There are a small handful of chefs that I genuinely revere because I’m enamoured with their style, technique and use of ingredients and flavours.
Heston is within this handful and he has been for a long time now. I was livid when the arseholes of the finance world hired IT experts to game The Fat Duck booking process, but I can now finally say that I’ve experienced a Heston meal and although it wasn’t The Fat Duck, Dinner by Heston was a magnificent consolation.
In the past, there has been a tendency for me to bang on about value; taking in all things considered – food, wine and the overall experience. Surprisingly, Dinner by Heston is a lot better in the value stakes than I had expected, although you may not think that when you peruse the à la carte menu; the food is on the pricey side.
The average price for a starter is $35, mains are around $55 (unless you want a steak, which will set you back $75-$85) and desserts are in the vicinity of $25-$30. Sides are $12. It’s the wine list though that has the potential to not cause too much damage to your credit card; that is, if you can also resist the temptation of supping on a $24 cocktail, whilst waiting for your table to become available. The vastly extensive and (literally) heavy wine
list book will take some time to work your way through and if you’re on a budget, you can find some much-loved gems on the list that still have a typical restaurant mark up, but aren’t overly steep in price. Of course, like we did, you can also place your trust in the hands of the Sommelier if you find the list overwhelming.
Like a number of other reviews I’ve read, the theatre begins when you attempt to negotiate your way into the restaurant. Maybe it’s a test. We passed… albeit eventually and an automatic sliding door led us to a stunning open kitchen that overlooks a dining room with dark colours, tempered by light green chairs and tan leather banquettes. It’s instantly inviting and comfortable. The kind of place that makes you pleased that you’ll be spending the next 3 or 4 hours here.
Our table wasn’t ready, so we were ushered to the bar for a cocktail (call me cynical, but it does makes me wonder whether this was a subtle tactic). This is apparently Heston’s first endeavour into extending his repertoire into bars, so we played along and had a cocktail that was swiftly expedited. My Olive Leaf Martini (c. 1930) was clean and crisp. It was explained to me that the olive leave flavour is an extract from distilling the leaves. I like my martinis dirty, so perhaps the technique was lost on me. My dining partner has an aversion to gin, so he settled for a Pineapple Sparkler (c. 1910), which formed the basis of some objectionable jocularity for a few minutes until our table was declared ready.
Again we were ushered, this time to our table and we were given a prime window seat, overlooking what was a very clear Melbourne night. Sadly, this was an evening of platonic bromance and therefore any romantic inferences were completely lost on us.
One week into being open to the public, after a couple of weeks of offering soft openings, Dinner by Heston was still running at half capacity, with a full complement of staff. Needless to say, the service was impeccable; prompt and very attentive. But also friendly too, which added to the pleasantness of the evening.
So, down to the food. It was great. It was delicious, precise and pretty. But this is Heston, so you should expect no less.
Meat Fruit (c.1500, $38) was ‘the’ dish that I have always wanted to try. An ever-so delicate chicken liver parfait that is expertly covered with a thin film of mandarin gel, textured so it looked like a mandarin more than some mandarins I’ve seen in Coles.
The parfait was sublime; light as a feather, not too rich and the citrus flavour from the mandarin gel was a perfect contrast.
Bromance opted for the Salmagundy (c. 1720, $36), which by definition is a fancy salad containing all sorts of things. This one contained chicken oysters, braised artichoke stems, marrowbone and pickled walnuts atop a well-balanced horseradish cream.
We drank a modestly-priced Torbrek Woodcutters Semillion, which was, I don’t know… maybe $50 – a standard mark up for a $20 bottle.
Mains were hard to choose and as much as I wanted the Black Angus Rib eye with mushroom ketchup and fries (c.1830, $85), it was a steak. And whilst it would have been a damn fine one too, this was about trying other things, so I settled on the Powdered Duck Breast (c.1670, $54), which was cooked in Ale and served with charred artichokes. Sadly, we ate all of the bread, so there was none left to mop up the sauce. I didn’t ask, but should have.
Bromance went for the Lamb & Cucumber (c.1830, $56), which was a marriage of roasted best end of lamb with a braised cucumber, crumbed sweetbreads, broad beans, barilla & mint. Sunday roast on steroids.
Our accompanying sides (Green Beans with Shallots and Fries) were underwhelming for not only the cost, but also the disparity in quality against the other quality dishes. They were pretty pedestrian and when you put fries on a menu, I expect fries. Not chips.
We turned to the Sommelier for advice on a red to compliment both the lamb and the duck, with a price point in mind ($100). He successfully recommended a French Grenache, which was fruity, but packed a bigger punch in the tannin stakes. Ten out of ten for matching and drinking.
For dessert, Bromance chose the Chocolate Bar (c.1730, $26) with passionfruit jam and ginger ice cream. He liked it, but he wasn’t successful in masking his diner’s envy. My Brown Bread Ice Cream (c.1830, $26) vied for dish of the night with Meat Fruit. The ice cream was drizzled with malted yeast syrup and perched onto a bed of salted butter caramel. Little bits of fresh pear alternated with crisp miniature brown bread croutons. Heavenly.
Whilst desserts come with a recommended dessert wine, we are but humble and creatures of habit and unanimously settled on much loved De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon ($80).
If you have room, there is also cheese and for some additional theatre, the wait staff will wheel out the Nitro Ice Cream Trolley and serve you a personalised cornetto, hand-churning your ice cream with liquid nitrogen, at your table. Sadly, not for us, but maybe next time.
If you’re a fan of Heston; seen the TV shows, read the books and even made the recipes, then this is something you should experience… as long as you know that a lot of the molecular gastronomy kit was packed up and shipped back to The Fat Duck in Bray. This is not the holistic Heston experience where you’ll eat Lego that tastes like bananas with whale penis… you know; like all of that Heston stuff you see on TV. But I knew that and I was up for seeing how Heston and his team have recreated some of the ye olde foods of ye olde times and thrown in some Australiana for good measure. And it works.