Restaurant Story

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Undoubtedly, this restaurant was where I had THE tastiest, most emotionally packed and extraordinary meal to date. It was recommended to me by my partner-in-food-crime Fleur Peck and it boasted to be the next best thing to people who can’t make the trek – or afford – Heston Blumenthal’s “Fat Duck”! [Update from Liam of the future: I’ve just been to the Fat Duck and this claim is every bit deserved]

Paul and I ordered the 10 course meal with matching wines as we were keen on getting the most out of this experience as possible. Mattias, on the other hand, only went for the 6 course meal, mostly because he still wasn’t quite sure what he signed up for but he’d say yes to any sort of night out with the boys (that’s why I love the guy).

We were welcomed with a flight of starters that were not part of the tasting menu at all. There were seven: cod skin crisped into translucent almost-paper with dots of cod roe mayonnaise, sprinkled with crushed juniper berries and carrot tops; nasturtium flowers cradling oyster sabayon; pods containing peas and truffle balls; savoury Oreo cookies biscuits made from squid ink with a smoked eel mousse filling; delicate razor clams with champagne snow & crispy pearl barley; a rectangle of tender rabbit stuffed with tarragon-scented mousseline and topped with soused carrot of different hues; and finally a corn mouse truffle with baby croutons!

At this point we were still adjusting to the pleasant shock that we had just eaten a flight of seven unexpected starters and we hadn’t even begun our 10 course meal yet. What came next blew us all away into the next food dimension…

One of the staff inconspicuously placed a candle on our table, right before also serving us a dense, dark sourdough bread along with a relish of finely cubed veal tongue, celery and jellied chicken consommé in a sharp-sweet dressing. She suggested that we dip the bread on the “oil” from the candle that pooled into the holder. The candle was made from beef drippings!!! We were stunned… It looked no different than any other candle. Absolutely ingenious! The bread and dripping proved to be filled with earthy, piquant, meaty flavours and wobbly, crunchy, fatty textures… all in one mouthful.

It took all of us a while to recover from this experience… and it very much set the stage for the whole meal. Expect the unexpected!

[Spoiler: everything that came after that dish was pretty much as expected. Actually, that’s a lie, I didn’t expect the matching wines to be so unmatched. I had a few discussions with the sommelier about this, and he stood firm to his choices. When he defended the soft white Alain Chabanon as the complementary of the lamb because it “protected the protein of the meat”, I thought that either I’m experiencing wine pairings by a sommelier trained in the arts of molecular gastronomy or that I was just fed a healthy serving of BS to go with my meal!]

The second course was onion, apple and Old Tom. Soft, caramelised Roscoff onions, a soft baby onion cooked in stout, an onion crisp and chickweed, served with a dressing of apple consommé, Old Tom gin and lemon thyme. It was deliciously sweet and mildly bitter caramelised onions and lovely sharp and bitter notes from the onion cooked in stout. The apple and gin dressing added a nice crisp edge. It was overall a lovely and fragrant dish that had a good balance between sweetness and freshness… Well-judged caramelised/burnt flavours too.

This was then followed by raw scallop, spiked with horseradish cream and more nasturtium, and served with cucumber spheres black with dill “ash”: sensory light and shade. This dish was probably the weakest of the whole course… The cucumber contributed nothing but water to the scallop, though the scallop in itself tasted fresh from the sea and was cooked to perfection!

What followed was probably the most extraordinary potato creation one could ever find: a mash that was so improbably smooth and buttery without dairy but with radishes (both sea and bog-standard) contrarily slathered in wildly buttery sort-of-hollandaise.

We then had a course simply labeled “Tale of Quail”, though there was absolutely nothing simple about it. First we were shown a pair of freshly killed quails lying peacefully on a pot filled with hay; they looked a bit like they could have been a happy quail couple when they were alive. Although this little demonstration was supposed to show the beauty and freshness of what we were about to eat, it killed whatever appetite Mattias had for the next thirty minutes (as for me, having grown up in the Philippines meant seeing my food in its various stages of the food cycle at any moment – even during consumption – so I was perfectly fine with this. Although I can understand that this could be very off putting for some other people).

The Quail was served to us in three mini-courses: the first was quail liver pate served on a biscuit paired with a pot of quail tea. The quail tea tasted on drinking on its own (it felt like drinking quail broth), but the liver pate was absolutely divine and the tea did well to enhance it. Next up we were served a pot of smoked quail egg, a skewer of offal cuts and a BBQ grilled quail leg. I was a fan of none of this trio – finding the egg too smoked, the leg only tasty on account that it was smothered in BBQ sauce and I’ve never really been a fan of offal. Last up came a tiny cut of quail breast that was the juiciest breast that I’ve ever sunk my teeth into (pun intended)!

Next up was an extra course: Raw beef, apple and white truffle, served in a scooped apple. At the bottom of the apple was a truffle mayonnaise, followed by creamy beef tartare, mixed with small cubes of apple and crispy bacon, topped with a thin layer of jelly, lightly flavoured with apple, and some grated white truffle. A stunning dish, both flavours and presentation. At this point our resident steak aficionado, Paul, pretty much wet himself and although I agree it was indeed delicious, I felt that the mayonnaise stole the limelight from the beef and made the dish all too heavy.

The next course was one of my favourite’s: Foie gras brûlée with thyme & gingerbread bread crisp. You crack through the glassy top to get to the rich foie beneath, before piling it onto the delicately crisp gingerbread & topping with the pear. The most unbelievably decadent mouthful you could ever hope for.

The raspberry sorbet was wonderful, piercing acidity, along with the other wild berries on the plate, amazing concentration of sourness which sat on top of a chocolate cereal, with a beautiful chocolate whip, rich and creamy. Individually, they probably would have stood their own, but together I felt there were a terrible mismatch. The raspberry sorbet’s laser acidity and the calming milk chocolate do not give balance at all.

The final dessert was Almond and Dill. It sounds terribly unexciting but this is one of those unexpected surprises we discussed earlier. Almond ice cream, ground almond and dill snow are amazingly a match made in heaven. The freshness from the dill paired with the sweetness of the almond are delightful and textures are incredibly amusing.

All in all, restaurant story is a must-go-to destination for any gastrophile. The quality of their ingredients and their method of preparation is one of the best I’ve ever sampled in London, and they have a refreshingly casual, friendly atmosphere to the whole dining experienced that you instantly feel at home from walking through the door.

Fat Duck – see you next week!

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