Whenever I think back to my most memorable dining experience, the answer is just three words.
For years, Heston Blumenthal has been synonymous with molecular gastronomy and his vision and innovation has also lead to the creation of shows such as Heston’s Fantastical Feasts. For those who have not seen this show, try visualising a life sized egg. Something that looks like an egg, but tastes like yoghurt and mango curd. In fact, it seems like only yesterday where Heston left many viewers stunned when he revealed on Series 2 of Masterchef Australia that a mandarin-resembling concoction was actually a savoury chicken liver parfait. This is only a small part of what you will see at The Fat Duck.
Through the unusual pairing of interesting ingredients and emphasis on sensual eating, The Fat Duck transports you to a journey of culinary escapism. It challenges your senses. It shocks, but at the same time also manages to breed a sense of familiarity. The picturesque town of Bray where the restaurant is situated in and the low-key atmosphere is instrumental in creating such a homely environment.
As Heston himself said: ‘To me, food is as much about the moment, the occasion, the location and the company as it is about the taste.
It is the only thing we do that involves all the senses. It has the ability to generate so much emotion and so much memory. It has endless possibilities. It is one of those subjects where the more you learn about it; the more you realize you don’t know.’
That is exactly what The Fat Duck does.
The dining experience
In anticipation of The Fat Duck temporarily relocating to Melbourne in early 2015, I wanted to share my experience at this fine establishment.
Upon visiting London in 2012, one of the first things that was on my mind was to dine at The Fat Duck. Given reservations can only be made 2 months in advance, meticulous planning was required to ensure that we called up reservation exactly 2 months before our planned visit. Unfortunately, despite our efforts, when we finally got through to speak to the restaurant it was fully booked.
Fast forward almost 2 months and probably within a week of our arrival to London, we received a call from The Fat Duck asking if we still wished to dine with them. Thank goodness for the waiting list. And that was how we got a table at The Fat Duck.
The restaurant offers one tasting menu and takes approximately 3.5 hours to complete. Whilst there have been minor changes to the menu over the years, most of the signature dishes (i.e. Sound of the Sea and the Snail Porridge) have remained however undergone variations and innovations in the process. An amuse bouche was served prior to our tasting menu which was an aerated beetroot macaron with horseradish cream. This was incredibly light and melted in your mouth instantly.
Nitro Poached Apertifs – Vodka and Lime sour with green tea dust
The nitro poached aperitif took the form of 3 flavours that could be chosen: Vodka and Lime Sour, Gin and Tonic, Campari Soda. Created right in front of you, a dollop of the liquid was combined with liquid nitrogen which solidified to form a refreshingly cold, sorbet delight with a meringue-like coating.
Red Cabbage Gazpacho: Pommery grain mustard ice cream
A slightly unusual combination, the gazpacho had a clean red cabbage flavour and the mustard ice cream pairing was surprisingly good. The mustard was not overpowering but rather made the dish quite refreshing on the palate.
Jelly of Quail, Crayfish cream: Chicken liver parfait, oak moss and truffle toast
Many of The Fat Duck dishes feature a strong interplay between one’s senses and this was just a start. For this course, a piece of oak moss was placed in the centre of the table with liquid nitrogen being poured on top. It wasn’t long until the smoke slowly engulfed the table, creating a dramatic sight and slightly woody scent. At the same time we were also presented with small pieces of film to place on our tongue (resembling listerine films but in a bespoke plastic case) to enhance these smokey flavours.
The real standout of this dish was, however, the bowl of parfait, jelly on top of a green pea puree. A spoonful of all three layers at once created a perfect combination of creamy, salty and sweet flavours that simply melted in your mouth. Absolutely divine.
Snail porridge: Iberico Bellota Ham, Shaved Fennel
The is a classic Heston Blumenthal dish and the green colour comes from the parsley. Despite the initial presentations, this is a well executed dish that was incredibly satisfying on a cold day.
Roast Foie Gras: Barberry, braised konbu and crab biscuit
The Foie gras was silken and incredibly flavoursome and the crab biscuit was deliciously crispy.
Mock turtle soup: “Mad Hatter Tea”
Mock turtle soup originally originated in the 18th century as a more affordable alternative to green turtle soup. The dish served at The Fat Duck is a modernised version which is a play on the Mad Hatter’s Tea party from Alice in Wonderland.
This dish was brought out with a white plate with just the soup ingredients, a clear glass teacup and a dark wooden case with gold pocket watches resembling gold foil chocolates. We were then asked to select one of the watches to place in the tea cup. Almost instantly, the hot boiling water from the tea cup melted the pocked watch to form a rich consommé with speckles of gold leaf which was then poured over the soup ingredients to create the Mad Hatter Tea. This was one of my favourite dishes.
“Sound of the Sea”
The tastes of the raw fish, ‘sea foam’ and ‘edible sand’ is best experienced whilst listening to the ‘sound of the sea’ in a gigantic shell. The sheer creativity of this dish is brilliant and for a moment, it did make me feel that I was eating at a seaside back in Australia.
Salmon poached in a liquorice gel: Artichoke, vanilla mayonnaise and Golden trout roe
This dish surprised me as the liquorice did not overpower the salmon. The salmon was tender and lightly seasoned with pepper and a dollop of salmon caviar.
Taffety Tart (c1660)
Heston’s take on another classic, the Taffety Tart is comprised of layers of puff pastry, apple, fennel, rose and lemon. The blackcurrant sorbet was slightly tarter than expected but overall a lovely dessert and impeccable presentation.
The BFG: Black Forest Gateau
The BFG was moist, rich and perfectly constructed. Paired with Kirsch ice cream, this was a stellar combination.
Like a kid in a sweet shop
As an end to the almost 4 hour dining experience, we were presented with a pink bag of goodies including an edible white chocolate queen of hearts biscuit. I certainly felt like a kid again and I could not have thought of a better way to end the afternoon.
The Fat Duck
High St Bray
Maidenhead, UK SL6 2