Soon after it opened in 2011, Jackie and I had a post-theater supper at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park hotel. Between the newness of the restaurant and the lateness of the hour, there was cause for disappointment: Our meal was marred by imprecise cooking and unfocused service. But Mr. Blumenthal and Dinner's head chef Ashley Palmer-Watts are the most precise of cooks and know what attentive service means, so I looked forward to a return visit. This took place in late May and was delightful. The conceit of the restaurant is that its chefs have pored over old English cookbooks to discern the outlines of the dishes they serve, and the menu lists the putative date for each, such as "Meat Fruit (c. 1500)." Hmmm.... Anyway, the cooking is so modern and fresh that links to the medieval or Victorian or WWII-era sources are hardly to be detected. Take that Meat Fruit, which seems to have become the restaurant's signature dish: It is a perfectly seasoned, rich-but-not-cloying sphere of 21st century chicken liver and foie gras parfait enrobed in a 21st century mandarin orange gel that has been impressed with the texture of the fruit's rind. With a (genuine) mandarin stem and leaves stuck into it, it really, truly looks like something out of the fruit bowl, even more so than you'd think from the photo that accompanies this story. But it is not just a visual joke, though it made us laugh with delight: That gel has lots of flavor and is a perfect foil for the mousse. Yes, Blumenthal-style science and technology underlie the recipes here, but (except for the tableside liquid-nitrogen ice cream service) the diner can ignore them -- which is as it should be. The produce is stunningly fresh and flavorful (such fennelly fennel!) and is cooked to maximize its quality; the colors, textures and flavors are all enticing, the combinations unimpeachable. And, boy oh boy, what french fries ("triple cooked chips")!
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA; +44 (0)20 7201 3833; http://www.dinnerbyheston.com/. Open for lunch and dinner every day. Dinner for two with a modest wine - and a side of fries - about £190 ($300).
Shoreditch, north of the hopping Spitalfields area, is becoming a destination for restaurant-seekers, with new places cropping up every week, or so it seems. The Clove Club opened three months ago in what used to be Shoreditch Town Hall; the front room offers a short à la carte and bar menu, and in the evening a more ambitious multi-course £47 ($74) prix-fixe is served in the back room. We were there for lunch with a friend (who used to live around the corner and who gave us a walking tour of the neighborhood), and ate several small dishes: quartered heads of crisp Belgian endive dressed with crunchy hazelnuts; home-made rye crackers with smoked-cod-roe dip; pigeon sausage with the restaurant's own ketchup; boneless fried chicken scented with pine; and braised kid served warm over a cool vegetable salad with fresh curd cheese. The pigeon sausage had a grainy texture that didn't appeal to me, but everything else was spot-on, especially the chicken "nuggets," of which our friend wisely insisted we order two portions. They were enhanced by that rosemary-like hint of pine and by the fact that the coating never, ever stopped being crunchy. We should have ordered three, plus one more to go.
The Clove Club. Shoreditch Town Hall, 380 Old Street, London EC1V 9LT; +44 (0) 20 7729 6496; www.thecloveclub.com. Lunch for two with a cocktail apiece, then wine by the glass, would be around £63 ($100).
It isn't all that long since I wrote about Green Man & French Horn, which specializes in the wine and food of the Loire Valley, but the two dishes we had there late one evening in June are worth mentioning. The first was an appetizer (which Jackie found easily big enough to suffice as a one-dish meal with the restaurant's good bread and butter) of crab and celeriac remoulade: thin strands of both ingredients -- which turn out to be entirely complementary - bound with a sharp, mustardy dressing: a nice variation on the celeriac-only classic. The moment that celery root appears in our New York farmers' markets, I'll be making a version of this at home and probably reporting on it over at Huffington Post Taste. The other was a thick bone-in slice of turbot cut from the nicely gelatinous "collar" end and served with capers and crisp fried artichokes. I often order turbot when on the other side of the Atlantic, where it is fished, and I've never had it more perfectly cooked than it was here -- and with such a noble fish, not much more is needed. With half a liter of a Loire Valley white, this was about as good as a quick after-theater supper gets.
Green Man & French Horn. 54 Saint Martin's Lane, London WC2N 4EA, +44 (0) 207 836-2645, http://www.greenmanfrenchhorn.co. Our two-dish supper cost about £55 ($87) with a carafe of wine.