This review has been a long time coming. It’s taken me a long time to write up my experience at DINNER by Heston due to a number of factors. Firstly, our dining experience at DINNER runs contrary to the experience of almost every other person and reviewer I have seen, making me wonder if perhaps I had been imagining things or looking for things to nitpick on the night. The meal also inspired a longer train of thought that revolves around fine dining experiences generally which took me some time to edit and formulate.
To start with, we were treated to some sourdough and butter. It’s hard to fault creamy butter atop fresh crusty bread.
We also ordered a round of drinks to begin the night. The drinks altogether were a bit disappointing. None of us really enjoyed any of the cocktail offerings though they sounded very interesting on paper the flavours just did not translate into a nice drinkable experience. The best of the bunch were the variant on the gin and tonic and the non alcoholic drinks. The wine cocktail that I ordered later on in the night also fared a bit better, with a peppery taste rounding out the sweet wine.
The first dish was the hay smoked ocean trout. This was a nice high to start the night one. I love smoked fish dishes beyond belief. The roe and relish added just that extra bit of salt, tipping me off into the territory of being just a touch too salty. That being said, I really enjoyed the flavours of the relish and enjoyed the interesting textural contrast of what looked like white aqua droplets on the side.
Rice and Flesh, is a bit morbidly named and conjures up images of Hannibal for me. That aside, we were all surprised when we smelt a distinctly curry like scent wafting into the room with this dish. In simple terms, this dish was like a fusion of curry and risotto. Personally I love how food looks positively electric in colour after it’s been mixed with saffron. The dish itself was actually far too salty for me to finish so I ended up giving it to one of my dining companions. Although I appreciate the sentiment of using Australian ingredients such as kangaroo and the unusual combination, it got to be a bit too much and one dimensional with the saffron overpowering a lot of the other flavours.
One of Heston’s most famous dishes is the meat fruit. So we were all pretty happy that it was making an appearance on the set menu tonight. Visually this is beyond stunning. The intricate little mandarin jelly looks exactly like the real deal. There’s also a slight sheen to the jelly ‘skin’ that makes this photograph incredibly well. Sadly, this is a dish where the visuals really outshine the dish itself. When we considered the taste of the parfait and jelly it really was just a decent rendition and nothing to write home about. The jelly had a lovely citrus taste that honestly didn’t really sit well with the chicken liver. I could see the jelly cutting through a richer more umami flavoured pate, but this pate just didn’t need it because it was so mousse like.
Another major gripe we had with this is that there was only one piece of bread and one whole meat fruit per person. The majority of my dining companions didn’t finish the meat fruit because there just wasn’t enough grilled bread considering the size of the meat fruit. Unlike me, they are not the sort of people who can eat parfait without any accompaniments and that’s fair considering how overwhelming large quantities of parfait can be. This really is a dish that I imagine would be much better shared as parfaits tend to be when they are ordered as entrees.
I opted for the Roast Grouper for my main. The fish was tender and almost melted in my mouth. The other elements of the dish I was not so sold on. Even though I love salmon roe I found it to be an altogether unnecessary addition to this dish as it just didn’t gel with any of the other elements adding extra unneeded salt. The greens were a touch on the bitter side and just sat around the fish without adding anything to it flavour wise.
The other half of the table had the powdered duck breast. The duck was a lovely shade of pink when cut into and the smell of the sauce was rich and inviting. However, as a whole this dish was once again altogether rather unmemorable. The smoked confit fennel, ale and umbles didn’t really do anything for the dish to elevate it beyond a decently cooked piece of duck.
To accompany the mains we also ordered a few servings of mashed potato and fries. The fries were some of the best damn fries I have ever had. They were everything that I look for in a fry, super crispy and seasoned but still soft in the centre. Every mouthful of the mash was creamy and silky smooth. In all honesty, the sides were a lot more memorable than the mains and I would happily have fries from DINNER any day. I had a cursory look at the a la carte menu, and it charges $58 for the roast groper and $56 for the duck. With the benefit of hindsight, I balk a little at these prices considering how entirely unmemorable they were despite being around $10 more than the average main at other similar establishments.
There was also a slight mishap when two people were served the wrong mains. This was easily fixed with a quickly little swap of cutlery and plates and sitting on the other side of the table I paid it no mind. Otherwise, the wait staff were lovely and discreet the whole time. They were very patient with the late arriving last member of our party and remained professional even when our dinner topics veered into strange topics. However, when we were talking about the meal later, it was pointed out that serving the correct person the right dish is one of the absolute fundamentals of dining, irrespective of the manner of the wait staff. So this sort of mistake is unexpected from such an establishment. My personal take on it, is that everyone has off days, and there will invariably be mistakes in even the best of restaurants. On a whole this didn’t really impact the dining experience so personally I wouldn’t deduct points for it.
Dessert was actually the highlight of the entire meal. The Tipsy cake was generously sized and the presentation in its own little pot was just the most darling thing ever. The spit roasted pineapple was a real novel touch. The spit roasting process had almost caramelised the pineapple, bringing out all its sweet juices. I loved how it was easy to split apart with the knife and fork. The real star of the dish was the brioche. These were like soft buttery pillows with a crunchy top. Although delicious it was also very cloying, and another dish that I would suggest sharing with others.
In comparison the lamington was much more diminutive and surprisingly lighter tasting. The rum flavour was actually rather prominent, resulting in some of my less alcohol tolerant friends to swap dishes. Even though I’m not overly fond of coconut, the coconut ice cream was really sublime in this.
Our final course was a cheese board. This was a combination of Australian and English cheeses. To be honest I think we could have all done without this as we were all very full. Although I enjoyed the oat biscuit accompaniment the cheese was only okay. Most of the cheese was very sharp tasting and didn’t go down easy after the long meal. We all agreed that we preferred being able to choose cheeses and that we had had much better experiences from some of the fromageries around Melbourne.
Wait, it’s not all over yet! We actually still had one more sweet treat in store. My memory is failing to recall what this was exactly but I think it was a rich chocolate mousse with earl grey. I love the strong bergamont flavour in earl grey tea so this was a bit of sinful pleasure for me. Some of my friends were not so sold on the marriage of chocolate and tea, but they enjoyed the decadent chocolate flavour none the less.
Overall, although we differed in our dish preferences and overall ratings as to the meal we all agreed that the meal was not worth the $340 we spent per person. Usually after I experience a mediocre but expensive meal I would not want to come back. Whilst my personal experience at DINNER was decent but nothing amazing I think I’ll probably give the restaurant another chance. This is based off all of the incredibly positive reviews I have read, recommendations from friends who I trust and the fact that the London branch is so highly regarded. Had my experience at DINNER been overwhelmingly negative, I would have been able to immediately dismiss it. As it stands it was just overwhelmingly average, especially when considered with the price point and marketing which led to a more complex train of thought.
This has led me to consider at what point do you overlook the less than stellar experience that you had for one particular meal and chose to go back on the proviso that it will be better next time. Whereas I was willing to give DINNER the benefit of the doubt, one of my dining companions expressed that they would probably never go to DINNER or any of Heston’s restaurants again. That person left with the impression that people were paying the brand name rather than the food and restaurant itself. I felt that this dismissal was a bit hasty, but on the other hand I’m also reminded of a restaurant documentary that I have since forgotten the name of. In the documentary one of the chefs talks about how fine dining establishments have to make sure that every experience is perfect and consistent because there is a higher likelihood that it is a customer’s only visit to their restaurant. Alternatively, for the price point this would usually be a special occasion meal, for such a meal to be subpar is usually memorable in the worst way.
Then, is it fair to judge DINNER based off of this single meal? Especially when the course meal in the private dining room that we had does not seem to accurately represent what the restaurant has to offer as a whole. Personally, I think it was the format of the meal that let it down. Everyone else who I talked to was all blown away when they dined a la carte and in the main dining room. Obviously a la carte means that the richer dishes can be shared and there’s a greater variety. One of my friends actually shared 6 dishes between two people one of the times they dined here. The elements of theatre that are characteristic of Heston’s restaurants also seemed to be lacking in the private dining room. Case in point, they didn’t offer the nitrogen ice cream cart to those in the private dining room. It is often said that the benchmark of any good restaurant is consistency. I’m sure that the food we were served was the same as what dinners in the main dining room were having had the chosen them. What I’m not sure of was if the experience was consistent with what everyone else described.
Should DINNER have even presented this course meal as an option when we were all so thoroughly underwhelmed at this price point? I understand that even the best restaurants will make mistakes and have their ups and downs. However, is this something that we should readily overlook as the dining scene gets more competitive and casual dining with impressive food is on the rise? The experiences that we have had at some of Melbourne’s other fine dining establishments, and more casual eateries so clearly trump this in terms of value for money, or a complete holistic experience. Perhaps it is precisely due to small mishaps and less than perfect experiences that dinners are increasingly eschewing fine dining establishments in favour for their more casual counterparts.
The name and hype behind DINNER gave me such high expectations and, the fact that my experience was only okay leaves me disappointed. Although the pedigree and support behind DINNER drives me to give it another chance, I’m not sure if any other restaurant would be so lucky to get another go.