J and I treated ourselves to Friday lunch at Dinner By Heston while in Melbourne. As with thousands of others, I was disappointed that I wasn’t one of the lucky lottery winners to dine at the Fat Duck, but was glad I could book into Dinner By Heston. We dined at lunch to save a bit of money. The 5 course lunch was $160 per person, while the 8 course dinner started at $285 per person. All members at the table had to choose the same option – either a la carte or the set 5 course menu. As I was originally dining solo (we weren’t sure when J could take leave to come down to Melbourne) I had long decided on the 5 course lunch, which we both had. In hindsight, since there were two of us, we should have ordered off the a la carte to try out more dishes, but by the time we thought of that it was too late. Ah well.
The theatrics commenced when we walked down a long dark corridor towards a bright sign, not knowing where the path would lead us and leaving us to try and find the next door. Inside, we walked past to view one of the biggest working kitchens I’ve even seen. We found out that there was another kitchen downstairs with a dedicated area for the pastry chef. The large windows allow all diners to peek in and watch. The golden pineapples roasting on the spit were mesmerising – these were part of the Tipsy Cake dessert.
We were lucky enough to be seated right by the window overlooking the Yarra river. The set menu for the day had been printed for us. After we were seated, we were asked what kind of water we would like – tap, still or sparkling. I was in the mood to be pampered and asked for sparkling water. This ended up being $14 per bottle which we found out two bottles later when we received the bill. Ouch. I noticed a few non-alcoholic beverages on the menu and couldn’t resist trying one. I ordered the Oak Fizz ($16) which was described as similar to a champagne cocktail. Some bread and butter was provided a short time later.
J perused the very extensive wine list. He was impressed to see Grange by the glass at $550.
He ordered La Sirene’s Wild Saison beer ($20) to be had with the second course which he really liked and has already looked up places that sell it in Canberra.
Course 1 – hay smoked ocean trout with pickled lemon salad, gentlemen’s relish, wood sorrel and smoked roe. I liked the fresh trout served sashimi style. There was lots of freshness on the dish with a nice acidity from the salad dressing. I don’t know whether I set my expectations too high, but this was a little underwhelming.
Course 2 – Meat Fruit made of chicken liver parfait, mandarin gel and grilled bread. The perfect looking mandarin had this gorgeous glistening sheen. I felt bad for cutting into it and destroying its perfection. The parfait was so sinful – creamy smooth yet super light. Best of all, it didn’t have that pungent offal flavour that puts me off most parfait. It was just so light and heavenly. The grilled bread had been coated in butter or a light oil and was the perfect accompaniment to the parfait. Carb heaven!
J and I were both carefully portioning the bread to parfait, when halfway through, one of the waiters asked if we would like more bread with the parfait. Oh my YES! Out came another two serves of grilled bread. No more portioning required. Now I can understand why there’s so much hype about this one dish. It was AMAZING. And yes, we both polished it off. J was secretly hoping I wouldn’t finish my parfait, but that didn’t happen. This more than made up for course 1.
Course 3 – Rice & Flesh made of saffron, curried kangaroo tail, red wine and amaranth. The kangaroo tail was tender and fell apart easily with a fork. I loved the creamy sauce and could have licked the entire plate clean if no one was watching. This was basically a saffron risotto but we felt that the rice was too hard – just slightly harder than al dente for our liking. The overall dish was a tad too salty for me as well.
Course 4 – slow cooked pork belly with spelt, lardo, baby turnip and Robert sauce. I’m not the biggest fan of pork belly but was pleased to find it wasn’t too fatty. Even J (who has been avoiding fatty foods) thought the same thing. We found out the missing fat was in the lardo – the thin see-through layer covering the spelt. Some pretty cool techniques on the dish and lots of umami, but I didn’t think it was exceptional. The sommelier came around to check whether more wines or other drinks were required. They some how got to talking about Heston’s whiskey with beef stock, and J couldn’t resist and ordered it ($26). Served in a super chilled tea cup, he could see how the beef stock mellowed out the sharp alcoholic bite of the whiskey. But it’s not something he would order again.
Course 5 – Tipsy cake with spit roast pineapple. One of the best desserts I’ve ever had! The menu states this takes at least 20 minutes to prepare. The brioche is cooked in custard, brandy and sugar in a small cast iron pot. The five pieces pulled away with ease. It was light as air and so easy to eat. Instant satisfaction. It definitely lives up to all the hype. I was surprised that the pineapple just sat on the side, as I was expecting it to be part of the brioche.
J said the brioche was ‘friggin awesome’ but found the pineapple to be too sweet. It wasn’t too sweet for me and I haven’t had a good roasted pineapple in ages. It was warm and slightly caramelised on the outside. Mouth watering! I could easily order this dessert again and again – no sharing with this one.
J ordered an espresso martini ($26) for something sweet. I had a bit of a taste and it was fabulous. So smooth and strong coffee without that bitter edge.
Our waiter informed us of a liquid nitrogen ice cream trolley that could be wheeled around for an additional $15 per person (minimum 2 people required). That was a definite yes for us. The trolley, made specifically for Heston’s liquid nitrogen creations, was wheeled out to us. There were two wafer cones ready to be filled. I was a little disappointed that there was no choice in ice cream flavour. It was vanilla bean or nothing.
We did get a choice of 4 toppings – fennel and popped rice, chocolate and hazelnut, freeze dried raspberries, apple and popping candy. Raspberry compote was placed into the cone first for a sweet ending.
We were allowed two toppings each, so I chose the first two while J chose the latter two. The vanilla bean ice cream was nice and I could see plenty of seeds mixed throughout. It wasn’t the biggest scoop and for $15 I could have gotten 2-3 scoops elsewhere. We were paying for the theatrics after all.
After we were finished with our ice creams, we received a final dessert of chocolate ganache infused with earl grey tea served with caraway biscuits. This was thick and silky and I loved the caraway biscuit, but we were both far too full to finish it. I had two spoonful’s of ganache and one biscuit, and called it a day.
Service was great – I was asked if I wanted a small chair for my bag and out came a cute little leather stool to place my bag on. The chair was pulled out for me when we were seated. I liked that the wait staff were attentive and we never had to worry about trying to catch someone’s attention. Staff were knowledgeable about the elements in the food and wine, and were too happy to answer any questions we had. Crumbs were swept away with a small towel though not all were swept away as we noticed some crumbs remaining. Our linen napkins were folded and placed back on the table if one of us left the table, however they weren’t placed on our laps as we sat back down (which to be honest, I was kind of expecting for the prices we were paying). Our sparkling water was topped up regularly without us having to do it (though as per my earlier comment, $14 a bottle was extreme). The automatic window blinds slowly came down when it got too sunny and back up once the cloud cover came back.
I thought the meat fruit and tipsy cake were both sensational and highly recommend them. The other dishes were presented and cooked well, but didn’t overly impress me. Don’t get me wrong, they were good dishes and executed well, but in my humble opinion, there wasn’t anything unique or special about them. In saying that, I would still like to try out more of the a la carte menu but will stick with tap water next time!
Dinner By Heston can be found at the Crown Casino in Melbourne’s Southbank.
Value for money 7.5/10
FPJ score 24.5/30
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