The brand of Heston conjures up visions of amazement, mystery and admiration. It’s safe to say we had all those qualities in droves over our time at Dinner by Heston. Nothing short of extraordinary and a perfect way to see out my final week in Australia. Dinner sits atop of the highest rated restaurants in Zomato Melbourne (at the time of writing). Those ratings are justified from service perfection and a top class menu with surprising restraint. All dishes are clever, with well-thought out flavours and are beautifully composed. If you’re already sold on going, do yourself a favour and avert your eyes from the reviews and pics. Half the delight is approaching the occasion and surprises for yourself, in the moment. More than a mere meal, Dinner is a wallet-heavy but worthwhile escape into a spectacular dining occasion.
Joining me on this semi-final gastronomic delight were my friends Jenny and Katherine and we started off with some cocktails at the bar. Strong. Tasty. Effective. Getting to the venue is one thing – there’s a sense of magic strolling through the dark hallway and mirrored doors. Don’t run! We made our way to the table and mulled over the menu. There’s some gratis bread that starts you off – awesome bread of course, and a good ratio of butter. We couldn’t go past the Meat Fruit ($38), Heston’s trademark appetiser. Here, a mandarin gel coats chicken liver parfait and is served with smoked, grilled bread. The parfait – rich, creamy, delectable and we got some bonus bread to keep the good times going. The slight mandarin taste adds a fruity, sweet dimension to cut through the richness of the livers.
The allergies at the table were well catered for, and coincidentally, resulted in the best looking dishes of the night. Jenny’s beetroot-substituted Salamagundy ($37), with braised radish, horseradish cream, marrowbone and pickled walnuts. I had a sample of the cream and it was heavenly.
I can’t have been in Australia and not ever tried kangaroo, right? I seized up my opportunity with the Rice & Flesh ($38), with saffron, curried kangaroo tail, red wine and amaranth. Tail isn’t certainly a cut I would normally veer towards but here it’s used sparingly to highlight the creamy, constant saffron notes in the rice. The sauce is delightful with bold, authentic saffron flavours.
Mains. First up was the Slow cooked pork belly ($58) with spelt, lardo, baby turnip and Robert sauce. Strong, savoury notes with the sauce adding lots of interesting flavours. Cooked to perfection and composed to a T. Katherine and I shared this and the duck very easily with both dishes being served in two pieces. I generally prefer my crackling golden and crunchy but was happy with the compromise here as the slow cooking made the meat oh-so-tender without the fatty aftertaste that normally comes with the cut.
Roast Cobia & Green Sauce ($60) was Jenny’s main. The cobia was served with braised chicory, clams, parsley, pepper, onion and eucalyptus. I love the little Australian touches in the menu which are evident in this dish and a few others. Our server mentioned the menu changes very slightly over seasons, as each new addition goes through a lengthy vetting process including the London operation.
We weren’t sure what would arrive when we had ordered Powdered duck breast ($58). Maybe a jar of duck dust? But this isn’t The Fat Duck, it’s Dinner so everything is less experimental but just as successful. And by the way, if in doubt your server is more than happy to detail any of the menu to you as well as make recommendations. Some customers do come expecting the Willy Wonka-esque feats of Heston and that’s certainly not the case, at least in this establishment. The duck was perfectly cooked and seasoned but my highlight is interestingly, in the red cabbage. The slight sweetening and acidity really make it stand out. There was also a few vege options on the menu, so perhaps there is some magic in that.
Before our dessert course we had a mini-tour around the kitchen. From start to finish (and beyond!) our server Cameron was amazing in making sure we were well attended to and was more than happy to answer our questions on the place. Standout service and I can’t say I’ve had any better, ever! So full props to the front of house. The first dessert was the one we had recommended from friends, the Tipsy cake ($32). Upon entering the venue the first thing you will spot in the kitchen is the curious, colourful rotating pineapples that form this dish. The cake is freshly baked and served with a slice of the spit roasted pineapple. Cake: fluffy, warm, indulgent. Pineapple: well soaked in delicious basting and the sweetness combos well with the cake.
If you’ve watched the final of Masterchef Australia you’ll recognise the Eggs in Verjuice. Coconut pannacotta, coffee parfait, verjuice and citrus yolk is encase in chocolate and on top of a candy nest. It’s a 100 step recipe with a similar amount of ingredients so this little wonder has a lot of work in it. We could appreciate the technical mastery but it wasn’t as much of a standout for us, the flavours felt a bit more muddled with a lot going on.
We spoiled ourselves ordering one more dessert in the form of the Taffety tart ($30). The tart is formed of a caramelised apple, wattle seed biscuit, Eucalyptus, fennel and the sorbet is a rich blackcurrant. We were more impressed with this one with the sorbet packing in more flavour that we could imagine. One little bite tastes like a concentration of a basket of berries. The tart is beautiful and composed of a great mix of crunch, cream and sweetness. There is also one bonus dessert item in the chocolate ganache with cookies which was another pleasant end to a long evening. We were so glad we checked out Dinner by Heston. Fabulous service, impressive food and a most memorable evening.