Pomp and circumstance from Heston Blumenthal
A decade ago, before everyday life turned upside down and planning trips away became a volatile activity we had thought about booking Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck in Bray for a birthday meal but were put off by the £155 price tag so visited his pub, The Hind's Head instead. Years later we contemplated the Fat Duck again only to see that the price had risen to £255 and had to be paid upfront. Ouch!
So when we were in London last year, just before lockdown we were able to do the next best thing and visit Heston Blumenthal’s two Michelin-starred restaurant Dinner by Heston which is located at London’s Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park. A place where a 2 Michelin starred meal is actually considerably cheaper than a room!
It just so happened that when visited that a special “Taste History – Last Supper in Pompeii” set menu, inspired by an exhibition of the same name at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford was available and as we had visited Pompeii the year before it seemed like this was the menu for us rather than snail porridge and such like, so we time-travelled back to 79AD to see how Heston Blumenthal paid homage to a Pompeian feast. When in Rome...Pompeii...London...
At £88 per person for a 3-course meal in a 2 Michelin-starred restaurant run by one of the UK's most famous chefs, and at dinner time, you could almost say that this is a bargain!
Our culinary adventure began with carbonised bread of Pompeii served alongside Bay of Naples butter which is made with squid ink. Hmm, it doesn't look remotely appetising but you know this was actually tasty bread made with activated charcoal and an umami-flavoured butter that tasted of the sea.
Our first course proper was pickled mussels served with garum and mussel cream, lovage, oyster leaf and purslane. Garum is a fermented fish sauce we discovered so again flavours of the sea. The mussels were not only pickled but smoked too. A relatively simple dish but certainly enjoyable.
This was followed by duck and turnip. Buttered black turnip, turnip cream, turnip tops and truffle served with civet of duck with Pearl barley, confit thigh, gizzards and umbles. The duck was perfectly pink.
Next up was Libum, which was a cake offered to household spirits. Cheese curds, preserved fig, grapes, pink pepper, honey ice cream and frozen ash so like a heaped cheesecake, creamy with bites of sweet fruit and punchy pepper.
Some black sesame and honey biscuits to almost bring our meal to an end.
But that’s not all! You can add on a bonus course of ice cream. Which we had to order seeing as the ice cream is made by a hand-cranked mixer. This mixes custard and liquid nitrogen to create instant ice cream at the tableside and then you can pick from a variety of sprinkles such as popping candy to top off your ice cream cone. Lovely ice cream which is worth the extra money for the experience.
As expected an unusual meal with Heston Blumenthal quirks but it was also good to see that it tied in with an actual museum exhibition (sadly we weren't able to visit) and probably entailed some fun reading up on dishes of the time. It may not look like a lot of food but the bread and ice cream helped fill us up so we left feeling content.
Dinner by Heston is known for its unique take on historic British gastronomy and this sidestep into the dishes of the conquerors of a large part of Britain was a welcome meander. We may return one day to try the regular menu, if you can consider anything by Heston to be 'regular'.
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park
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