30 Jul Dinner by Heston, Southbank
When news broke of Heston’s Fat Duck residing in Melbourne for a few short months, Australia nearly lost its head. Ballots were drawn, people got excited, and whilst there were a lucky few who were floored by the experience, others shook their heads at the price others would pay for a meal. Though the value that some place on gastronomic experiences such as The Fat Duck are debatable, what isn’t, is that its replacement is a more accessible proposition. Enter Dinner by Heston.
As many of us may know from his various TV appearances, Heston Blumenthal has a fascination with experimental techniques and historic gastronomy, resulting in a menu that’s unlike any other. Working with Ashley Palmer-Watts, head chef at Dinner in Melbourne, they’ve put together a selection of dishes that takes both British and Australian history and ingredients into account.
The dark and mysterious corridor (walk to the end and turn right!) led to a high-ceilinged space full of dark wood, velvet, leather and copper. Green chairs add freshness to the room, and there are views of the city through its floor-to-ceiling windows. It’s a polished look that’s not too stuffy.
In order to savour the main event more, I usually try not to fill up on too much bread when I’m at top-notch restaurants. Unfortunately, these restaurants usually serve top-notch bread as well, and as a bread-lover I couldn’t resist two slices of their rye sourdough and salted butter.
We visited on a weekday for lunch, and the menu was more succinct than the dinner menu we perused beforehand. It came as a surprise, given numerous Crown staff assured us that the menus were the same. With some of our pre-determined choices notably absent, and since no one in our group today are major sweet-tooths, we decided to go with an extra entrée instead of sharing two desserts. Hidden beneath a canopy of leaves were the chicken oysters of the Salamagundy. Some of the chicken oysters were crumbed, and there was an accompaniment of braised radish, horseradish cream, marrowbone and pickled walnuts. The pickled flavours brought a nice lift to the dish. Rice & Flesh involved saffron-flavoured rice with curried kangaroo tail, red wine and amaranth. There was a faint trace of liquor, perhaps brandy, and the braised kangaroo was robust enough to stand up to the creamy and cheesey flavour of the rice, which was cooked to al dente.
The intricate-looking Savoury Porridge of oats, garlic and parsley butter, grilled abalone, pickled beetroot and fennel was one of our favourites from today. The grilled abalone was a great match for the oats. The vegetables balanced the textures of the porridge, which was slightly more watery than your typical breakfast porridge, and had no hint of glugginess at all. There was a lovely, light and fresh flavour from the parsley too, and even without the other elements on top, the porridge was a standout.
One cannot visit Dinner and not try the Meat Fruit at least once. The finely dimpled mandarin jelly ‘skin’ encases a smooth and silky chicken liver parfait, which can then be slathered onto grilled bread. It’s delicious but quite filling and rich in flavour, so sharing one between three was plenty.
We then moved on to mains. Wanting something less meaty, M ordered Roast Snapper in Cider. The creamy sauce paired well with the firm-fleshed and crispy-skinned snapper, and a further taste of the sea was brought in by the mussels. M particularly enjoyed the extra dimension of flavours brought on by the onions.
Chicken Cooked with Lettuces comes with a grilled onion emulsion, barilla leaves and a spiced parsnip sauce. The tender chicken had a very fine texture. The mayo added a neat tang, whilst the parsnip sauce drizzled on top provided roundedness. It was a much more subtle and delicate dish than the others.
In sharp contrast were the strong, punchy flavours of the Slow-cooked Pork Belly and its finely scored crackling. Though disappointed the powdered duck wasn’t available to order today, this was my second preference for mains. The Robert sauce is based on a boisterous combination of bacon, seeded mustard and pork stock. A mixture of chopped spelt and baby turnip were all rolled up in a very thin, slightly elastic and almost gelatinous lardo wrapper, and extra pieces of pork rind were available for crunch. We found the flavours of the dish to be unrelenting and salty, and would have appreciated something to relieve the tastebuds.
Hearing rave reviews of the Triple Cooked Chips, we ordered some to try. Unfortunately they were inconsistent; some were quite dry, but others had amazingly creamy centers that was a texture unlike any potato we’d tasted before. Of course, the latter were a delight to eat, and to the dismay of the others at the table, I happened to consume most of these.
We finished with yet another iconic dish, the Tipsy Cake with six-hour spit roasted pineapple. The cake is made up of brioche balls, which have been stuffed into a small pot, regularly basted with a brandy caramel then sprinkled with crystalised sugar to finish. The base of the cake was soft and syrupy, the top was crunchy, and the other edges had some extra bite. The whole cake was brimming with flavour and was a textural experience worth trying. Cake dreams are made of this.
As we came to the end of our meal, a latte was ordered out of interest, though there was an unusual bitterness to it that made us wonder if it had been burnt. Meanwhile, an ice cream trolley roamed the room, offering diners freshly hand-churned nitrogen ice cream with their choice of topping. The cones were wafer thin, and the ice cream had visible flecks of vanilla bean. It’s a novel experience, but with the availability of nitrogen ice cream elsewhere in Melbourne, whether the $14 experience is worth it will depend on the diner. Finally, we were treated to a petit four of Earl Grey-infused chocolate ganache and caraway biscuits.
The Fat Duck was decidedly over my budgetary reach, and though still pricey and hit-and-miss today, Dinner by Heston is a much more affordable alternative that allowed us to have a taste of Heston’s genius.