Review: Dinner by Heston, London England

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

The meal that I enjoyed at The Fat Duck in Melbourne in 2015 is still without doubt the best meal I’ve ever had – even when you take into account outings at Sepia, Tetsuya’s, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Steirereck and Amass. There’s something about the majesty and theatrical nature of Fat Duck experiences that’s simply unparalleled.

There was no real opportunity for K and I to visit the Fat Duck in Bray during our time in England. Time and budget wasn’t on our side. What we could try was a lunch at Dinner by Heston at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Knightsbridge. Dinner by Heston has now opened up in Melbourne now in place of The Fat Duck of course, so we thought a visit to the original restaurant would be a great way to get a taster of what we could expect from the Melbourne site.

There’s a few different ways that you can choose to have the Dinner by Heston experience – there’s a set lunch menu which K chose, or you can order a la carte as I did to ensure that you get to try some of their signature dishes. If you’re lucky, you can even book the chef’s table for a special tasting menu. On the day that we went, we chose these dishes:

Entrée

K: Lemon Salad (c.1730) with smoked artichoke, goats curd and beetroot (part of 40 GBP set lunch menu)

Me: Meat Fruit (c. 1500) with mandarin, chicken liver parfait and grilled bread (17.50 GBP)

Mains

K: Roast Pollack with Admiral’s sauce (c. 1830) with parsnip puree, shrimps, shallots, brown butter and capers (part of 40 GBP set lunch menu)

Me: Powdered Duck Breast (c. 1670) with smoked confit fennel, smoked beetroot and umbles (36 GBP)

Sides: Carrots and caraway (4.75 GBP) and triple cooked chuips (6 GBP)

Desserts

K: Marmalade Pudding (c. 1750) with blood orange, Campari, goats milk and lemon thyme ice-cream (part of 40 GBP set lunch menu)

Me: Tipsy Cake (c. 1810) with spit roast pineapple (14.50 GBP)

What do the dates mean next to each dish? Some of you will know that the whole concept behind Dinner by Heston is a celebration of traditional British cuisine, updated of course, to suit Heston’s modern techniques and tastes.

So my entrée of a meat fruit actually stems from an English recipe dating back to 1500, the time of the Tudor dynasty in England. It’s been updated by Heston to feature his signature ‘what you see isn’t what you get’ touch. Here, what looks like a simple mandarin is actually a delicious ball of creamy aerated ball of chicken liver parfait wrapped in a fresh citrus gel.

The same thing applies to all the other dishes – they’re modern interpretations of recipes that have been found by Heston in old housewives household manuals, royal menus, and other cookery books. If you ever wanted to eat your way through decades-worth of A History of English Cooking, Dinner by Heston has you covered.

My food highlight is the meat fruit of course for its moreish liver parfait – rich without being too rich, meaty without being too meaty, and just light enough to justify eating a whole ball of it on thick toast slices. I also loved the Tipsy Cake with its custard-soaked brioche pudding and caramelised pineapple – this is one dish I have to try making at home! If you prefer a lighter dessert, K’s Marmalade Pudding was a perfect light, fresh and palate-cleansing dessert – one perfect for a warm summer’s day.

Beyond the food, Dinner by Heston also offers some fantastic drink options. There’s an extensive wine list of course, but they also mix up some of the amazing infused juices that I first experienced at Fat Duck Melbourne. On this particular day, I had a startlingly spicy chilli-infused orange juice that had the two-fold effect of quenching my thirst while leaving a surprisingly hot chilli afterburn. I’d never really tried chilli and orange as a combination before, but this juice sold me on the combination!

So how has this experience set up our expectations for a future meal at Dinner by Heston Melbourne? If anything, I think we’re probably more excited about the possibility now – not only was the food and drink remarkable in its modernity given its traditional roots, but from all accounts, the Melbourne branch includes some interesting Australian offerings. It’ll be fascinating to see how they can interpret a traditional English menu with Australian ingredients.

Review: Amass, Copenhagen Denmark

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

One year of marriage…and I still have trouble remembering to refer to ‘my husband’ rather than ‘my boyfriend’. It’s been an exciting year, with most of it spent saving and planning for this remarkable adventure around Europe that we’re now on – our first adventure together as a married couple.

For the longest time, we’ve been talking about treating ourselves on our one-year anniversary by dining at the famous Noma in Copenhagen. We even structured our trip so that we could stay in Copenhagen for a week, to give ourselves more chance to get a reservation. Of course, all this hype naturally meant that we would end up being disappointed – when reservations for November were released online, I was on the website straight away…only to be shunted to a queue for two hours after which I was only offered the chance to add my name to a waiting list, rather than being guaranteed a reservation. It absolutely broke my heart.

It was back to the drawing board – what could we do in Copenhagen to celebrate our anniversary? Luckily, Copenhagen is probably the best place in the world for top quality Michelin-starred restaurants, with (I think) about 10 restaurants in the World’s Top 100. We looked into all of them, but finally settled on Amass as a restaurant that could offer something a little more unique, a little more Danish, a little more local.

Amass is located a little bit out of Copenhagen city centre. We took a ferry from the beautiful Nyhavn in the Copenhagen city centre across the harbour to Refshaleoen, where Amass is located – a lovely scenic trip (despite the gloomy weather!) sailing past the beautiful Opera House. The reason they’re based a bit further out is because Amass counts on producing a lot of their own produce, maintaining their own beehives, etc. As they’ve only been around for about two years, their garden is still definitely a work in progress, and was looking a little sad when we visited in winter.

As we stepped off the ferry, my nose caught a tinge of the most incredible smoky barbeque smell. Letting my nose guide me to the back of Amass, we met Milton Abel, the pastry chef at Amass who used to work at the famous French Laundry in California (and Noma before that). He happily talked to K and I about the Amass team as he worked on barbecuing their signature fermented potato bread, made from local potatoes that have been fermented for 10 days, combined with salt and yoghurt, and then cooked on the grill.

As he said, “When I came to Amass, I looked at the bread that all the other famous restaurants in Copenhagen were offering. Everyone does amazing sourdough, and it’s all homemade. I wanted to do something different here at Amass, so I came up with this fermented potato bread – it gives everyone a reason to come here and try something different.”

He loves his job and the team as well. “We’ve been open for about two years now, and in that time, I think only one person has left the team. Everyone’s really close, and it’s a lot of fun to work here.” Catching our accents, he asked if we were from Australia. “It was either that or New Zealand, and I knew there’d be trouble if I got it wrong! We’ve got a few Aussies and Kiwis in the kitchens, and they always have a few jokes with each other.”

Entering the restaurant, you know that you’re in for a cool and innovative experience, not a stuffy formal experience. It’s a big open warehouse-like space, with some pretty cool urban graffiti on one wall. The staff are very cool as well, with either a hipster beard, stretchies in their ears, or piercings.

Our main waiter for the day is a cool Scotsman with ear stretchies and an impeccable ability to pick the right beverages for his diners. Knowing that I don’t drink alcohol, he started me off on a grape juice made with grapes from the French Alps that are normally earmarked for Beaujolais, and then offered me a local organic apple juice from a no-pesticides orchard from the south of Denmark as my second drink. Both were delicious, and I was particularly excited to find the same bottle of apple juice (Fejo Aeblemost) in an upmarket grocery store in Copenhagen later in our stay.

While we had originally planned to have the cheaper lunch menu (395DKK per person), we decided to splurge for the six-course standard menu (595DKK per person) given it was such a special occasion! At the time of dining (it changes regularly!), this menu included the following dishes (wording all my own, not on the menu):

  • Fermented potato and yoghurt grilled bread served with a fermented vegetable dip with nasturtium emulsion
  • Starter of celeriac mousse, salted apple and wormwood crumble
  • Smoked Arctic char served with vinegar powder, potato vinegar crisps, and garnished with nasturtium leaves
  • Smoked Danish squid from the West Coast topped with radish, black garlic oil, plum, egg yolk, and flowers from the Amass garden
  • Soft scrambled eggs with wild mushrooms, red seaweed, sour curd, and topped with toasted buckwheat
  • Wild Danish duck (beware of any stray buckshot!) with pumpkin and juniper, topped with charred parsley
  • Dessert of sugar beet syrup, yoghurt ice-cream, baked sweet potato puree, honey from the Amass beehives, and the slightest hint of black pepper

My pick of the above was definitely the smoked squid – I’ve never had squid quite that creamy and smoky before. Combined with the black garlic oil and the firm and crispy radish slices, it blended together on the palate in a rich smoky savoury hit that sparked all my senses. I also loved the fermented potato bread, and complimented Milton on it when we saw him again during our meal. I’m definitely interested in trying to recreate this bread at home when we return to Australia…we just have to figure out how to ferment potatoes first!

I found the duck quite strong and gamey – understandable given that it was a wild rather than farmed duck! Best suited to those like K who like to eat a lot of meat, and rare, strong-flavoured meat at that. K didn’t think much of the soft scrambled eggs which I enjoyed – I thought the toasted buckwheat and the sour curd really made the dish pop, but he thought it was a bit plain.

Overall, Amass was an absolutely wonderful fine dining experience, well deserving of their status on the World’s Best 50 Restaurants list despite the fact that they’ve only been open for two years. Innovation is high on their priority list, as is the promotion and use of local produce. Their staff are warm, friendly and inviting, and come to Amass after having served time in the kitchens of some of the best restaurants around the world – heck the head chef at Amass is ex-Noma! I wouldn’t be surprised if they were to climb up the Top Restaurants list in the years to come, provided they continue creating and trying new things.

Amass is located at 153 Refshalevej in Copenhagen.

Review: Restaurant Steirereck, Vienna Austria

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

Special occasions ought to be celebrated with a special meal. In 2014, I went to O Bar and Dining for my birthday, two years before that I went to Rockpool on George. I knew that we were going to be Vienna for my birthday in November 2015, and so I booked K and I in for a fancy birthday lunch at Restaurant Steirereck, named at number 15 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

I didn’t know much about the restaurant’s ethos prior to our meal, and really only knew the basics from its blurb on the World’s 50 Best website – farm to fork eating, modern Austrian cuisine, chef and owner trained by Joel Robuchon. What I didn’t expect was to have a mind-blowingly amazing meal, on par with my experiences at The Fat Duck Melbourne and Sepia.

It started on arrival as we were shown in and seated at a table that had a subtle “Happy Birthday” message under the tablecloth – a nice little surprise. It continued with excellent service, immersion of the diner into the meal, a slight touch of theatre, and true attention to detail. Sometimes it’s the little things that really enhance the experience, like how Steirereck places a little card describing the upcoming course to you, allowing you to better appreciate the origins of what you’re eating.

What I loved most about Steirereck was its traditional service, an interesting choice in what is otherwise a very modern building. A highlight of this traditional service was the use of specialised ‘carts’ to accompany different parts of the dining experience:

  • An aperitif cart for both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks to accompany your meal (wines are offered separately)
  • A bread cart, featuring 30 different breads from seven different bakeries located around Vienna. Choose as many or as few as you want!
  • A cheese cart, featuring 55 different cheeses from a variety of different regions. The selection of smelly cheeses is particular impressive and
  • A tea cart, featuring not only a number of canisters of dried tea leaves from around the world, but also a number of pot plants grown on the rooftop of the restaurant. On request, the waiter could create a custom blend of tea with snippings from these pot plants.
  • A petit fours cart mimicking the structure and sounds of a bee hive, in line with the honey theme of all the petit fours.
  • A digestif cart which we didn’t take part in, but which featured a number of bottles of liquors to suit any taste.

What I also liked is how they catered to those who don’t drink alcohol. I’ve already mentioned how disappointing it was that a restaurant like L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon didn’t offer a good range of non-alcoholic drinks, so it was a pleasant surprise that Steirereck is much more thoughtful in that area. When I initially turned down the aperitif offered by the waiter, he followed up with “I do have a non-alcoholic option if you prefer?” and made me a fantastic spritzy berry aperitif.

Along the same lines, the tea trolley was one of my personal highlights of the meal. I was a bit surprised when the waitress asked if we wanted tea or coffee to finish the meal, then walked away after I asked for tea. Was she going to just give me a generic tea without asking what specific tea I would like? Imagine my surprise when the sommelier rolled up the tea trolley and proceeded to give us a sniff sample of each of the pot plants – the chocolate mint plant was particularly delectable, but I opted for a more refreshing citrus blend instead, including sprigs of lemongrass. That attention to detail, and commitment to the freshest ingredients for a fantastic individualised experience is simply superb.

The dishes were, naturally, simply delectable. My personal highlight was the Char with Beeswax, where a piece of char is cooked right in front of your eyes through ‘baking’ in hot beeswax, which leave the piece of char with a glossy firm white flesh. I also loved the look and subtle taste of K’s Chioggia Beets, with its delicate combination of colours and flavours. The dishes were simple in the sense that they used simple, homegrown or otherwise locally sourced ingredients, but each dish was exquisitely put together with both visual and palate appeal.

I can highly recommend Restaurant Steirereck as an amazing restaurant for a fantastic dining experience. We went for a special occasion and had a larger lunch menu with more courses, but it looks as though they’re very open to having people go in for casual one-course lunches, as there seemed to be a number of people who go in for shorter business lunches for only an hour. Steirereck is one in a million, and completely deserves their ranking in the World’s 50 Top Restaurants list.

The Lunch Menu

  • Appetisers including marinated celery in shoyu, cucumbers in eucalyptus powder and sour cream, baby sweet corn, fried soy milk
  • First Course: ‘Schwarzauer’ Mountain Trout with Melon, Cucumber and Etiolated Pea Shoots AND Char with Beeswax, Yellow Carrot, ‘Pollen’ and Sour Cream
  • Second Course: Chioggia Beets with Roses, Porcini Mushrooms & Verbena AND Gulash from Alpine Beef with Leek-Bread Roulade and Pickled Vegetables
  • Third Course: Venison with Squash, Baby Artichokes & Orange Blossom AND Cat Fish Poached in Coconut Milk with Coconut Farina, Porcini and Water Chestnuts
  • Fourth Course: Quince with Burnt Milk & Lavender AND Apricot Soufflee with Amaranth and Lemon Verbena
  • Petit Fours

Restaurant Steirereck is located at 2A Am Heumarkt im Stadtpark, Vienna.