Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The Fat Duck

The day that we thought would never come finally arrived today. Our reservation for lunch at one of the worlds best restaurants with one of the most crazy, forward thinking and innovative chef's of modern times. Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck restaurant in Bray.

Following a spell over in Melbourne, Australia the restaurant is back home after a massive revamp complete with a whole new menu themed around Heston's childhood memories including a trip to the seaside, time spent in the woods and suchlike. Essentially its an idyllic day in the life of a young Heston Blumenthal.

Arriving into Bray village itself you could blink and miss the most famous parts of it as its literally three restaurants sitting on a bend, all three owned by Heston. The crown is a few doors down from The Fat Duck, which itself is smaller than it looks in pictures or on television, almost like someone's house. The Hinds Head completes the trio with a spacious frontage spreading the width of the bend with the appearance of a country pub.

We parked up just behind the development kitchens of The Fat Duck with plenty of room for guests of all three establishments. If you arrive a little early feel free to watch a steady parade of chef's going in and out of the buildings which form the hub of preparation and experimentation for The Fat Duck before being taken over the road to the restaurant due to limited space.

Being the first people into the building we ended up joining a line of various nationalities who had been lucky enough to get a ticket. Parties go in one at a time in order to make your journey more personal. After being handed a map of our journey through the menu we were seated in the newly refurbished dining room. Anyone over 5'11 please keep a look out for the low beams. Thankfully staff will remind you.

With the dining room slowly filling up we were served a complimentary glass of champagne and had a chat with the head sommelier and restaurant manager who have been keeping a keen eye on the Heston exploits on this blog. Hello and thank you if you are reading.

The show then gets underway, to make it easier I have divided it into sections:

The Day Before We Go: Are we nearly there yet?
The smaller dishes begin here with beetroot and horseradish cream macaroon, a Jerusalem artichoke ice cream rocher with green gazpacho and nasturtium leaves finishing with nitro-poached cocktails. All of these dishes were superb, the gazpacho dish especially. So fresh and the ice cream was surprisingly good. The macaroon and the cocktail were one mouthful wonders with massive flavour.

Morning: Rise and shine, it's breakfast time
Two more dishes in this section. Rabbit flavoured hot and iced tea and a cereal dish with a little something different.....

Firstly the tea was the weakest point of the entire menu. The hot and iced effect was different but the stock tasted like gravy. Combining the two temperatures in the mouth gave the same sensation as eating lukewarm gravy, we ate it all but it wasn't a winner.

The cereal dish was a lot of fun. The waiting staff place a huge variety pack of different cereals before you and instruct you to pick one and open the box to discover a toy. In this case a money box made of jigsaw pieces to put together in order to hold a coin. The detail on the box is amazing with the 'best before' date showing 'best before: going to the beach'....a dish of bacon cream and tomato jelly arrives to which you pour your cereal on to creating the texture of a bowl of cereal but the taste of a full English. Amazing.

Mid-Morning: First one to see the sea....
Sound of the sea, savoury lollies and a rockpool dish make up this section.

I'd had a go in the early weeks of getting The Fat Duck Cookbook of making Sound of the sea but with little success. To try it for real was a personal victory, almost like looking at the answers after a written test. Delicate cured seafood with salty hits coming from the sand to the tune of the seaside by way of an Ipod. It's legendary for a reason.

Savoury lollies were a delight, the salmon twister lolly especially with the intricate weaving of the mousses. A truly skilled hand has been on these.

The rockpool dish was another piece of theatre with a crab-shaped biscuit in the midst of a rockpool-shaped plate with a garnish of seaweeds to which a mussel broth is poured over the biscuit to melt the crab shell away and leave behind a soup with white crabmeat and sweetness from the melted biscuit. Its so so good.

A crab ice cream 'Mr Whippy' was the final curtain of this chapter. The ice cream was alright but hard to get the flavours of crab in ice cream form to work. It just about made it.

Afternoon: If you go down to the woods today.......(and we did)

The flavours now take a more earthy theme as a forest floor style dish with oak moss is served before the mock turtle soup and sandwiches follow.

A large jar with moss and dry ice creates an damp oak aroma when hot water is poured onto it. The eyes of the whole restaurant were on our table at this point as large plates of shaved mushroom, truffle, beetroot jellies and other tasty goodness was placed in front of us. Very good indeed.

The Mock Turtle Soup is another legendary stand-out of the restaurant, just check out how tiny those enoki mushrooms are. The precision up to now has been frighteningly good on the plates, almost like the borrowers are in the kitchen cooking your lunch.

Evening: Are you ready for dinner?
This step screwed with our minds a bit. After all those intricate work-of-art dishes you now sit down to a three course dinner. The waiter hands us a menu with the courses listed and bread is served. This completely throws you, almost like the meal is beginning all over again.

Prawn cocktail, Duck a L'orange and Cheese with Grapes are the menu listings......but surely it can't be that simple?

Well correct, its not. Prawn Cocktail appears to be langoustine with kombu crisps and sesame. Incredibly soft langoustine with a very Japanese influenced arrangement, very good.

The duck was a work of art on the plate. Each drizzle of sauce was identical. Almost as if they have a template in the back instead of doing it inexplicably accurately in freehand. The dish had so many textures and variance of taste. The orange was strong and then fresh, the puree was sweet and sticky with a crispy texture of the slow cooked duck spring roll and duck skin over a beautiful sous-vide duck breast. Magnificent.

Although that dish was put in the shade very quickly. The Botrytis Cinerea.....a dish resembling a grapevine containing an incomprehensible amount of elements dedicated to the flavours of wine, blue cheese and pear. This was an absolute work of genius, pretty as a picture and the flavours and textures I can't get over, it was sheer perfection. From popping candy to salt elements of the cheese and a leaf motif made from isomalt sugar. Skill on a ridiculous scale. Our favourite dish of the lot.

All this was completed by the petit fours section containing Whisky Wine Gums, delicious and incredibly strong in flavour.

Bedtime: Off to the land of Nod

Two Horlicks flavoured meringues with liquid centre's on top of a levitating pillow, nothing too weird there....

A dessert of tonka bean and pistachios complete with a sorbet and lavender were accompanied by a furry spoon which smelt of lavender.....a weird yet quite comforting multi-sensory experience.

And then to dream

The final curtain. A huge doll's house is wheeled up beside your table and all eyes are back on you again. The coin that was given earlier is needed to drop into the house which randomly selects a draw containing your petit fours. The Queen of Hearts, Oxochocolate from the perfection series, apple pie caramel and aerated mandarin chocolate. It's the perfect end to the perfect meal.

So was it the best experience of my life? Indeed it was. The talent and imagination behind this place is astounding. Yes the prices are ridiculously high but it's not somewhere the average person visits once in a lifetime, let alone more. There were a few negatives. In a place that charges £255 per head basic you will get a certain type of clientele. Loud mouth Americans were a part of the experience that we could have done without, people with so much money in the bank with their young children like its a trip out to McDonalds is a astounding also. Oh and there's that rabbit tea...

You know what though? It's a proud moment to look back on in life and a real inspiration to the average cook who one day hopes to come even the slightest bit close to the level that Heston's lot operate at. Eating here was a pleasure and I can't say better than that. Given that it was my birthday meal the staff made eating here a surprise and a pleasure....they never did tell me how a Leicester City Football Club emblem ended up on my moneybox.....

My new blog is now at: www.artisantraveller.com


  1. Ive already been and bought the t-shirt, The meal was superb but never changed and so I didn't return. Now after the overhaul and a lot of new items I`m definitely ready for another trip next summer.....I shall look forward to it excitedly.

    1. You shall not be disappointed Mr Spedding. I look forward to your report and of course, pictures!