My wife treated me to the astonishingly stupendiferously incredimazeballs restaurant that is Heston Blumenthal’s ‘Dinner’ in London’s Knightsbridge last week as part of an ongoing birthday present experience.
I’m not going to review it here because I’ve already run out of superlatives (see above), but we left happy beyond our wildest dreams because of a combination of the fabulous room, the magnificent service and the extraordinarily seemingly simplistic sublime food. Our best dining experience EVER – and I’ve been to the Fat Duck!
Anyway, enough ‘Look at me, aren’t I lucky to have a wife who loves me enough to splash out on me’ bullsh*t. This isn’t a brag – more an homage to the genius of head chef Ashley Palmer-Watts.
For the dishes he and his team delivered were beyond anything I could re-create at home – which is precisely the only reason why I go out to restaurants in the first place.
And if proof of that fact were needed, here it is. For – foolishly – I tried to re-create at home the incredible ‘Chicken Cooked with Lettuces’ (circa. 170) dish we had at ‘Dinner’: a dish so beautiful, had I not been married, I would have got down on one knee and proposed. The chicken was more tender than a romantic’s heart; the skin as crisp as a frosty day; the lettuce as delicate as lattice. And then there was the gravy, or jus, of whatever you want to call it: I could have drunk it by the flagon.
My efforts, for what they’re worth. Don’t worry: I won’t be charging for this.
For the chicken: take a couple of free-range, skin-on chicken breasts (I used these magnificent specimens from Fosse Meadows – used by Heston himself), vacuum-pack then cook them in a Sous Vide water bath fat 67.5C or a couple of hours. Snip open the bag, drain the juices, heat some oil in a frying pan, then sear the breasts, skin-side down, to crisp the skin.
For the lettuces: use Little Gems or (in my case) mini-Cos and slice them lengthways into four, keeping the root on to keep the leaves intact. Bring a large pan of water to the boil and blanch the lettuces for 15 seconds before removing with a slotted spoon and dunking into a bath of ice cold water to stop the cooking process. Next, brown some butter in a pan, blend with 200ml water to make an emulsion, then bring to the boil. Cut off the lettuce root and separate the leaves and heat in the emulsion for a few seconds.
For the gravy: 1 litre of fresh chicken stock, created from the carcasses of a previous Sunday roast, to which add a bunch of thyme, half a bottle of white wine, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, and then reduce, reduce, reduce until you end up with 200ml gravy/jus/sauce (which you can thicken with 1 tsp cornflour mixed with water, if necessary)
Finally, I carved the cooked chicken breasts into thick slices and serve with the lettuces (I also served them with mashed potatoes, cooked in the Sous Vide for 2 hours at 84C).
THE VERDICT? My wife was astonished that I had gone to so much trouble on a school night (well, I couldn’t think of – or afford – another way to pay her back) and thus was blown away, primarily by the fact that she could have saved a packet by staying at home. But let’s take a truth pill here: it wasn’t even remotely in the same league as ‘Dinner’s. Not even close. The chicken wasn’t as tender (perhaps I left mine in for too long?) and the skin not as crisp (perhaps ‘Dinner’ remove theirs first and cook it separately?). And the lettuces were rather limp and lifeless, and not remotely buttery, as ‘Dinner’s’ had been.
Heston: 1 Housedad: 0