meats. The mushroom ketchup was interesting to try once, the gravy divine.

The dish comes with Heston's signature double-cooked chips, which were very good, but I admit I left many of mine ...

... because I was too busy scraping the bowl of the divine side order of mashed potatoes.

The third person went for the sea bass- Roast Sea Bass (c.1830), Leaf chicory, sea purslane & cockle ketchup - which was excellent, but I forgot to photograph ...

Then onto desert! Several tables went for the off-menu option of having vanilla ice-cream made at the table, with lots of dramatic fog:

We stuck to the menu choices.

We were too full to even contemplate tea or coffee.

Heston Blumenthal is one of those culinary experiences everyone should try and we can't recommend it enough.

Eating a la carte is most fun, and the dishes are not cheap, but £16 for the Meat Fruit is pretty reasonable considering the ingredients and the amount of work that goes into it. Other starters are less, main courses around £ 25 to 35 and deserts mostly a tenner. The week-day set lunch is £ 38.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park
66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA
T - +44(0)20 7201 3833
Reservations are best made on the net here.

Heston Blumenthal has just published Historial Heston in the UK, which features many of the recipes from his Dinner by Heston menu, including the recipe for Meat Fruit below. The US edition will be out next month.

For those who can access the BBC iPlayer, the book is Radio 4's "Book of the Week" so today's first episode about The Forme of Cury, the oldest English cookbook, is here, tomorrow's about Pomes Dorres will be here, and so forth.

Medievalists.net has many interesting articles under the "Food" tag.

The (very long) recipe by Heston Blumenthal for "Meat Fruit" from Historic Heston Blumenthal is after the break ...

Meat Fruit 
by Heston Blumenthal 

Parfait spheres
100g peeled and finely sliced shallots
5g peeled and finely diced garlic
15g thyme, tied together with string
150g dry Madeira
150g ruby port
75g white port
50g brandy
250g foie gras, veins removed
150g chicken livers, veins removed
18g salt
2g curing salt
240g whole egg
300g unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature

  • ● Begin by placing the shallots, garlic and thyme in a container, along with the Madeira, ruby port, white port and brandy. Cover and allow to marinate in the fridge overnight.
  • ● Remove the marinated mixture from the fridge and place in a saucepan. Gently and slowly heat the mixture until nearly all the liquid has evaporated, stirring regularly to prevent the shallots and garlic from catching. Remove the pan from the heat, discard the thyme and allow the mixture to cool. Preheat the oven to 100C.
  • ● In the meantime, fill a deep roasting tray two-thirds full with water. Ensure that it is large and deep enough to hold a terrine dish measuring 26cm wide, 10cm long and 9cm high. Place the tray in the oven. Place the terrine dish in the oven to warm through while the parfait is prepared. Preheat a water bath to 50C.
  • ● To prepare the parfait, cut the foie gras into pieces roughly the same size as the chicken livers. In a bowl, combine the foie gras and chicken livers and sprinkle with the salt and curing salt.
Mandarin jelly
80g glucose
2kg mandarin purée
180g bronze leaf gelatin
1.6g mandarin essential oil
7g paprika extract

  • ● Place the glucose and 1kg mandarin purée in a saucepan and gently heat to 50c, stirring to dissolve the glucose completely. Bloom the gelatin by placing it in a container and covering it with cold water.
  • ● Allow to stand for five minutes. Place the softened gelatin in a fine-mesh sieve and squeeze out all excess water, then add it to the warm mandarin purée. Stir well until fully dissolved. Take 250g of the warm purée mixture and add the mandarin essential oil and paprika extract. Stir gently to combine and add it back to the mandarin mixture. Add the remaining mandarin purée and stir again to fully combine, before passing the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve.
  • ●Allow the mandarin jelly to stand in the fridge for a minimum of 24 hours before using.
Herb oil
180g extra virgin olive oil
15g rosemary
15g thyme
10g peeled and halved garlic

  • ● Place the olive oil, herbs and garlic in a sous-vide bag. Seal under full pressure and refrigerate. Keep in the fridge for 48 hours before using.
  • ● Mix well to combine and place in a sous-vide bag. Put the alcohol reduction, along with the egg, in a second sous-vide bag, and the butter in a third bag. Seal all three bags under full pressure and place them in the preheated water bath for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the bags from the water bath and place the livers and the egg-alcohol reduction in a deep dish.
  • ● Using a handheld blender, blitz the mixture well, then slowly incorporate the melted butter. Blend until smooth. It is important to remember that all three elements should be at the same temperature when combined, to avoid splitting the mixture.
  • ● Transfer the mixture to a Thermomix, set the temperature to 50C and blend on full power for three minutes. Pass the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve lined with a double layer of muslin. Carefully remove the terrine from the oven, pour in the smooth parfait mixture and place the terrine in the bain-marie. Check that the water level is the same height as the top of the parfait. Cover the bain-marie with aluminium foil.
  • ● After 35 minutes, check the temperature of the centre of the parfait using a probe thermometer. The parfait will be perfectly cooked when the centre reaches 64C. This can take up to an hour. Remove the terrine from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature. Cover with cling film and place in the fridge for 24 hours.
  • ● Remove the terrine from the fridge and take off the cling film. To remove the oxidised layer on top of the parfait, scrape the discoloured part off the surface. Spoon the parfait into a disposable piping bag. Holding the piping bag vertically, spin it gently to ensure all air bubbles are removed. Place two silicone dome-mould trays, each containing eight hemispheres 5cm in diameter, on a tray. Piping in a slow, tight, circular fashion, fill the hemispheres with the parfait, ensuring they are slightly overfilled. Using a palette knife, scrape the surface of the moulds flat, then cover with cling film. Gently press the cling film on to the surface of the parfait and place the moulds in the freezer until frozen solid. Taking one tray at a time from the freezer, remove the cling film and lightly torch the flat side of the parfait, being careful to only melt the surface. Join the two halves together by folding one half of the silicone mould on to the other half and press gently, ensuring the hemispheres are lined up properly. Remove the folded half of the mould to reveal a joined-up parfait sphere, and push a cocktail skewer down into it. Place the moulds back in the freezer for two hours (the spheres are easier to handle once frozen solid).
  • ● Remove them from the mould completely, and smooth any obvious lines with a paring knife. Wrap the perfectly smooth spheres individually in cling film and store in the freezer. They should be placed in the freezer for at least two hours before.

To serve
Reserved frozen parfait spheres
Reserved mandarin jelly
Mandarin stalks with leaves
Sourdough bread
Reserved herb oil
  • ● To make the fruits, preheat a water bath to 30C. Place the mandarin jelly in a saucepan over a low-to-medium heat and gently melt, ensuring the temperature does not rise above 40C. Place the melted jelly in a tall container and place the container in the preheated water bath. Allow the jelly to cool to 27C.
  • ● In the meantime, line a tray with kitchen paper covered with a layer of pierced cling film. This will make an ideal base for the parfait balls when they defrost. A block of polystyrene is useful for standing up the parfait spheres once dipped.
  • ● Once the jelly has reached the optimal dipping temperature, remove the parfait balls from the freezer. Remove the cling film and carefully plunge each ball into the jelly twice, before allowing excess jelly to run off.
  • ● Stand them vertically in the polystyrene and place immediately in the fridge for one minute. Repeat the process a second time. Depending on the colour and thickness of the jelly on the parfait ball, the process may need to be repeated a third time.
  • ● Soon after the final dip, the jelly will have set sufficiently to permit handling. Gently remove the skewers and place the balls on the lined tray, with the hole hidden underneath. Cover the tray with a lid and allow to defrost in the fridge for approximately six hours. To serve, gently push the top of the spheres with your thumb to create the shape of a mandarin. Place a stalk in the top centre of the indent to complete the “fruit”. Serve each meat fruit with a slice of sourdough bread that has been brushed with herb oil and toasted under the grill.


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