Gazing out over Hyde Park from the uber-hot London restaurant with the city’s best park view, it was odd to suddenly find ourselves transported to Provence, Tuscany and Andalucia before coming full circle back to the South of France without leaving Knightsbridge. That’s what wine can do for you – transport you to the place you first tasted a special drop and bring all the sense of mise-en-place flooding back , and no-one is more susceptible to being transported by their adventures in a glass than The Wine Wanderers.
Turns out that Dinner, Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental, has not only just leapt to no. 7 in the World’s Best 50 Restaurants list, it has a fabulously diverse and esoteric wine list. Had we been drinking wine by the bottle, we’d have been transported to Argentina by a Catena Zapata chardonnay last enjoyed in Buenos Airea; as it was we relived several imbibing adventures in Europe with extraordinary dishes based on Britain’s own culinary adventures over the centuries.
Naturally, we started with Meat Fruit, Dinner’s famous 15th century-inspired signature dish. It’s a rich parfait of chicken liver and foie gras double-wrapped in mandarin-flavoured jelly, dimpled to resemble a whole mandarin. We chose a beautiful pale golden-pink Bandol from Domaine Tempier, best-known for their sublime reds; there may have been a touch of mourvedre in it as well as the quintessentially Provencal mix of cinsault and grenache. This rose proved a perfect complement to London’s most coveted starter, which came with satisfyingly trencherman tranches of smoky grilled sourdough.
Turbot with cockle ketchup proved controversial; the salty, sweet and sour cockle dressing was tongue-ticklingly oceanic, but not necessarily a perfect match for the delicate turbot. Nor was the Friuli pinot grigio first suggested a perfect partner. A glass of Ballot Millot Meursault hit the spot much better and reminded us of past meanderings through the Burgundy vineyards, discovering the great, sumptuous whites which never disappoint; pure hedonism in a glass.
There was no argument about the Chianti Riserva from Casale dello Sparviero accompanying one of the world’s finest pork chops, a thick cut of black foot Iberico served fresh instead of more commonly as slivers of the world’s finest ham. Sangiovese can be so disappointing, but sublime when properly made; we first appreciated the best at Terme di Saturnia in Tuscany. A spelt risotto with the chop transported us to Lucca, where they revere and celebrate this under-appreciated grain.
Then it was off to Seville, where we first appreciated how well sherry partners food, for dessert, thanks to the Gonzalez Byass Apostolos palo cortado accompanying brown bread ice-cream with salted caramel. An Uroulat Jurancon alongside tipsy cake served with glazed pineapple fresh off the rotisserie brought us back to southern France – before, after three hours, it was time to end our reverie and step out into the here and now of London’s Hyde Park. We always expected great food from Dinner, but the wine list and world trip of happy memories were an unexpected bonus.