Fat Duck

Eating at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck is an experience which starts the moment you begin strategizing over how to get that elusive reservation and continues until you step out onto the Bray High Street, your stomach stretched and sated, clutching your menu and bag of sweets.

The Fat Duck website advises diners to call the reservation line between 10:00am and 5:00pm, Monday to Friday, and says that they accept reservations as far as two months in advance (by date). In reality, to get a reservation on a specific date you must call up exactly 2 months in advance, at 10:00am (perhaps take the morning off work to pursue this). The line will be engaged, just keep hitting redial until you get through (from experience this can take up to 100 redials over 1hr10mins) and are placed on hold listening to a reading of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (for a further 10 mins). If your luck holds out you’ll get through to an operator, and there will still be a table of the size you require available. Hand over your credit card details and you’re done!

Be warned, you may get through only to hear a recording telling you the restaurant is now fully booked, or worse still you get through to reservations to be told the last table was booked whilst you were on hold, but persevere and you will get your reservation.

I was successful twice, not because I have eaten at the Fat Duck twice but because unfortunately due to a delayed flight, horrendous traffic and then finally the cancellation of all trains to Maidenhead I was forced to cancel the first reservation at late notice. The cancellation fee for our party of four was to be £600, staff took pity on us (we had been keeping them up to date as our saga unfolded and they had other potential diners stranded by the cancelled trains) and halved the fee. Still it was £300 for a meal we didn’t eat – as if missing out was not punishment enough!

I managed to get a second reservation, the trains were running and finally we were standing on Bray High Street outside a rather unassuming cottage which housed the three Michelin star restaurants which had won Restaurant of the Year (2001), Best Restaurant in the World (2005) and Best Restaurant in the UK (2007-10).

A variety of factors combine to give the restaurant somewhat of a homey feel, more like a special occasion dinner at Mum & Dad’s than stuffy fine dining. Just like home, there is no dress code, and everyone is eating the same meal. Friendly and attentive people buzz around ensuring you have everything you need or want, and they seem to derive real pleasure from your enjoyment of the meal. The tables chat happily, exclaiming over the food and the spectacle. Of course at Mum & Dad’s you don’t choose your wine from an extensive list housed in a large leather bound book, and whilst the arrival of a sizzling beef or anything flambé can get the family to ooh and aah, its nothing compared to the show that accompanies some of the Fat Duck dishes. You also don’t tend to whip out your camera to document a Mum’s roast (however well-presented and delicious as it may be).

 

Beetroot and Horseradish Cream

Our four hour culinary adventure started with a beetroot and horseradish cream amuse bouche; the shape and texture of a small sparkly beetroot red macaroon with a pale cream. We crunched through the shell for an intense hit of beetroot flavour that suddenly evaporated, followed by a lingering mild horseradish.

 

Nitro Poached Aperitif

Our mouths thoroughly amused, we moved on to our nitro poached aperitif, a flavoured foam (mine – vodka and lime sour, Nato’s – gin and tonic ) was dropped into liquid nitrogen at -196°C so it “poaches” into a meringue-like parcel, which is either dusted with green-tea powder (mine) or sprayed with lemon zest (Nato’s) before serving. A light citrus fragrance was spritzed over us as we tasted the bite sized, ice-cold morsels, which had the texture of lighter than air meringue with the potent kick of the cocktail. 

Image courtesy of TummyRumble @ Flickr.com

 

Red Cabbage Gazpatcho

Next up was red cabbage gazpatcho with Pommery grain mustard ice cream. The savoury ice-cream stole the show here, with the red cabbage gazpacho perhaps intended as more of a sauce. It looked like ice-cream, had the texture of ice-cream, but tasted like a light mustard, which combined well with the red cabbage. 

Image courtesy of TummyRumble @ Flickr.com

 

Jelly of Quail with Crayfish Cream

It was time for theatrics, and as everyone who attended a wedding in the 80’s knows – you can’t go wrong with dry ice. The next dish was jelly of quail with crayfish cream, chicken liver parfait and oak moss and truffle toast. First we were given a small film (similar to the Listerine Pocketpacks) which was strongly oak flavoured with a touch of charcoal. The dry ice was hidden under a bed of moss, and the application of hot water released an earthy, peaty aroma and sent a fog rolling over the table and onto our laps. The waiter encouraged us to get a little of each of the layers of quail jelly, crayfish cream and chicken liver parfait in each spoonful, which made for some interesting flavours. As a truffle lover, I was particularly looking forward to the truffle toast, but found the flavour a little lost amongst everything else. 

 

Snail Porridge

On to snail porridge with Iberico Bellota ham and shaved fennel, the dish Heston is best known for. I had a vague childhood memory of a Welsh cartoon called Wil Qwac Qwac which featured a duck who ate snail porridge, but after watching all the episodes I could find on youtube I could only find references to snail jam sandwiches, spider cake with snail cream and wasp porridge. Still, perhaps it was Heston’s inspiration for this intense pea soup green dish with whole snails lurking beneath the surface. This was not our first time eating snails, but these were more lightly flavoured than previous dishes in France. The fennel added a touch of liquorice which complemented the earthy flavours of the porridge.

 

Roast Foie Gras

Roast foie gras, with barberry, braised konbu and crab biscuit was presented with delicate wings fitting for the lightest, smoothest, creamiest fois gras I have ever tasted. This was nicely sequenced as a familiar dish between the unique snail porridge and the Mad Hatter Tea of mock turtle soup. 

Image courtesy of TummyRumble @ Flickr.com

 

Mad Hatters Tea Party

“Have you ever been to a Mad Hatters tea party?” asked the waiter handing us a bookmark detailing the history of mock turtle soup and the Mock Turtle character in Alice in Wonderland.

We started by copying Alice in Wonderland scene where the March Hare dipped his pocket watch into his cup of tea. Producing a display case with two gold “watches”, the waiter dropped a watch in each of our teacups. As we stirred, the gold leaf on the outside of each watch disintegrated into the water, leaving a jellied beef consommé disc which dissolved into broth, that was then poured an Alice in Wonderland inspired scene including a mock egg sprouting a trio of tiny mushrooms and a section of cheek wrapped in lardo which was exceptionally tender and could be eaten using only a spoon. 

 

Sound of the Sea

Another classic followed – the “Sound of the sea”, first came a conch shell concealing an ipod, we popped in the ear buds and listened to the soothing sounds of waves breaking on the shore, seagulls calling overhead and the occasional ship’s fog horn. It was very relaxing, but as it is a few years since I have sat on an Aussie beach I started to feel a little homesick. Luckily the food arrived to distract me, served on a glass topped wooden box, which enabled you to see the sand beneath was a little strip of shore, a slightly salty seafood flavoured foam had ’ washed’ delicious sashimi (halibut, tuna and mackerel), seaweed and sea vegetables onto the ‘sand’ (crispy sardine and tapioca flour blitzed to a fine breadcrumb consistency). The tastes were amazing, and it was such a novelty to eat something that looked and felt like sand. 

Image courtesy of Charles Haynes @ Flickr.com

 

Poached Salmon

An incredibly detailed dish followed, Salmon poached in a liquorice gel with artichokes, vanilla mayonnaise and golden trout roe. The salmon was perfectly cooked, and wrapped in a lightly-flavoured liquorice gel coat which kept the parcel together. Trout roe on top of the salmon added a nice little salty bite. The vanilla mayonnaise complemented the grilled artichokes and the dish rests on a bed of grapefruit cells. Nato asked the waiter how the cells were extracted and he answered “with tweezers. I hate that job.” 

Image courtesy of TummyRumble @ Flickr.com

 

Lamb with Grilled Cucumber

Tender lamb pieces with grilled cucumber and onion and an intensely flavoured dill gel was up next, familiar but cooked to perfection. This was followed by crispy, salty lamb crackling, sweetbreads, and the clever concept of a combination lamb and mint jelly to cleanse the palate. 

 

Hot and Iced Tea

It was time for the intriguingly named ‘hot and iced tea’ before moving on to desserts. Despite all we had tired, this was the most interesting surprise of the night, and absolutely brilliantly executed. A glass teacup is placed in front of us very carefully with a warning not to twist the glass as we drank it. The first sip just seemed to be hot, sweet earl grey tea (with a touch of apple). The second sip and down to the bottom of the glass was a weirdly unsettling mixture of hot tea on the left side of the glass, and iced tea on the right side. Somehow the hot side and cold sides weren’t mixing resulting in the odd sensation of half hot, half cold tea in each sip. 

Image courtesy of TummyRumble @ Flickr.com

 

Earl Grey Tea Ice Cream

The first dessert was nothing less than a work of art. A cluster of mixed strawberries and flowers, partially covered by a gingham picnic blanket made of white chocolate. This was accompanied by a mini cornet of earl grey tea ice-cream, with a base of chamomile and coriander jelly in an olive oil biscuit strawberry sugared cone. Beautiful and delicious. 

 

The BFG – Black Forest Gateau

Time for the BFG – Black Forest Gateau, a cocoa coated tower with a light mascarpone interior, and a core of kirsch soaked cherries, topped with a cherry and a drizzle of cherry sauce – infinitely more appetising than the snozzcumbers the other BFG consumed. The BFG was so intensely chocolatey that my non-chocoholic husband could not finish it, though he managed all the accompanying kirsh ice-cream, earning a raised eyebrow from the waiter. 

Image courtesy of TummyRumble @ Flickr.com

 

Whisk(e)y Wine Gums

All aboard for a whistle-stop whisky tour provided by the whisk(e)y wine gums. Onto a glass fronted framed map of Scotland were affixed a selection of gums, each with a distilled whisky characteristic of the area of Scotland it was stuck to e.g. Speyside was Glenlivet flavoured, and Islay was Laphroaig. The map was not exactly geographically correct – Tennessee appeared in the top left hand corner of the map to house a Jack Daniels whiskey gum, but when the gums are this good, who cares about geography. Nato had no hassles with this course, even finishing off my Laphroaig when I found the smoky flavour too intense.

Image courtesy of TummyRumble @ Flickr.com

 

Like a Kid in a Sweet Shop

At this point we were full, so it was lucky that the last course ‘like a kid in a sweet shop’, is designed to take away with you so that your Fat Duck experience can last a little longer. The pink and white striped paper bag contained a melt in the mouth apple pie caramel with edible wrapper. Coconut ‘baccy’, a tobacco pouch containing sweet shreds of coconut that resemble tobacco, which put me in mind of a grown-ups version of the child’s sweet fags/fads. A chocolate truffle with mandarin jelly and inside an envelope with a wax seal, a playing card, made of painted white chocolate with a berry compote centre – almost too pretty to eat.

Image courtesy of TummyRumble @ Flickr.com

 

Image courtesy of TummyRumble @ Flickr.com

 

All in all it was a magical meal that I will remember for a long time. We emerged starry eyed into the night with our stomach full of incredible food and our minds full of the new experience. The hassle of getting a reservation was forgotten, making room for new memories of the incredible meal. We’ll be dining out on this tale for years to come!

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