Dinner and lunch and a good lie-down
ROOM AT THE INN
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