The Fat Duck

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Having wanted to go to the Fat Duck for years, my visit to this restaurant was long overdue. And even when I finally had enough spare cash and somebody to go with, I still needed about 10 days of continuous attempts of trying to book online to secure a table three months in advance.

Once booked, I put my palate to boot camp in preparation for the Fat Duck experience and explored as many gastronomical destinations in London as I could (usually with my partner in food crime Fleur Peck). This took me to food and wine festivals, to joining Grub Club, to Truffle tasting and finally culminating on dining at the Michelin Starred “Restaurant Story”.

Fast forward three months later to Shiv and I arriving at Bray, oozing in excitement for what promised to be a multi-sensory dining experience. My taste buds were as bulging as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s biceps (before he became Governor) and ready for anything.

The restaurant itself had a well maintained Elizabethan style with its thatched roofs, wooden beams, plain white walls and was very simply decorated. There were several frames with nondescript pictures on the wall, which we assumed were chosen allow self-interpretation. There was no music playing either. Everything seemed to be chosen to create an environment of minimal distraction bereft of any suggestion (or so we astutely deduced).

We were sat down at a table in the corner and were immediately affronted with an army of attendees – one to take us to our table, another to serve us water, a third to show us the wine bible, a fourth to ask us how our day was in case we weren’t tired of answering this question three times already and then a fifth to get our wine order.

I had of course studied the wine menu prior to coming to the restaurant and had gotten advise from my Hungarian Wine journalist friend. I ordered the Egri Bikavér (Bolyki) from Eger for us, a dry red wine that (after about 30 minutes of being aired) proved to be as balanced and as soft to the palate as I hoped. Shiv nodded back in approval at our choice as I quickly forgot after a few sips that I could buy the very same bottle at Vinoteca for a fourth of the price.

We were then treated with the following 13 courses that spanned across almost four hours:

Aerated Beetroot
We started off with an aerated beetroot and horseradish ‘macaron’, a lovely pre-starter; sweet, earthy, sharp with fantastic texture and length. Extremely light and refreshing, with a lot of flavours from the beetroot and horseradish coming through. We later found out from one of the waitresses that the beetroot reduction was obtained in their lab from one of three machines in the world (with one of the other machines held in NASA) that is capable of spinning the food at such high speeds that it is able to extract almost all the flavour out of it.

Nitro Poached Aperitif
Next were the Nitro Poached aperitifs (which was the first course). We had the choice between Vodka and Lime Sour, Gin and Tonic, Tequila and Grapefruit. We both had the Tequila and Grapefruit. The meringue like mixture was poached in liquid nitrogen for a few seconds and then sprayed with a citrus perfume just before the aperitifs were served. Excellent palate cleansers: sweet and refreshing.

Red Cabbage Gazpacho
The red cabbage gazpacho was a pommery grain mustard ice cream. It had lovely clean and pure cabbage flavours. The mustard ice cream was delicious and it had the good touch of sharpness.

Jelly of Quail, Crayfish Cream
We were then served chicken liver parfait, pea puree, oak moss and truffle toast. It was an exceptional dish that challenged all the senses. The oak moss came in two ways: in a smoking wooden box and in a thin film strip designed to melt on your tongue. Shiv and I didn’t quick get all the different flavours of the forest from the film strip, but the earthy flavours that it did impart along with the moss smell and mist that came from the wooden box did well to heighten the whole experience. The quail jelly, crayfish cream, chicken liver parfait and pea puree were served layered in a ceramic bowl and had had wonderful concentrated quail flavours and a lovely light consistency. The terrific thin and crisp truffled toast was gorgeous and had the perfect amount of truffle on it. It was a flawless dish with very well-balanced earthy flavours and a feast for all the senses in every respect.

Snail Porridge
The next course was my least favourite. It was Iberico Bellota ham and shaved fennel that was served as a porridge. Why they thought giving us a porridge was a good idea after having four light courses I don’t understand (I asked the waitress this in case there was some clever reason to it all and there wasn’t). Lots of flavours of parsley, saltiness from the snail and the Iberican ham, and fennel coming through. I didn’t finish my bowl.

Roast Foie Gras
Following the under-appreciated porridge was one of the tastiest courses (I am partial to Foie Gras though, save for the method used to make it). The foie gras was cooked to true perfection and served with barberry, braised kombu (brown seaweed) and crab biscuit. It was well balanced with the flavours of the kombu and the crab biscuit. It also came with barberry puree, which I barely touched as I didn’t want its sharp, tart flavours to detract from the foie gras and kombu/crab lovely marriage. A well-balanced dish with wonderful and exciting flavours and textures.

Mad Hatter’s Tea Party
The sixth course was the very creative Mock Turtle Soup and Mad Hatter’s tea. First you make the “Mad Hatter Tea” by pouring hot water over concentrated consommé and gold leaf. As soon as all the ingredients are mixed together you pour the tea over the dry ingredients (veal, pickled cucumber, mushrooms and truffle). It was delicious broth with a sensational depth of flavour which wasn’t too dissimilar to the Quail Tea that is served at Restaurant Story.

“Sound of the Sea”
The whole idea of the next course was to show the effect that sound has in the perception of flavour. Earphones came out of a conch shell (that came from the Philippines!) which accompanied seafood served on a glass plate. The seafood consisted of mackerel, halibut, kingfish and Japanese pickled seaweeds. All this sat on a layer of tapioca sand and sea foam that tasted absolutely wonderful and did well to simulate the seashore. The quality of the raw fish was also the freshest I ever had in this country. Top notch dish and it definitely delivered the most both in terms of taste and being multi-sensory.

Salmon Poached In A Liquorice Gel
The next dish was Salmon poached in a liquorice gel, artichokes, vanilla mayonaise, grapefruit and golden trout roe served with fantastic Dauro olive oil. Even though I’m not a huge fan of liquorice, the thin gel blended quite well with the beautiful, flaky salmon. I also quite liked the grapefruit vesicles that had a good mix of sweetness from the vanilla mayonaise and the tanginess of the artichokes. An great dish with an amazing interplay of the five basic flavours.

Anjou Pigeon
Probably the most conventional dish on the menu. Well cooked, tastefully presented, and a well sized portion.

Hot & Iced Tea
The name says it all: hot and cold tea served in one glass. It was nice and refreshing with lovely floral notes. The waitress explained to us they were able to keep the two different temperatures in one glass separated simply by having different densities of liquid.

Clove Caramelised Blackberries
Our first dessert was clove caramelised blackberries served with an Hojicha Tea Ice Cream Cornet. The clove flavour in the blackberries was a surprisingly good combination (I do find cloves quite intense sometimes, but it seemed to complement the blackberries very well). The olive oil biscuit was delectably crumbly and melted in the mouth, and there were some crunchy pistacchio bits added for that nutty and crunchy final touch.

Botrytis Cinerea
Easily my favourite dessert! This dish is apparently made from the various elements of the deconstructed flavours of Chateau d’Yquem (a wine that is often described as the greatest sweet wine in the world). The grape balls on the plate each had a different texture and flavour, from simple and elegant to very intense and complex. The grapes ranges from simple sorbets to an insanely elegant and complex transparent gold blown sugar grape filled with a delicious creamy citrusy filling. There was a green coloured chocolate grape which I have no idea what it contained but there was definitely popping candy there somewhere. They all laid on edible soil. As well as the grapes there was a spun sugar twirl to create delicate leaves that came out of a cinnamon stalk. A true masterpiece.

Whisk(e)y Wine Gums
Up next were bottle shaped whisky gums made with 5 different whisk(e)ys, Glenlivet, Oban, Highland Park, Laphroaig and Jack Daniels. The whisky flavour of the gums was quite powerful, it was like having a sip of whisky. Fantastic presentation and, thanks to my whisky tasting sessions with my flatmate Tristan, I was able to appreciate the different flavours coming out of each wine gum.

“Like a Kid in a Sweet Shop”
Shiv and I needed to dash for the last train home so we had this to go (as it’s served in a bag anyway, it was quite appropriate). I can only really remember the Queen of Hearts white chocolate bar from this bag (probably because it’s the only thing I took a photo of from it). Hopefully Siobhan can fill in the gap of my memory here. =)

Overall, dinner at the Fat Duck was truly an amazing dining experience. I think I built it up so much in my head though that I was expecting every dish to be a multi-sensory, emotional experience and was a bit disappointed when I discovered that only a few were. Still, it was a gastronomical moment of a whole different level that I will never forget and glad I was able to experience it with my wonderful sister!

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