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An Australian 'Dinner' by Chef Ashley Palmer-Watts

An Australian 'Dinner' by Chef Ashley Palmer-Watts

A closer look at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal restaurant recently opened in Melbourne, Australia, as described by the words of its chef Ashley Palmer-Watts.

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I spoke to chef Ashley Palmer-Watts in the beautiful surroundings of Cape Lodge in Western Australia’s Margaret River region, three hours south of Perth. He was in town for the second year running at the Margaret River Gourmet Escape event, a culinary nirvana featuring some of the world’s biggest chefs, markets, lunches and dinners under starlight and all round shameless foodporn. He was also just off the plane from Melbourne: “We’ve just opened our second Dinner by Heston Blumenthal restaurant in Melbourne. It’s exactly the same site as where the Fat Duck residency was (i.e. The Crown Towers Casino). Meanwhile the new Fat Duck has also opened up back in the UK. So essentially we’ve opened three restaurants in one year. Pretty busy! We forget sometimes.”

Dinner in Melbourne is up to 160-170 covers now, we’re aiming for 200 so we’re gradually building it with a bit of control, building the team and getting it right. The flipside of doing a restaurant for a residency (e.g. The Fat Duck in Melbourne) is everyone thinks the next one will be temporary too, but this is permanent.”

Back to the court of King Henry the VIII

As the restaurant is inspired by 15th century manuscripts, as well as the dishes of the Royal courts of King Henry the VIII, I asked him how he ensured Dinner in Melbourne was historically accurate, having heard that he had liaised with professors and conducted significant research: “Our research into Australian history stems from the Victorian period. Our research is really from the part settlers played. There are a lot of historical references of this throughout the restaurant too, with old photographs and artwork in the style of the book Historic Heston, as well as things like the elaborate mechanism that's used to power the spit that turns the pineapples - very W Heath Robinson! And very typical of the ingenuity of those times.”

He’s quick to point out however that the historic inspiration for the dishes is not really a geographical issue. “London diners (who come from all over the world) can relate to Dinner by Heston and British people like myself have no nostalgic reference to dishes of the 13th and 14th century! Ultimately we (Heston and I) are fascinated by historic gastronomy and use this as inspiration to create historically inspired dishes that we love to eat.”

Dinner in Melbourne: a closer look at the menu

Overall there are similarities in the menus in London and Melbourne, but he stressed that a number of the ingredients are quite distinct, thereby adding a different dimension of flavour to Melbourne. “The climate really plays a part on the availability of produce and some of the seasons are relatively short in comparison to Europe. But we've managed with techniques like pickling ingredients like radishes, which just add a little change in flavours and textures. Using different ingredients just means re-balancing the dishes to showcase great ingredients.”

Arguably his bravest move on the menu is to reconstruct the beloved Lamington cake. “When you say Lamington to an Australian everyone smiles and laughs, people feel really strongly about them. So I thought let’s do something with that, use the flavours and form a little bit.”

“On the bottom we’ve got a little cylinder, a pastry chocolate base, then a chocolate ganache, then a lightly-soaked coconut sponge, then inside that is a liquid raspberry center and it’s all encased in a rum and white chocolate mousse. We finish it by rolling it in coconut and spraying it with chocolate. When you cut through it the sauce runs out. We serve it with grilled raspberries over charcoal and a rum and vanilla ice cream. It’s a good example of what Dinner is because it’s inspired by something. The Australians seem to be enjoying it! Dinner is a serious restaurant but it’s comfortable and relaxed, there has to be a bit of humour in there too.”

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