Heston Blumenthal’s latest restaurant features Tudor dishes inspired by historians at Hampton Court Palace. Paul Teed reports.
Celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal is best known for modern, experimental dishes such as his famous bacon and egg ice cream or the bizarre snail porridge.
But for his latest gastronomic adventure he has delved into the history of British cooking - with a little help from his friends at Hampton Court Palace.
His new restaurant Dinner, at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, in Knightsbridge, is due to open this weekend, inspired by recipes he has picked up from speaking to food historians across the country.
However, his new dishes are not without his own inventive twist, and will include a few surprises such as fake fruit made of meat and pig’s ear on toast.
Marc Meltonville, a food historian at Hampton Court Palace, said he first met Blumenthal about five years ago when he started getting excited about recipes from the Middle Ages, Tudor, Stuart and Georgian eras.
He said: “The palace team met Heston about five or six years ago, Myself and my colleague met him at a food conference in Oxford, we were pushed together in one corner and we were all having funny history ideas and got on really well, he was very interested.
“Over the last few years Heston has been back and forth to the palace with his teams. The more we cooked the more interested he realised he and his kitchen team were.”
Mr Meltonville dresses in Tudor costume to put on live displays at the palace, in what is Europe’s largest surviving renaissance kitchen.
He visited Dinner on Sunday and described Blumenthal’s interpretation of historic dishes as “brilliant”.
The chef, who won three Michelin stars at the Fat Duck, in Berkshire, has established a reputation for unusual combinations of ingredients, so it is therefore no surprise he has taken an interest in some of the more outlandish recipes cooked up by his culinary ancestors.
One of his signature dishes will be “meat fruit”, which was taken from the records at Hampton Court Palace.
Mr Meltonville explained the original 15th century recipe for “pommes” saw chefs make delicate veal meatballs look like baked apples.
Blumenthal, who hopes to offer a 21st century take on ancient culinary traditions, has instead made them appear like little mandarins, made from chicken livers and foie gras and covered in a savoury custard, presented to diners on a small wooden board.
Mr Meltonville said: “As someone who has seen a lot of meat that looks like fruit, sugar that looks like bacon, it still had the power to make me go ‘wow’.
“If anything it’s made me want to come back and think what else we have got. Maybe it will jolly us along to look for more interesting dishes, we can play around within our kitchen.”
He added: “There were no restaurants when these recipe books were written, it was for the houses of nobles and the wealthy to show off to their guests when they had feasts and banquets, it’s one-upmanship. To come and be wowed is something people have always wanted.”
Another dish inspired by the palace’s 1725 cook book is beef royal, slowly cooked with wine and anchovies with veal and chicken stock.
Mr Meltonville said many historic recipes were “heavy”, but they are also vague enough to be able to “do what you like with them” for modern diners.
Blumenthal’s 130-seat brasserie, which has a wooden floor and no table cloths, will also serve pigeon pie, spit roast pineapple - cooked over an open fire until it is caramelised - and an ancient dish of “rice and flesh”, a risotto with a calf’s tail, dating from about 1390.
The team at Hampton Court Palace has searched the archives of the British Library, along with libraries in Leeds, Bath and even America to unearth historic culinary techniques.
Blumenthal, who is currently shooting a new TV series called Michelin Impossible where he cooks in unusual locations, has said he wanted to celebrate and be inspired by historic recipes, whereas the historians aim to replicate them.
Mr Meltonville said: “Heston’s idea is to be inspired by historic recipes and not recreate it. We are the other way around, we are trying to recreate the original taste and flavour if we can.”
Customers at Blumenthal’s new restaurant will be able to see the chefs in action behind a glass screen, along with a huge medieval-style meat spit being turned by a clockwork mechanism.
Mr Meltonville said: “I think being able to see the chefs enjoy themselves can make you realise they are really excited about what they are creating. We get the same buzz when we work live in front of people at the palace kitchens.”
Food historians at Hampton Court Palace will hold their next live monthly Tudor cookery demonstration on February 5 and 6.
Tudor cookery recipe from Hampton Court Palace:
Take veal, kid or chicken and boil in water or stock until half cooked.
Remove and drain from the liquid then cut up into bite-sized pieces.
Place in a clean pan with chopped sage, hyssop, mace (the outer covering of nutmeg) and cloves and strain the liquid from the first cooking into the new pan.
Cook slowly until the meat is completely cooked, then add ground ginger, saffron, salt and verjuice.
Finally thicken with egg yolks and when these are cooked through and the dish is as thick as you want, serve.