Din­ner and lunch and a good lie-down

ROOM AT THE INN

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN KUROSAWA

WITH just 24 hours in Lon­don, time is of the essence. My ho­tel needs to be ide­ally lo­cated for shop­ping and I have to leave for the air­port be­fore din­ner. But there has to be an op­por­tu­nity to eat at Din­ner by He­ston Blu­men­thal. OK, let’s do lunch.

Con­fused? Blu­men­thal’s rather am­bigu­ously named Din­ner restau­rant also does a lively trade for the mid­day meal and this big, airy space, with tall park-fac­ing win­dows and porce­lain wall sconces in the shape of j elly moulds, con­verts to a break­fast room for guests at Man­darin Ori­en­tal Hyde Park, my well-sit­u­ated bolt­hole. The ho­tel is across the road from chic depart­ment store Harvey Ni­cols (so adored by sweetie dar­lings Ed­die and Patsy of AbFab fame) and Har­rods is a stroll away ( its baubled Christ­mas sec­tion is al­ready open).

This is a her­itage ho­tel and Blu­men­thal is fast be­com­ing a her­itage brand. He can call a restau­rant any­thing he pleases. ‘‘Din­ner fit­ted the bill per­fectly,’’ he says. ‘‘In the past, the main meal — din­ner — was eaten at mid­day, be­fore it got too dark. But af­ford­able can­dles and, later, gaslight saw din­ner shift. By the mid-1800s peo­ple work­ing in the cities were tak­ing a lunch to work and hav­ing their main meal at 5pm when they got home.’’

His menu is based on quaint old recipes and heir­loom in­gre­di­ents and while it’s not as madly out-there as his fa­mous Fat Duck at Bray, in­gre­di­ents of the likes of cockle ketchup and pow­dered duck, and dishes such as ‘‘meat fruit’’ (circa 1500) give an idea of the the­atri­cal ap­proach. Then there’s the won­der­ment of a 17th-cen­tury savoury por­ridge with frog’s legs, smoked beet­root, gar­lic, pars­ley and fennel, plus light and fruity desserts such as an imag­i­na­tive tipsy cake with spit-roasted pineap­ple and a ‘‘quak­ing pud­ding’’ that wob­bles a treat.

I watch a food blog­ger cut up the meat fruit (chicken liver and foie gras par­fait in­side an or­ange jelly shaped as a per­fect man­darin) into dainty seg­ments and pho­to­graph it from com­pli­cated an­gles (aeri­als while kneel­ing on a chair; up and over from the floor) but not ac­tu­ally eat it. Restau­rant man­ager Jonno Forbes and I ex­change a look.

The deeply com­fort­able 200 gue­strooms and suites at Man­darin Ori­en­tal Hyde Park are fluffed-up in clas­sic English coun­try- house style with swagged cur­tains, ma­hogany wardrobes and hillocks of cush­ions.

Built in 1889 as posh res­i­dences, the red-brick and Port­land stone build­ing fea­tures whimsical tur­rets, miles of mar­ble, grand-en­trance stair­cases and a gilded ball­room with re­gal cre­den- tials (there’s a ‘‘royal en­trance’’ on the park side; the Queen and as­sorted ‘‘crowned heads’’ par­tied here the night be­fore Wills and Kate tied the knot in April, 2011).

The prop­erty was ac­quired by the Man­darin Ori­en­tal group in 1996, re­mod­elled and re­opened in 2000; it feels glo­ri­ously old-fash­ioned, like a Buck­ing­ham Palace for we com­mon lot. Happily, the enor­mous sink-into beds are per­fect for a lie down — af­ter lunch or din­ner.

The Man­darin Ori­en­tal Hyde Park ho­tel, in Knights­bridge, Lon­don

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