It’s one of London’s best-known restaurants, but on Saturday ‘molecular gastronomy’ chef Heston Blumenthal and his team took the decision to close Dinner in Knightsbridge for a week after several customers and staff were confirmed as having the norovirus infection.
This closure comes five years after Blumenthal was forced to shut his flagship Michelin-three-star restaurant The Fat Duck in Bray for the same reason. Back then, in 2009, at least 240 people ended up displaying symptoms of the bug, causing the incident to be labelled the worst restaurant outbreak in history. The Fat Duck was closed for two weeks. It’s thought that the cause was likely to have been oysters which were infected with norovirus prior to arriving at the restaurant.
No cause has yet been suggested for this latest incident, and the scale of it is also unclear. Though reports vary when it gets down to the details, it seems that the issue first arose a couple of weeks ago with a number reports of feeling unwell from customers who had recently dined in the restaurant. Following good practice, the team then called in Westminster Council environmental health officers to take tests and inspect the premises, but reports came back negative. It was when Blumenthal heard this weekend of results confirming that three staff members and two customers had the norovirus infection that he decided to close the restaurant.
After the Fat Duck incident, it is only natural that Blumenthal would rather be safe than sorry. He told the Mail on Sunday yesterday, “We are in a unique position of having an insight into the behaviour of this bug and I will always err on the side of extreme caution”. He also made a statement saying, “I am very sorry for the inconvenience to those customers affected by the cancellations. However, I will reopen the restaurant safe in the knowledge that we have done everything we can do to continue to strive to create the perfect environment and food for my guests to enjoy”.
Westminster’s food safety manager, James Armitage confirmed the situation, saying: “Test results this week have shown that there has been an outbreak of norovirus at the Dinner restaurant. The operators have now temporarily closed the restaurant and we believe this is the responsible thing to do...We have already asked the restaurant to improve some of its hygiene procedures – including telling staff to wash their hands more often. All the changes were made immediately.”
It’s too early to say whether any practices at Dinner could be a reason for the outbreak or whether Blumenthal is just unlucky, but it’s looking more like the latter. Or maybe those norovirus bugs just really like his cooking...
UPDATE: Heston Blumenthal's team say that the restaurant is set to re-open on Monday 10 February