The Fat Duck

June 28, 2010

The Fat Duck is renowned in the food world for its inventive cuisine, frequently using modern “molecular” techniques. It is one of four restaurants in England with three Michelin stars and is usually rated among the top restaurants in the world. Reservations are very difficult to get, but, by calling exactly two months in advance, I was able to secure the last lunch reservation for May 25, 2010.

Tony and I took the train from London’s Paddington Station fifty minutes west to the regional center, Maidenhead. A short taxi ride through the green countryside took us to the lovely, quaint village of Bray, on the upper Thames. The restaurant is not very impressive from the outside and so fits right in with its surroundings. Its menu descriptions have an Olde English theme, which seems appropriate.


The clientèle for this lunch was almost entirely ordinary-looking English people. They seemed to be in a celebratory mood, having a good time while paying attention to the cuisine. I think that is the objective of the chef, Heston Blumenthal. He changes the menu only slightly from year to year so there is little reason for foodies to go back. The interested public can go to see what all the publicity is about, enjoy themselves and experience food at a high level. The price, £150, plus a 12.5% service charge, for the meal is high, but reasonable by three-star standards and within the reach of many people for a special occasion. I suspect that the crowd is flashier and more international in the evening, but it would be a bit far for Londoners with the meal ending after midnight.

The champagne cart with four choices arrived; we ordered glasses of Taittinger Brut Reserve. A bowl of green olives arrived. Things seemed quite conventional so far.

We were shown the menu of the day. There are no choices, but one can ask for substitutions in case of allergies etc.

We looked at the big wine list. It has a large, varied selection from around the world. It also offers wine pairings with the menu at four price levels: £90, £185, £395 and £550. This last extravagence includes 2000 Domaine Ramonet Bâtard-Montrachet, 1983 Château Latour, 2000 Domaine Leroy Vosne-Romanée and 2004 Château Yquem among others. In the spirit of adventure for which we were there, we ordered a pairing, but not wanting to spend more on the wine than on the food, we chose the £90 level. The wines were well matched and of an acceptable quality (except for the Portuguese wine.)

The first course was
LIME GROVE 
Nitro Poached Green Tea and Lime Mousse
 
  


The aroma of lime was sprayed above our table from the little bottle you can see. Liquid nitrogen was poured into the container; a spoonful of the egg white based mousse was dipped into it. Powdered green tea was then shaken onto it. The result was very light and etherial, almost as if nothing were there but the delicate lime and tea flavor. We were told to eat it right away with our fingers as it might crumble otherwise.

   

 RED CABBAGE GAZPACHO
Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream

The cold soup of red cabbage and cucumber was nicely balanced by the mustard ice cream. It may be hard to imagine the flavors, but they worked well in reality.
 
 
JELLY OF QUAIL, CRAYFISH CREAM 
Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast
(Homage to Alain Chapel)
 
 
 


A rectangle of toast topped with chopped black truffles was served on the wooden block. (It is hard to see in the photo.)  Alongside was a deep cup with crayfish cream on the bottom, then a pea purée, then a thick layer of scrumptious quail aspic, a thin layer of chicken liver mousse and a spoonful of chicken liver parfait on top. A box of moss was put on the table. The plastic boxes on top of it held oak flavored strips which we were told to put on our tongue. Hot water was poured on the moss, mixing with dry ice underneath creating an oaky, mossy steam to enhance the multi-dimensional flavor. The rich, jellied quail stock was what this dish was all about for me; everything else enhanced its flavor, especially the oakiness which came through the strips on the tongue, the steam and the truffles, which grow under oak trees. Very good.

The wine with this was
2002 Peter Lehmann, Riesling Reserve, Eden Valley (South Australia.)
This had typical riesling acidity which balanced the richness of the dish.
  

 
SNAIL PORRIDGE 
Jabugo Ham, Shaved Fennel  

The snails and ham were in a green porridge that tasted slightly of Indian spices. On top were the curls of fennel. It is hard to imagine the flavors, but they really worked well for me.

2007 Grauer Burgunder, Burkheimer Schlossgarten, Weingut Becher, Baden  
This wine was fruitier, which suited the spices. 

 
 
ROAST FOIE GRAS
Rhubarb, Braised Konbu and Crab Biscuit

While braised kelp isn’t a French standard with foie gras, the idea of this dish is quite conventional in modern French cooking: a sweet and sour garnish to complement the richness of the foie gras. The crab biscuit added the touch of salt one has with foie gras as well as a bit of welcome crunch. Very good.
 

2008 Vouvray, Abbaye de Marmoutier, Vigneau-Chevreau, Loire Valley 
The white wines were getting a bit sweeter as went on.

 

 MOCK TURTLE SOUP (c.1850) 
“Mad Hatter Tea”
 

  


This is reported to be the most recent addition to the menu, one which took two years to develop. It has a theme from that most British of tales, Alice in Wonderland. We were furnished with an aromatic bookmark with quotes and sketches on both sides at The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party where the March Hare dipped his watch into the tea.  A deep plate with enoki mushrooms on a mound of cauliflower and mushroom mousse, a rectangle of pressed ox tongue and turnips and other garnishes was put in front of us. Tea cups arrived and were filled with hot water from a ceramic teapot. We were given watches of gold foil filled with freeze-dried concentrated beef stock and instructed to dip them into our cup of hot water. We then poured the resulting gold flecked beef tea into the garnished plate. It was amusing, and the resulting mock turtle soup was delicious. 

No wine was served with this.

 
“SOUND OF THE SEA”   


We were each given a conch shell which hid an Ipod with its ear phones protruding. Sashimi of yellowtail, mackerel and halibut was served with a faux-sand of baby-eel-flavored-tapioca and seafood-flavored-foam on glass above a sand faux-beach. As we ate, we listened to the sound of seagulls and the surf crashing. The fish was excellent and tasted of the sea. I enjoyed the whole experience.

The beverage with this was a sake:
DaiGinjo Masumi Nanago, Miyasaka Brewery, Nagano Prefecture.
It was a good quality sake with depth and complexity and went perfectly with the dish.

 
 
SALMON POACHED IN LIQUORICE
Artichokes, Vanilla Mayonnaise, Golden Trout Roe and Manni Olive Oil 
 
A piece of salmon was poached inside a thin, mild liquorice gel. What made the dish interesting and good were the ten little drops of superb vanilla mayonnaise; without them it would have been boring.

2000 Quinta da Leda, Casa Ferreirinha, Douro Valley 
This Portuguese red wine was too heavy for the salmon.

POWDERED ANJOU PIGEON (c.1720) 
Blood Pudding and Confit of Umbles 

The piece of pigeon breast was served with pigeon hearts and a thick blood sauce. This seemed old and British; it was rich and good.

2004 Val di Cornia Suvereto, Olpaio, Rubbua al Colle, Tuscany   
 
There was an optional cheese tray, but we passed on it.
 
HOT & ICED TEA 

The tea was hot on one side and cold on the other. Blumenthal invented this process using a fluid gel.
 It had no culinary merit, but showed off the technique and served as a palate cleansing pre-dessert. 
 
 
TAFFETY TART (c.1660) 
Caramelized Apple, Fennel, Rose and Candied Lemon

This was excellent, with the caramelization enhancing the apple flavor.  The other ingredients added complementary complexity and texture.

2008 Jurançon, Uroulat, Charles Hours, Southwest France
This sweet wine went very well. 
 
 
THE “BFG” 
 Kirsch Ice Cream and the smell of the Black Forest  

We received another aromatic spray above the table, this time of cherries. Like the previous dessert, this seemed conventional in an exotic, complex format. It has the ingredients of a traditional Black Forest Torte: cherries, chocolate, kirsch and cream. The big rectangle had a chocolate sponge on the outside; kirsch flavored cream and cherries on the inside. Typical of The Fat Duck’s attention to detail, the cherry stem is dried vanilla pod, and thus edible.

2008 Alella, Dolç Mataró, Alta Alella, Catalonia
This sweet red wine from Spanish Catalonia had the weight needed to stand up to the chocolate.

 

WHISK(E)Y WINE GUMS
 


We were given an easel with a framed map onto which five jellies were stuck. Each jelly had the flavor of the whisky made at its location. The flavors really came through.

 

Next came little bowls with a white cylinder like a candy. When warm water was poured on them, they puffed up to become oshibori, or little towels to wash the fingers after the jellies.
 

“LIKE A KID IN A SWEET SHOP”

 
  

 


With coffee we were given a pink striped paper bag with an aromatic card listing the four sweets inside:
 
AERATED CHOCOLATE
Mandarin Jelly

A light flaky chocolate/tangerine cupcake.
 
APPLE PIE CARAMEL
with an Edible Wrapper
(no need to unwrap)
As it said, the pyramidal bag, with its black ribbon and base, were all edible, along with the good caramel apple.
 
COCONUT BACCY
Coconut Infused with an Aroma of Black Cavendish Tobacco

Inside the pouch were dried coconut shards infused with tobacco flavor. They were good, but became boring quickly.
 
THE QUEEN OF HEARTS
she made some tarts…

The card was imprinted white chocolate encasing a layer of raspberry jam inside. 
 
And so the lunch ended four hours after it started. In reading about it here, one will notice all the gimmicks etc, but while eating it, one also had the time to concentrate on the excellent food and its interesting, well-planned combinations. Trying to bring the other senses in to enhance the sense of taste and is a worthy objective and a diner at The Fat Duck should try to get the most out of it. The service was always excellent. The pace was just right for four hours. The noise level is happily low.  We had a very good time, but I wouldn’t go back, even if the menu changed. The theatrical aspect wouldn’t have its charm a second time. I prefer to stay with my memory.
 

5 Responses to “The Fat Duck”

  1. Jerry Vance Says:

    Wow that is like going to a movie and watching the plot unfold. Thanks Mike for the great show.

  2. Timothy P Ojile Says:

    a very metaphysical lunch

  3. Laurent V Says:

    Great review Michael ! I’m glad you liked it. A couple of new dishes compared to my meal there in 2005 🙂 – well not too many, but at least all the desserts are new, as is the soup, of course.

    Say hello to Linda !
    Laurent

  4. Lewis Says:

    It was an amazing experience, even for your readers!

  5. Kristin Says:

    The red cabbage and cucumber soup with mustard ice cream sounds wonderful–and other-worldly.


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