The Fat Duck Restaurant review

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Food Social Media
Posted by Barry Harbison

Lunch at the Fat Duck – June 2008

I had lunch at the Fat Duck last week – I’ll get straight to the point…it was phenomenal and it deserves all of the critical acclaim that it receives. What is quite entertaining is the reaction I get from everyone I tell about it (and I do tell everyone who will listen!). Some of the guys at work went straight out and booked a reservation based on my glowing review whereas some people I talk to can’t understand how anyone could spend such an amount of money on one meal!!

Here are some of the highlights of the experience.

Bray itself is a beautiful little English village, about an hour outside of London, on the banks of the Thames. It seems to be made up of one street, lined with ivy covered cottages, a town hall and two pubs (one of which is the Hind’s Head – Heston Blumenthal’s gastro pub which looks well worth a visit). For such a small village it is home to two very famous restaurants, the Fat Duck and the Waterside Inn (run by the famous Roux family).

I was understandably excited about eating in a restaurant that has recently hovered between first and second in the list of best restaurants in the world but I had one concern…everyone knows that Heston Blumenthal is famous for his experimental techniques, I was curious as to how these techniques would translate into good solid food.

The restaurant itself is in a modest terraced building on the main street – it is unidentifiable apart from the trademark sign.
On arriving, the staff were a good mixture of friendly but formal and the first impressions of the dining room are that it is small but perfectly proportioned, making excellent use of the period features such as the ceiling while employing modern design ideas to create space.

After a few minutes of debate we decided to go for the tasting menu, for both the food and wine. 17 courses of food with 8 specially selected glasses of wine to accompany it – it was going to be a long and enjoyable afternoon.

The first offering was a pallet cleanser and boy did it do its job. Billed as “Nitro-green tea and lime mousse” it was prepared at your table. The waitress brought over a pot of steaming liquid nitrogen which we were informed was minus 180 degrees Celsius. She dropped a mixture of lime, green tea, vodka, egg white and sugar into the liquid nitrogen and within seconds we were presented with a scoop of the mousse, topped with green tea powder, which had the consistency of meringue on the outside. Green tea mist was sprayed over the table to complete the sensation – it left your mouth feeling totally cleansed of all taste and ready to take on the flavours to come.

Next was an oyster, served in its shell, injected with horseradish cream and accompanied by passion fruit jelly and a touch of lavender. It was an interesting sensation but the flavours mixed brilliantly. After these two courses and the friendly approach of the staff I plucked up the courage to ask if I could take photos of the food. Many restaurants in London of far less quality don’t allow diners to take any photos in the restaurant for fear of annoying their “celebrity clientele” – no such pretensions at the Fat Duck.

Next was “Pommery grain mustard ice cream, red cabbage gazpacho”. A beautiful mixture of flavours

At this stage they were outdoing themselves with each course more spectacular than the previous. The next course continued that trend. The waiting staff were very knowledgeable about the dishes and explained each one in turn. This was “jelly of quail, langoustine cream, parfait of foie gras, oak moss and truffle toast” – each element was supposed to remind us of the essence of oak. Of course this wasn’t just about the flavours, it was about the sights and the smells as well. First, we were presented with a box that looked like Listerine strips and inside was a strip of oak resin that dissolved on your tongue – a strange sensation with a subtle woody taste. Next, a large piece of moss was placed in the middle of the table and liquid nitrogen was poured inside which covered the entire table with a mist that smelled like a forest. The food itself was delicious, in particular the langoustine cream and the truffle toast.

Next up was the (in)famous snail porridge. Once again, beautiful flavours – the porridge was a soft grain and was infused with parsley, the snails served out of the shell and the ham added an intensity to the dish. There was also a mystery spice involved that we couldn’t quite put our finger on but it brought the dish together.

Next dish was “Roast foie gras benzaldehyde with almond fluid gel, cherry, chamomile”. Again a delicious combination, the foie gras wasn’t overly heavy and the almond gel was a perfect addition but, bizarrely, the cherry was the standout item in this dish, it had this incredible intensity about it that came from the cherry being dipped in amaretto and the stem being replaced with a shard of vanilla pod.

The next dish was mysterious in many ways, simply billed as “Sound of the sea” we didn’t know what to expect. First, we each got a large sea shell with earphones sticking out – attached to an ipod shuffle which played sounds of sea. Then out comes a glass dish, sitting on top of a base of sand, which was designed to look like the ocean. To the left was edible “sand” made out of tapioca and fried baby eels to add crunch, in the middle was a mixture of sea weed and oysters, clams and mussels out of the shell and on the right was a foam that resembled waves washing up on a beach. The seaweed and fish were very tasty but the “sand” looked better than it tasted.

Next was the last of our main courses, “Ballotine of Anjou pigeon, black pudding made to order, pickling brine and spiced juices”. I’ve never tried pigeon as it always struck me as such a small bird it would be difficult to get any decent meat from but for a small dish like this it suited well. The meat was tasty, not what I expected as it was quite gamey, but once again the flavours really stood out, particularly the black pudding with a chocolate like consistency.

Next up was another scientific marvel, “Hot and iced tea” – this was somehow served in the same glass, one half of it was hot and the other half of it was iced cold so it was possible to sip both at once – quite refreshing at this stage in the menu.

There followed two small courses, the first was a delicious ice cream cornet (the size of your thumb) along with the story of the woman who is thought to have invented the edible cone. Then a small packet of sherbet, reminiscent of something I used to eat as a kid, except this one had an intense pine taste and the dipping stick was a piece of dried vanilla pod.

Next was the only traditional dessert on the menu, “Mango and Douglas fir puree, bavarois of lychee and mango, blackcurrant sorbet, blackcurrant and peppercorn jelly”. It was a selection of intense fruit flavours with the mango, lychee and blackcurrant flavours standing out.

Now the craziness begins. We are presented with a jug of milk, a bowl and an individual box of cereal. The cereal looks like corn flakes but instead they are little dried pieces of parsnip – again the flavour really stood out but it was the sensation of eating corn flakes as a dessert which stood out.

The crowning glory…”Nitro scrambled egg and bacon ice cream, pain perdu, tea jelly”. This was another dish prepared at your table, in a marvellous big copper pot on a stove. The waitress brings out half a dozen eggs in a box but when she cracks the first one in there it isn’t egg that comes out but what looks like scrambled eggs before you cook it. It turns out the stove isn’t required as she adds liquid nitrogen to the pot and proceeds to “cook” the ice cream in the same way you would cook scrambled eggs.

The ice cream, which looks identical to scrambled eggs, is then placed on top of a caramelised wafer thin slice of bacon, tomato jelly and the pain perdu, which resembles either French toast or a large hash brown. This is served with a “cup of tea” which is actually a cup of jelly which tastes exactly like a cup of tea! It really was an incredible sensation, the contrasting texture and flavour as well as the perception of what you are eating. But on top of all of that it was really tasty!

With our coffees we got a selection of petit fours, including a violet tart that was an amazing shade of blue…but I was still thinking about the bacon and egg ice cream for most of the day!

I didn’t bother mentioning the wine that we had with each course but they were very well matched and there were a few definite highlights.

All in all I would say that it was a great experience, my worries about science and food proved to be unfounded and, despite the size of the bill, I emerged a very satisfied customer.


Anonymous said...

Yowza. That plating is out of this world..very cool and different.

Julia said...

Wow. What an amazing culinary adventure! It's like hosting the coolest, most exciting, biggest rollercoaster theme park on your palate. A very enjoyable read. Thank you!

Give me a Sizzler on