Saturday, 6 August 2011

The Fat Duck, July 2011

At last, the family arrived at The Fat Duck in Bray. Heston Blumenthal’s three Michelin star restaurant is well known in the culinary world for its innovative flavours and presentation, not to mention its coveted place in the top ten restaurants in the world.  The building has a rather modest exterior, but a very colourful interior. The exterior of the building does not bear the name of the restaurant, thus it is easy to walk past it and not notice it. The distinguishing factors are the little hanging sign boasting the restaurant’s emblem, and a small golden plaque reading “Grand Chef Heston Blumenthal”. Though elaborate, the plaque could very easily be missed.

The interior of the restaurant was quaint to say the least. The structure of the building looked somewhat aged, contrasted dramatically by the confusing array of modern art displayed on the walls. The restaurant was buzzing with activity, a change from the hushed atmosphere of many other restaurants. The first of the fourteen courses was “Nitro Poached Aperitifs”. The waitress started by pouring liquid nitrogen into a metal pot. As the mist started to flow from the pot, she put in an egg white mixture infused with an alcoholic flavour of your choice; lime vodka, gin and tonic or campari soda. The egg white emerged from the mist as a solid, meringue like substance. The waitress then sprinkled a powder, the flavour of which corresponded to that of your initial choice. As my mother was told to eat it quickly and in one go, the waitress sprayed perfume above her, emphasizing the restaurant’s aim to pleasure every sense. The lime vodka aperitif was beautiful in the mouth. Everything was varied, the bitterness of the vodka and the acidity of the lime, the crunch of the egg white and the coarse powder. Every aspect was complimented greatly by the lingering scent of the perfume. 

The next course was the “Red Cabbage Gazpacho”. This was more or less a red cabbage consommé, but with a big difference. This was served with a small scoop of pommery grain mustard ice cream. This combination was very intriguing. The Gazpacho closely resembled the colour and flavour of beetroot soup and the ice cream gave the dish a smooth texture as well as a mild mustard flavour.

Red Cabbage Gazpacho

Jelly of Quail, Crayfish Cream, Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast is probably the most visually pleasing course of the experience.  The waiter started by placing a small wooden block on the table. This was covered in short green tendrils and on it were four tiny plastic boxes. The waiter explained that truffles are found around and underneath oak trees and so have the same flavours and aromas. Then he introduced the contents of the bowls we were given. The first layer was the chicken liver parfait, second cream of crayfish, third jelly of quail and finally, pea puree. He then gave us each the contents of the little plastic boxes; a minute rectangle of film. He told us to place it on the tip of our tongues to enhance the flavours of the truffle toast. He finished by pouring liquid nitrogen onto the wooden box. As the mist started to cascade down the box, the smoky aroma of the moss drifted with it. The toast tasted subtly smoky as well with hints of butter. The layered substance was perfect. The smooth, gelatinous and creamy textures were harmonious in the mouth, matching the consonance of the rich, fishy and gamey flavours. 

The next course was the famous “Snail Porridge”. This was not appealing to my mother, who has a strong dislike for snails. The dish appeared green and lumpy, but tasted divine. The snails were not rubbery and were given a brackish flavour by the Iberico ham. It was not exceedingly stodgy, but just enough to keep the porridge texture and consistency. 

Snail's porridge

“Roast Foie Gras” followed. This was served as a small cuboid on top of a thin sheet of braised kombu and also with two wafer thin crab biscuits and a rather stingy amount of barberry puree. The gentle sweet-sour taste of the puree perfectly complimented the smooth, rich foie gras. The biscuits were extremely thin but surprisingly powerful in flavour. 

Roast Foie Gras

Shortly after we finished the beautiful foie gras, our next course arrived. This was the “Mock Turtle Soup”. The waiter first gave us a little bookmark with a passage from ‘Alice In Wonderland’ on it. This passage is of Alice at the Mad Hatter’s tea party. On the back of the bookmark was an explanation of the creation of mock turtle soup, which was made of calf’s head and feet. Then we were given a bowl containing a “Mock Turtle Egg” made from turnip paste and swede puree, enochi mushrooms and tender beef wrapped in an edible skin. We were also given a teacup full of hot water. The waiter told us the story of the Mad Hatter’s tea party. He placed a “gold watch” into each of our cups like the March Hare in the story. He then told us to stir the water. The watch slowly dissolved and the water turned a deep brown. We then poured the ‘tea’ into our bowls and it became the Mock Turtle Soup. The “egg” was smooth and slightly powdery with a subtle honey taste, bolstered by the slightly sweet soup. The mushrooms added variety to the texture and the beef was incredibly tender, requiring next to no effort to bite through. The flavours were very subtle so as not to assault the palate. This was probably the most fun dish.

The next dish, “Sound of The Sea”, was introduced by four conch shells being placed in front of us. Inside the shells were iPod shuffles. We were then presented with a beautiful dish. This was served on a rectangle of clear glass on top of a box of sand. On the glass was ‘sand’ made from crushed tapioca and fried baby eels. Adjacent to the “sand” was the “sea”, a foam made of vegetable stock and seaweed. On the “sand” were cubes of fish. These were yellowtail, halibut and mackerel. As we ate we were told to listen to the iPod, which continuously played the sound of waves and seagulls. The fish was soft and flaky and the “sea” was bubbly and briny. The coarse, brackish sand meant that each aspect improved the entire synergy of the dish, while the sound of receding waves played gently in our ears. The finishing of the course sparked a debate on whether the shells were real or not. 

Sound of the sea

The next dish was the “Salmon Poached In A Liquorice Gel” served with artichokes, vanilla mayonnaise, golden trout roe and a sprinkling of grapefruit pulp. The salmon’s texture was incredible due to the thin gelatinous coating, which offered hints of aniseed and the vanilla mayonnaise just gave the dish a subtle honey flavour. The artichokes varied the texture a little with its layered crunch and the grapefruit gave the dish that little sharpness. The dish was wonderful, although it seemed rather pedestrian compared to the sensory experience of the previous dish. 

Salmon poached in a liquorice gel

Next came “Lamb With Cucumber” with onion and dill fluid gel. This came as a main dish as well as a wooden box on top of which was a small cup of consommé and some meat cubes as well as some crackling. The lamb was beautifully coloured and had very subtle flavours. The consommé was very flavoursome and the meat cubes and crackling were a nice addition, both adding variety in the texture department.

Lamb with cucumber

At last we came to the end of the savoury dishes and onto the palate cleanser, the “Hot And Iced Tea”. This came in a small glass served on a clear glass plate. The sensation was extraordinary. Somehow the sweet, slightly citric drink was both hot and cold. The fact that the two temperatures stayed separate even in the mouth was incredible and the liquid was not too viscous.

Hot and iced tea

The sweet dishes began with “Macerated Strawberries” with an olive oil biscuit, chamomile and coriander jelly and ice cream cornet. The ice cream was nicely textured and the cone was perfectly crunchy and not too sweet. The little white chocolate chequered sheet I found went well with the grainy, buttery biscuit. The strawberries were arranged in a size spectrum and were very sweet. 

Macerated strawberries

Next came “The BFG” or Black Forest Gateau. This was an upright cuboid of dark chocolate cake served with kirsch ice cream. As the waiter sprayed kirsch perfume around our table, we started to eat. The gateau had several layers, which made its texture heavenly. The alcoholic sweet-sour cherries perfectly complimented the aggressive bittersweet flavour of the gateau, whilst the smooth, cold, alcoholic ice cream just gave the dish more booze. This was the best dish of the entire experience.

The 'BFG"

There was an optional cheese course, which we declined.

The penultimate dish was “Whisk(e)y Wine Gums”. This was presented to us as a picture frame, in which was a map of Scotland and a tiny fragment of America. Stuck to the map were five gums in the shape of bottles. These were a deep amber colour, but the shade varied since each one was made from a different whiskey. As the gums melted in our mouths, the fiery flavour of the alcohol in each one was different from the last, the alcohol getting slightly stronger every time.

The last dish of the day was “Like A Kid In A Sweet Shop”. We were each given a little sweet bag and a menu. Before we could eat our way through the bag, the menu tickled our olfactory senses with its soft scent of boiled sweets. The contents of the bag were as follows:

Aerated Chocolate, Mandarin Jelly.  This was a dome of delicate, bubbly chocolate with a citric jelly base. Magnificent texture and contrast of flavours.

Coconut Baccy, Coconut Infused with an Aroma of Black Cavendish Tobacco.  The thin strips of coconut were very flavoursome and came in what looked like an old-fashioned tobacco pouch.

Apple Pie Caramel, with an Edible Wrapper: The sweet and sour apple flavour along with the chewy caramel texture went perfectly well together. Not to forget the ingenious edible wrapper.

The Queen Of Hearts.  Came in an envelope with an edible red seal. This was a rectangle of white chocolate which encased a berry compote. Printed on both sides of  the chocolate was the Queen of Hearts, making it look exactly like a playing card. The best in the bag.

Coconu baccy

The sweet bag was a great way to end the four-hour experience. At last the family departed from The Fat Duck, very happy with what they had tasted, smelt, heard, seen and felt.

Food Quality 10/10
Presentation 10/10
Ambience 9/10
Service 10/10
Value For Money 9/10

Overall 48/50

The Fat Duck certainly deserves its three Michelin stars. Its inventive ways of cooking and presenting food has surpassed most if not all other restaurants in the world. The restaurant was very lively so you do not feel as if the volume of your conversation is restricted to a whisper. Though the price is steep, it is worth it for the entire experience. 

Author - CT (13)

Photography - DT

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