Dinner by Heston. You might not know the restaurant, but you’ll definitely know the name – or, part of it that is. Dinner Melbourne is an offshoot of the Heston Blumenthal empire renown for the famous The Fat Duck – well, it’s an outpost of an offshoot, to be more precise, the original being Dinner by Heston in London. The Head Chef of the London establishment (with a name that sounds like they should be running around town with Princes Wills and Harry), Ashley Palmer-Watts, was in fact in town when I dined, in the restaurant even. But sadly he was not to be found in the kitchen, rather seated at the bar.
I really do wish he’d been stationed in the kitchen that night, however, as the London original sits impressively on the 2017 World’s 50 best at #36.
I’ll admit I hadn’t researched the Dinner concept much past my knowledge of Heston’s many TV programmes, The Fat Duck and people’s tales of Tipsy Cake and Meat Fruit. Two dishes that I feel this restaurant and the Heston myth hangs it’s hat on rather too much, and two dishes that, while definitely nice, I found myself severely underwhelmed by. Perhaps that’s the product of great expectations, perhaps not.
It turns out that the concept of Dinner is built on ye olde dishes, with the menu citing the source of the recipes, some as far back as the 13th Century. I often think to myself that I’m rather glad to be living in this age rather than past centuries, and I think I’ve now found another reason that I’m chuffed to be living (and dining) in the 21st Century.
We started by sharing a Meat Fruit () alongside our entrees, as one simply must do when dining at Dinner. Yes, it looks like a mandarin (update: the new version looks like a plum). Almost convincingly so. But I’ve been there, eaten that when it comes to food-that-looks-like-other-food before, even food-that-looks-like-something-other-than-food (which I think I prefer to be honest).
My Salamagundy (), consisting of chicken oysters, braised radish, horseradish cream, marrowbone & pickled walnuts was a pleasant enough choice of entree but from here on, the wheels began to fall off our Dinner experience.
Pork belly was an irresistible choice of main course for me. If you’re a pork belly fan, you’ll know it’s tricky to guarantee a decent bit of meat in a slice of belly, but there was practically no meat in sight in my portion. Two chunks of almost entirely gelatinous, white, rubbery fat and some decidedly average accompaniments for $57? Tell ’em he’s dreaming. (I feel all Australian reviews should have a little piece of The Castle, don’t you?) What’s worse, there was no enquiry as to why there were two almost entirely whole chunks of the pork (fat) still sat sadly on the plate when it was collected.
Speaking of fat you don’t want to see on your plate, my fellow diner’s Lamb & Cucumber (c.1830, $60) arrived looking more like something that would be seen on the judging table of a Masterchef Australia episode than on the table of a master chef’s Australian restaurant. And I don’t think the judges would have been too pleased either. Raw lamb, raw white fat. Unappetising at best, downright offensive at $60.
Desserts continued our journey into Dinner disappointment save for the famous Tipsy Cake (c.1810, $32) , the best of an uninspiring bunch. It’s nice, for sure, but didn’t live up to the hype for me (though those rotisserie pineapples on display in the open kitchen are drool-inducing). Dinner’s take on Australiana, Ice Cream with Vegemite (c.1920, $30), is quirky but rings true to it’s namesake ingredient – you’ll either love it or you’ll hate it. You can probably guess by now which category I fell into.
The saving grace of the evening (well, apart from some excellent company) was the service. Extremely knowledgeable waitstaff and sommeliers imparted a wealth of knowledge on our inquisitive and enthusiastic table, but fantastic service can only go so far when what is on the plate leaves you hungry at the end of the meal (for no small price tag).
My verdict? If you’re hunting for that Instagrammable foodie passport stamp that is the Meat Fruit, fine. Go, order the darn thing, order the Tipsy Cake, take your snaps, and give the rest of the menu a wide berth. Better still, save the expense and go to The Fat Duck instead. I hear it’s quite good.