Yesterday was the day I ticked a significant item off the food bucket list. I don’t confess to know or have seen everything there is about Heston but I’ve watched enough Masterchef Australia cameos and day time filler episodes on the Food channel to understand his influence on the global culinary scene. I booked lunch at Dinner by Heston in Melbourne well before I booked my flights and accommodation. It worked out really well, having just received his lifetime achievement award from the World’s 50 Best, I could not think of a better reason to finally pay his Melbourne shop a visit.
Dinner by Heston is located in Crown Towers, a short walk from where we were staying and you get to cross an extremely muddy Yarra River. Perhaps this was a move on Heston’s end to give off that River Thames vibe. We were informed that it was on level three so up we went and the directions pointed us towards a large ‘Dinner’ sign and then a dark corridor with some weird TV display at the end, not unlike a Windows 98 screensaver. I was a bit lost for a second and actually ran into one of the walls, this resulted in a really large ‘thud’ sound echoing down. Eventually I found the false wall that slid to the side, thus revealing the entrance. I am positive that all members of staff are highly trained to poker face and smile like nothing happened even though the entirety of the restaurant must have heard me wrestling with the air and the wall in the darkness.
On that day there was a 5-course Good Friday Lunch special at $160 but we opted for A la Carte as this meant we would be able to explore more dishes on the menu rather than be receiving two of the same things. We ended up deciding on four starters to share, followed by one main and one dessert. The staff were attentive and interested at Dinner, it wasn’t just a touch of hospitality-esque politeness, they seemed to genuinely want to know how your day was or what your eating preferences are like as to make the best recommendation.
After ordering our food, it’s not long before hunks of bread are brought out accompanied by what must be the best plain butter I’ve ever had. It was ever so lightly salted but creamy to an almost gel-like consistency. It reminded me of my face moisturiser. The bread itself was nice however it was served cold which made me a little sad.
Hay Smoked Ocean Trout $36
Three starters are the first to arrive and this one was the Hay Smoked Ocean Trout. Underneath the trout is a pickled lemon salad, something called a gentleman’s relish, wood sorrel and smoked roe. Each mouthful is quite heady on the smokiness but the bed of cream that it rests on balances it out beautifully. As someone who enjoys anything ocean trout (I could eat my weight in ocean trout), my only complaint is that this is really a rather small portion. Especially in comparison to the other starters that you’ll see shortly, also noting that the price point for each is about the same, hovering around the $30-$40 mark.
Savoury Porridge $36
The savoury porridge comes highly recommended from a friend of ours but even despite this, I knew it was something I had to order. When a menu line item reads garlic and parsley butter, grilled abalone and pickled beetroot and fennel, you can already anticipate the flavour bomb that’s about to land on your plate. Calling it savoury porridge is also basically calling congee to me, another one of my all time favourite foods. It’s by far the most aesthetically pleasing dish we had that day, we hadn’t expected it to arrive as a bowl of bright green stuff that’s for sure. The warmth from the porridge is comforting with each spoonful introducing a surprise chunk of abalone to your mouth. I liked it for how umami it was but also for the hint of sourness from the pickled vegetables on top.
Meat Fruit $38
If the Meat Fruit could talk, it would do a Mariah and ask us all ‘Why are you so obsessed with me?” The Meat Fruit is a cleverly disguised lump of chicken liver parfait on the inside but looks like a mandarin on the outside. It has definitely become one of the most well known Heston dishes, for its visual mind fuckery and also deliciousness. Shout out to everyone who saw my Instagram stories and thought I was eating bread with an orange. The Meat Fruit lives up to its name; it is very, very good, especially if you are already a bit fan of all things paté. It’s lighter and airier than it looks but is really flavour-dense if that makes sense. I really think this is more of a sharing dish rather than a starter for one person. There is a lot of paté there and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be inhaling as many pieces of bread as the wait staff can comfortably give you.
Chicken cooked with Lettuces $58
Our friends who have dined here, the wait staff who served us and basically the entirety of the Internet have all said the same thing. Chicken and lettuce sounds extremely unremarkable but always turns out to be a big favourite at the table. This dish was placed on our table and the first thing we both commented on was, what a weird shape or chicken is. It’s kind of oblong-y on one end and kind of sausage-like on the other. True to everyone’s testimonies though, this was definitely really high up on our list as the best thing we’ve eaten all afternoon. With so many components to this dish, each mouthful requires a bit of preparation:
- Cut up a slice of chicken
- Absolutely drench it in the grilled onion emulsion
- Wrap it in a bit of lettuce and a shard of chicken skin
- Slather it in that parsnip mayo
- Throw it down the hatch
- Sit back and revel in knowing how amazing chicken is
Rice & Flesh $38
This was actually a starter that we opted to be served at the same time as our only main course. I loved how vibrant the yellow tones were from the saffron and the cream tasted like no risotto I’ve ever had. Whatever stock it came from was clearly very rich in meat and vegetables. I also thoroughly enjoyed the kangaroo tail pieces which wasn’t gamey at all but was soft and tender, not unlike beef brisket that has been stewing for hours. The rice itself however was a little too al dente for me and I thought it could use a bit more time stewing and soaking up more of the juices.
We were very much defeated but still wanting to power through with at least one dessert. Unanimously decided upon was the Sambocade, a goats milk cheese cake with an elderflower and apple centre, pickled blackberries and smoked candied walnuts. As much of a goats cheese advocate I am, I was slightly worried that it would be too strong when used in a dessert. It turned out to not have as much of a goats cheese aroma at all except towards the centre of the cheesecake. I would go in so far as to say that it could have used more, as the apple and elderflower concoction in the middle was very much able to balance it all out. The walnuts were so good, we had to split the third one right down the middle for sharing. Also for the uninformed, a sambocade is essentially a cheese tart from 14th century England, this is what Google told me.
To ensure that we are at explode-y point, our wait staff brings out a post-dessert in the form of an Earl Grey infused chocolate ganache and a caraway biscuit. They go together extremely well and also go down in history as the most indulgent ‘tea and biscuits’ combination ever.
Dinner by Heston Bluementhal smacked my bank balance around a little, costing us $255 for two, including a 10% tip. As far as fine dining goes, at least in Sydney, this wasn’t crazily extravagant. Neither of us drank anything other than water though, so those alcoholically inclined might suffer a bit more. I rolled out of Heston feeling pretty happy, jiving to Kanye’s ‘Touch the Sky’ that was playing in my head. That’s the hallmark of a great meal I think, that it leaves you full but still with mobile enough to do your personal happy dance.