Fourteenth century saffron and calf’s tail risotto. Seventeenth century snail porridge. A nineteenth century cake that comes with a spit-roasted pineapple garnish. The menu at Dinner by Heston might sound a little challenging for some and downright weird for others, but for the people who book a table and taste their way through what’s on offer, it’s a fascinating insight into Britain’s culinary past. And with two Michelin stars to its name, it looks like there are some seriously tasty treats to be found in the UK’s food-filled archives.
Heston’s interest in the dishes of yesteryear was ignited when he met Marc Meltonville, a food historian at Hampton Court Palace. But it wasn’t until he bought The Hind’s Head in 2004 that he had an outlet for the recipes. He worked with Ashley Palmer-Watts to develop dishes inspired by Britain’s past, and when the opportunity came up to open Dinner in 2011, they decided to turn it into a temple dedicated to the historical dishes of Britain. ‘We wanted it to sit somewhere between The Fat Duck and The Hind’s Head; high end cooking but for a large number of covers,’ says Ashley. ‘We set about creating a team of food historians and researchers, collecting old cookbooks and heading to places like the British Library to find as many little snippets of info we can.’
Today, Dinner is very much Ashley’s baby, and the restaurant gets through a mammoth 280 covers every day, seven days a week. It’s dishes like the Meat Fruit (c. 1500) – a sphere of silky-smooth chicken liver parfait covered with an orange gel which looks exactly like a mandarin – and the Tipsy Cake (c. 1810) – an incredible booze- and vanilla-infused brioche served with a smoky, spit-roasted slice of pineapple on the side – that tends to make the headlines, but what’s really interesting is the way Ashley and his team go about researching and interpreting the recipes from yesteryear.