- Rating: 20/20
- Address: High St, Bray, Berkshire SL6 2AQ, United Kingdom
- Phone: +44 1628 580333
- Price (after tax + tip, a glass of champagne): £240 ($407 at 1 GBP = 1.69 USD)
- Courses: (11 main / 15 total): 2 amuses / 8 main / 3 dessert / 3 mignardises
- Price/Main Course: $37
- Value: 5/5
- Dining Time: 240 minutes
- Chef: Jonny Lake
- Style: Modernist
- Michelin Stars: 3
And so it came to pass that we stood outside a non-descript door, after being delivered by taxi to the little village of Bray (home to two 3-Michelin-starred restaurants), waiting to enter the dining room within. The Fat Duck was the first restaurant on an eating tour of Europe. We would be starting off on a tremendous high.
The Fat Duck is perhaps the most complete modernist restaurant that I have ever dined in. I can remember no other restaurants that makes use of many modernist techniques, that at the same time so emphasise the taste and gastronomic merits of what they are serving. Just because a technique is interesting, does not mean that it is ready for prime-time at the Fat Duck. Everything was delicious, and with independent gastronomic merit. The dishes there, without exception, are all intensely memorable and will sear themselves into your memory.
At nowhere else have the aesthetics been as polished as the Fat Duck. From the very first bite, a sparkly crimson golfball of aerated beetroot with horseradish cream, the dishes announce themselves as art pieces. I swirled around a disappearing golden fob-watch to make mock turtle soup. I beheld a bed of moss as it started smoking and steaming. The last two desserts were veritable masterpieces, the first a completely fleshed out egg dessert that was the Platonic Form of everything the cracked egg dessert at Atera aspires to. In lifelikeness, it was uncanny. The second, Botrytis Cinerea, is one of the best desserts I can ever remember eating in my life. It takes a tremendously confident kitchen to believe that they can develop a dessert that can represent the complex Chateau d’Yquem, one of the greatest foodstuffs on Earth – but the Fat Duck believed it, and they have done it. That dessert is a feast for both the palate, which enjoys each individually-crafted element on the plate, and the intellect, as it ponders the deconstruction of the wine. It reminded me of a painting I once saw where two lovers were kissing, but the optical illusion was that if one took a wider view it became a skull, using perspective tricks to achieve “memento mori”. Here the developed flavors of the final product (wine and yeast), were encapsulated back in the evocation of colourful grape globules. Food as the highest art possible.
And yet – the meal was 100% delicious. The unctuous taste of top quality foie, a hearty snail porridge, and a marvellous salmon liquorice preceded the tour-de-force of an exploration in the different textures of lamb, a deconstruction of the lamb kebab. The Fat Duck is truly rare restaurant – one that is fully developed in the craft of cooking a delicious meal, and is also one that fully developed in having the conceptual understanding and empiricist outlook of food scientists, and yet at the same time fully developed in having an artistic soul. One is tempted to call it – complete.
Other Notable write-ups:
- The Fat Duck seems to be Elizabeth Auerbach’s (Elizabeth on Food) favorite restaurant, she has written multiple write-ups on it:
- A meal in 2011: http://www.elizabethonfood.com/content/1259/2/index.html
- A Christmas lunch in 2012: http://www.elizabethonfood.com/content/1369/2/The_Fat_Duck_Christmas_lunch_2012.html?page=print
- A Christmas lunch in 2013: http://www.elizabethonfood.com/content/1441/2/The_Fat_Duck_Christmas_Lunch_2013.html
- Intense beetroot taste, that just disappeared like a cloud on the tongue in a matter of seconds, but the horseradish kick reminded this diner that what I had tasted did exist. Perfectly spherical, like a really solid red golf ball.
- A good flavor pairing, using a (centrifuge?) machine to concentrate the beetroot juice for 12-14h at 40-50 degrees Celsius, in order to get such intensity of flavors
- Vodka and Lime Sour, Campari Soda, Tequila and Grapefruit
- We could choose the cocktail flavor we wanted. I chose Tequila and Grapefruit. With all the ceremony of a Tibetan monk, our server discharged the cocktail-meringue contents of the 3 corresponding ISI-whip containers into a bucket of liquid nitrogen, and then peeled the citrus in the direction of the resulting “ice-meringue”, setting the essential oils into a brief flicker of fire by the candle. The visual effects were superb, but the taste predominated in citrus (grapefruit) for mine, the alcohol (tequila) not really perceptible.
- Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream
- A dice of cucumbers beneath a scoop of mustard ice cream. This is a Fat Duck signature. The spice from the mustard made this quite unlike other dishes (spicy ice cream, with mustard flavors to boot!) but it paired pleasantly with the sour-sweetness of red cabbage.
- Here’s an online recipe for it: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/entertainment/restaurants-and-bars/recipes-heston-blumenthal-at-home-20111108-1v37o.html
- Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast (Homage to Alain Chapel)
- A dish in three steps: 1. Truffle toast. 2. Crayfish cream with jelly of quail. 3. Oak moss film in plastic capsules, on a bed of moss. To be put on the tongue.
- The bed of moss (with dry ice underneath) was then watered to release a truffle scent. The sublime part of the dish was a joke on the oak, for truffles grow on oaks. Since we were well out of truffle season (June) I believe frozen truffles were used. The crayfish fish cream itself was absolutely superb (5/5), having great crayfish flavor, and reminding me of a delightful fried prawn-roll from Singapore called the ngor-hiang, which at its best (stuffed with top quality prawn) has a similar flavor. The intensity of flavor from the crayfish and the secondary flavor of liver, were intense and classically-heavy, evoking classical French cooking (and Heston’s inspiration Alain Chapel).
- Iberico Bellota Ham, Shaved Fennel
- Another Fat Duck signature. Snails, from the firm Escargot Anglais, from Hereford – were soft, and flavorful. It was really a complete dish – savory ribbons of iberico bellota, with shaved fennel providing a vegetable crunch, and the pliant but firm texture of snails, which has its textural merits in not having the springiness of shellfish, along with a hearty parsley porridge. I loved it.
- A video of Heston cooking the snail porridge: http://vimeo.com/54136084
- Barberry, Confit Kombu and Crab Biscuit
- Foie from the Loire valley, unctuous and creamy, fatty moist and with geometric integrity, were very good in the fatty-class of foie gras (I recently became aware of a different school of thought of foie from farmer Eduardo Sousa, that it should evoke liver-ish notes as well, in Dan Barber’s The Third Plate) – that paired very well with the sweet seafood in the crab tuile.
- Red Rhubarb puree, kombu seaweed film underneath
- Mock Turtle Soup, Pocket Watch and Toast Sandwich
- Another multi-step dining dish. A pocket watch containing dehydrated beef-mushroom-stock and papered over with edible gold leaf, is swirled in a teapot, and the resulting mixture poured over custard, with ham and bone marrow, truffle (?), sherry vinegar, cucumber, and ketchup in the final “Mock Turtle” soup.
- The toast sandwiches, were sandwiches of toast. The filling was toast, with truffle, and some mayonnaise and mustard. They were very good.
- It was completely fantastical, and the connection between the historical mock turtle soup (calves head and feet) with the beef bouillon in the Pocket Watch was a delightful bit of whimsy.
- Here’s another description of the dish: http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/good-eating/mock-turtle-soup-at-the-fat-duck/
- Heston Blumenthal has been one of the vanguard chefs in exploring the effects of other senses (such as hearing) on the effects of taste. He famously noticed that one tasted his scrambled egg and bacon ice cream differently if it was described as “ice-cream”, vs a “cold custard”.
- Here the sound of waves were piped into our ears through slightly antiquated (!) iPod speakers (I did not know they still existed, 10 years on!), with a tapioca and sardine sand. Mackerel, abalone, yellowtail. With seaweeds of all kinds. (My favorite of the seaweeds was a Japanese one dubbed the jellybean)
- The seafood was top class, but what really made the dish was the soil, which was good enough to eat on its own. The evocation of the seaside was sublime, provoking a response to its recreation of a beach.
- This was more successful than a version I had at Arzak, a couple of weeks later.
- Asparagus, Vanilla Mayonnaise and Golden Trout Roe
- I am generally a doubter of sous-vide cooking, except for certain ingredients (mussels), because it tends to give an unappetisingly uniform texture to the meat. However here, because of the contrast of textures with the licorice gel and trout roe, and the robust protein-y taste of the salmon, it was completely successful. The time-consuming removal of individual vesicles of fresh pink grapefruit gave a sweetness floral smell to the dish that was not bitter.
- I marked the salmon as being of high quality. It was from Hereford, Scotland, poached at 40 degrees celsius. I also noted that only the asparagus tops were not de-skinned, the parts below the tip being denuded of its skin.
A closer look
- Green Pepper and Caviar Oil
- A comparatively new dish for the Fat Duck, at one month old, this was a deconstructed lamb kebab. (another low-end food that is being reimagined by high-end chefs, I had a version last year at Per Se as well: kennethtiongeats.wordpress.com/2013/12/08/per-se-extended-tasting-new-york-dec-13-american-opulence/)
- Main plate: Green pepper+cucumber juice and caviar oil dabs on the main dish, seared cucumber with caraway, oyster leaf. Cumin on the lamb. Fish-stock+mint butter = nage fluid gel. This was fantastic: Cumin on the lamb successfully evoked a kebab, and the green pepper oil and seared cucumbers with carraway seeds, brought to mind its typical accompaniments, and the caviar oil gave it a salty, luxurious touch. (5/5)
- Second plate: Three cubes of lamb (tongue, heart, scrag [back of neck]), with a quinoa crisp on top of acidulated onions. This showcased the different textures of the lamb. Fantastic.
- Third plate: Lamb consomme jelly with mint flavors and borage flower. Stunning.
- If the Fat Duck’s only new dishes are such insanely well-crafted dishes and reimaginings, then I think a conservative bias towards their tasting menu (they rarely change the dishes on the tasting menu) is well-justified. A stunning dish from start to finish, with all three plates being knockouts.
- A video of head chef Jonny Lake creating the dish: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRGyGjQTDE8
- Hot and cold iced tea, separated by a divider, once separated, will be hot at the top, and cold at the bottom. The taste was uniformly of iced lemon tea. A very neat trick.
- Video of Heston Blumenthal making the dish: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7i4F6vqOlc
- A fully thought-out egg dessert, a feast for the eyes. A golden nest coloured with special cocoa powders, with verjus within the egg shell, which had to be cracked. The eggshell was made from two types of chocolate.
- The verjus in the egg was dominating in sourness.
- One of the greatest desserts in the world. The fungus botrytis cinerea creates the Chateau d’Yquem wine. Originally developed by the kitchen for a Chateau d’Yquem tasting, this was a cornucopia of flavors and textures to evoke the Chateau d’Yquem wine. Deconstructed: An frosty wine ball, a creamy yeasty meringue, fantastic raisins, golden chocolate, gums… Each individual grape of the dish had its own flavor, together they sang in harmony like a dish sprung from heaven itself. It was a true pleasure to have witnessed and tasted this dish for myself.
- Worth the price of admission to the Fat Duck for this dish alone.
Ninth course: Botrytis Cinerea. A new Fat Duck dessert that has been on the menu since October 2012. The various elements of this dessert represent the (deconstructed) flavours of Chateau d’Yquem. Each ‘grape’ on the plate had a different texture and flavour, from simple and elegant to very intense and complex. I will mention only a few: a transparent blown sugar grape with a delicious creamy citrus fromage blanc filling – a milk chocolate grape with an absolutely marvellous feuillantine, pear caramel and popping candy filling – a lovely, refreshing and citrus sorbet grape – a peach wine gum grape and edible soil made from crystallised chocolate, d’Yquem soaked raisins, Roquefort powder and vanilla salt. Apart from the grapes, there was a ‘churros’ stalk dusted with fenugreek-cinnamon, some Roquefort powder and grape gel. All these elements provided a wonderful harmony between sweet and savoury flavours. An impressive dish that shows an tremendous amount of skill and technique and that captures the flavours of Château d’Yquem ‘s Botrytis Cinerea infected grapes perfectly. You can’t stop smiling when you’re eating this dish. A true masterpiece. – Elizabeth Auerbach
- The “E”, seems a concession to the American Jack Daniels. It melted in the mouth with the heat of the tongue. Superb. I note the Oban 14 as having a backkick. Delicious, and an alcoholic treat. Laphroaig tasted as smoky (i.e. phenolic) as I remembered when I visited Islay two years ago. It was cheekily presented the way most beginner whisky tours (e.g. Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh) present the standard whiskies of Scotland.
- I wonder if the kitchen makes a (much) stronger version of themselves for personal consumption. If this was available for personal purchase, this would be my preferred way of getting my ration of eau de vie.
- Here’s a recipe: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/promotions/dine-home-heston/10616385/whisky-gums-heston.html
- Caramel with edible wrapper; Aerated Chocolate, and the white chocolate Queen of Hearts with a fruit filling.
the end… unfortunately.