United Kingdom

The Fat Duck, United Kingdom (***)

3 Michelin Stars, 5th best restaurant in the world

Warning, picture heavy post!

The Fat Duck by Heston Blumenthal, there is perhaps no other restaurant or chef in the world I feel this strongly about, finally making a trip out to the Fat Duck was a little bittersweet for me. I first discovered Heston Blumenthal through his “Hestons feasts” series, I completed downloading the series a night before my final exams, and I finished watching all four episodes that night(no points for guessing how well I did for my finals). Since then, I have had somewhat of an obsession with Heston and the Fat Duck, I’ve watched all his videos, even his kitchen chemistry series, where he still sported some hair(not a good look). To date, the Fat Duck cookbook is the only cookbook that I can say I’ve read cover to cover, and was the cookbook that really got me interested behind the science of cooking. Not only do I love his approach to food, but his story is also an intriguing one, a three Michelin chef that is self taught. It’s not often that you come across chefs like that, most of the time you hear a chef declare that he is self taught on top chef, the first thing that goes through your head is ‘Might as well start packing your knives, you’re definitely not going to last long’. Even when I was making my way to El Bulli two years ago, there was a part of me that was more interested to know and try some of the dishes at the Fat Duck. I was a little disappointed that the Fat Duck had dropped to 5th place this year in the St Pellegrinos list, after having spent so many years behind El Bulli in 2nd place; but on the other hand, there was also a part of me that knew I would still have an amazing meal at the Fat Duck regardless of how they ranked.

Heston’s interest in food began at the age of 16, when his parents brought him to a three Michelin star restaurant, L’Oustau de Baumaniere in Provence. Since then, he developed a curiosity for food, and started to cook, using cookbooks as a guide to replicate dishes from famed chefs, as well as making yearly trips to France, dining at some of the best restaurants in order to better his palate, and gain inspiration. Before opening the Fat Duck in Bray, Hestons prior experience in a kitchen had only been a week in Le Manoir, where he lasted only a week because he was led to a mountain of green beans and told to chop of their tops and tails; and 3 weeks Marco Pierre White’s restaurant, Canteen, mainly because he wanted to learn to deal with the kitchen experience of having different diners ordering different dishes at the same time. (Heston got to know Marco through his one week stint at Le Manoir)

Heston had almost opened his restaurant in South Africa, mainly because is was financially what he felt he could afford at the time, it was only when his wife strongly objected against the idea, that Heston starting looking for somewhere he could afford in England. The restaurant, which intially had opened as a pub, had its name chosen because Heston wanted a name that did 4 things:

1) Acknowledge that they were near to the river

2) Involve some kind of food connotation

3) Allude to a spit or rotisserie (Something he had intended to be part of the restaurant)

4) Have a classic pub sign feel to it

Marco Pierre White claims that he used the guidelines to come up with the name, but Heston cant remember definitively who it was that came up with ‘The Fat Duck’. A few days after opening the Fat Duck, he received a letter from the Bray parish council informing him that it ‘would wish to make it known its objection to the choice of name that the new owners have made. Several complaints have been received by this office about the Fat Duck name, which is considered to be quite inappropriate for a village like Bray’. Clearly things were not always smooth sailing as there are now. In fact, up until the Fat Duck won its third star, it was virtually empty on weekdays, which meant that they were struggling and on the brink of financial collapse. Even at the point when Heston won his third star, he had absolutely no expectations beyond hoping that they would keep their 2 star. Bray is the only village in the world to have two 3 Michelin starred restaurants (Fat Duck and the Waterside Inn). Since earning his three stars, the restaurant has been receiving phone calls non stop.

Heston’s method of cooking is very scientific, in the early days, it involved lots and lots of experimentation, it was only after he started actively seeking help from scientists that he started to gain a deeper understanding about the science behind the methodology, it also quickly opened him up to a whole new world of equipment and techniques. He states in his book that the idea of opening a restaurant was largely in part due to the French trips, his obsessiveness, and one book in particular: “Harold McGees On Food and Cooking, the science and lore of the kitchen”. The book claimed at the time of publication(1986) that searing meat does not ‘seal in the flavors’, as many chefs and highly authoritative cookbooks had mentioned over and over again, almost like a mantra set in stone. Instead, the meat generates flavour through browning reactions(like the Maillard reaction), but it had nothing to do with nutrition of juiciness. This new piece of information gave Heston his ‘question everything’ basis when he approached cooking.

There is somewhat of a build up to a meal at the Fat Duck. Standing by your phone, 2 months before the date of your reservation, waiting anxiously with the Fat Duck’s phone number on re-dial, it took me a good 1 hour of non stop calling before I stopped hearing that dreaded engaged tone. You know you’ve managed to dial through when a reading of “Alice in Wonderland” greets you, and a few minutes later, you are through to the Fat Duck. And after 2 months of waiting and anticipation, we were finally making our way to the Fat Duck. Making your way to the Fat Duck is somewhat of a journey in itself, the closest train station is Maidenhead, which is about 45 minutes ride away from London Paddington station. And from Maidenhead station, the Fat Duck is about a 10 minute cab ride away.

As you arrive at the Fat Duck you quickly realise what a quaint little town Bray is, and how Fat Duck doesn’t have any of the glitz and glam that most people associate 3 star restaurants with. In fact, the Fat Duck has no signboard, unless you recognise the infamous utensils with the webbed foot of a duck, its easy to walk right past the restaurant without knowing its there. I felt a strong sense of nervousness stepping into the Fat Duck, something I haven’t felt since dining at El Bulli(Which is by far one of the most intimidating experiences I’ve ever had)

But upon entering the Fat Duck, you quickly feel right at home, the restaurant looks a lot like a cosy cottage that was converted into a restaurant, the tables cramped together in a tiny dining room, sitting a mere 40 diners.(Thats even less than El Bulli, but El Bulli was only open 6 months in a year). This is in part the exact kind of feeling that Heston hoped to impart-

“When I visited Alain Chapels restaurant(in France) I was struck by the balance of old and new, the stone floors and the solid crossbeams, the wooden chairs with wicker seats. It showed that you could create an atmosphere of luxury without making the place unduly formal. This was unusual for a 3 star restaurant and, without even my realising it, was to shape what I looked for in a restaurant, and the kind of style an ambience I eventually tried to develop at the Fat Duck .”

Sitting atop your dining table is a ‘Nostalgia card’ for each of the diners, where Heston writes a short message, talking about how watching the Pink Panther cartoon as an adult brought back all these nostalgic flavours from the Pink Panther chocolate bar he had as a teenager, and encourages the diner to think about what kinds of food make you nostalgic. I personally believe that Heston has one of the best palates of any chef in the world, and his ability to store flavour memories is what has gotten him where he is today. How does he hold on to these flavour memories so well? I can barely remember what I had for dinner 3 days ago, let alone remember what it tasted like. Regardless, I felt that it was a nice way to start a meal, and if you know abit about Heston, you know that he is very passionate about triggering emotions through food. He explains it best in his book-

Nostalgia card: The initial idea was to at the very least get diners talking and thinking about food, I want to make the diners experience an informal one, I didn’t want the reverential hush in the dining room, nor did I want people to arrive feeling nervous (Didn’t work Heston!), or in fact, anything other than relaxed. I wanted them to feel excited, to laugh and have fun, and the Nostalgia card was great for breaking the ice.

Aerated Beetroot and Horseradish Cream

This was an off the menu amuse bouche, an interpretation of a classic salad. The beetroot had a the consistency of a baked meringue- a thin, crisp crust, quickly giving way to a smooth, creamy center. The beetroot a pleasant acidity while the horseradish provided a strong burst of heat that didn’t linger on the tongue, both components were intensely flavoured. I don’t usually give much thought to amuse bouche’s, you’re usually distracted by servers bringing you the menu and sommeliers trying to push wines to you, but eating this quickly made me sit up and take notice. Good

 

The menu is presented to each of the diners, wax sealed in a velvet envelope. And the journey begins..

 

 

Lime grove

The origins for the dish began with a memory of toothpaste. Heston has never liked brushing his teeth before going out to dinner(gross). The mint and menthol linger in the mouth and seem to interfere with the food. At the same time, he liked the feeling of sitting down to eat with a mouth that is clean, neutral, and receptive as possible to flavours it is about to experience. Writing down a wishlist for a first course, he came up with

1) Cleaning qualities

2) Stimulates appetite- acidity, bitterness-aperitif

3) Mouthwatering? gets the diner excited(salivating) for whats to come.

Eventually, this is the dish that was formed, egg white mousse infused with either Vodka Lime(dusted with green tea), Gin and tonic(served with a lemon wedge), or Campari soda (dusted with freeze dried raspberries). The mousse is released from a whipping cream canister, into a bowl of liquid nitrogen(-196C). The nitrogen ‘cooks’ the outside of the mousse, forming a crisp shell that encapsulates its soft center. The waitress constantly reminds you that you have to eat the mousse as soon as it is served, “Eat it now please” “Now please” “In one go” “Yes please don’t wait“, whoever knew that being a waiter in a restaurant would involve having to deal with the dangers of liquid nitrogen, I guess I’d be a little worried too. As it is served, the smell of lime grove(Lime blossom, lime zest, lime leaf, developed specifically for the Fat duck by perfumer Christophe Laudamiel) is sprayed into the air.

This was actually the first time eating something cooked with liquid nitrogen for me, and it was a nice, fun way to start the meal. The crisp, cold crust soft of numbs your tongue the moment you put it in your mouth, and for a brief moment, there is a moment of panic as you wonder if there was some residual liquid nitrogen that may have frozen up your tongue, but the meringue suddenly bursts open to flood your palate with a wave of refreshing, creamy, citrus flavour. Unfortunately, I felt that the citrus could have been a little more intense. Okay

 

 

Red Cabbage Gazpacho with Pommery Grain mustard ice cream

This dish was conceived from a flavor memory(I’d love to know what goes on in Hestons brain someday, I think it’d be like having a buffet): sharp, fresh, peppery taste of raw cabbage juice. Having read that is it mustard oil that gives cabbage it’s peppery character, Heston began experimenting by simply spooning out Dijon mustard and eating it with a couple of raw cabbage leaves, the results were promising enough to start devloping a dish based on the two flavours. Pommery grain mustard ice cream sits atop a bed of brunoised cucumbers that have been vacuum packed twice to intensify its flavour and give it a denser texture, the dish is then finished off with a red cabbage gazpacho.

The cold gazpacho and the even colder mustard ice cream was a delight. The combination of the red cabbage and mustard work well together, the peppery zing from the cabbage really shone through, and the sweetness of the mustard balanced the raw earthiness of the gazpacho. There were times when you scooped some of the gazpacho alone, and you were getting such a strong mustard flavour, that the line between the two ingredients started to blur and it got a little confusing. The cucumber reinforced the refreshing theme of the dish, as well as providing a dense, melon-like consistency to the dish. Another interesting thing to note is that it is the only dish on the menu that has remained unaltered after all these years. Good

 

 

Jelly of Quail, Crayfish cream, Chicken liver parfait, Oak moss, and truffle toast, with dry ice releasing the scent of Oak moss

The first of the multi-sensory courses, it begins with the diner placing a strip of ‘oak moss listerine’ on the tongue, as the waiter pours a mixture of oak moss essential oil, alcohol, and hot water, straight into a bed of actual oak moss, with dry ice hidden underneath; thus releasing cold vapor carrying the smell of the woods around the table. You are meant to see, taste, and smell the forest. The presence of the truffles in truffle toast act as a link between the oak(since you get truffles in the woods), and it served to cut the very salty quail jelly and very rich langoustine cream. Unfortunately I found the quail jelly overseasoned and the langoustine cream too intense, even the layer of pea puree at the bottom was completely lost in the other two layers. Without the tiny slice of toast, which disappeared in three quick bites, I was struggling to finish the rest of the dish. It was the only dish I struggled with during the meal. Bad

 

 

Snail Porridge, Iberico Bellota Ham, Shaved Fennel

Possibly Heston’s most famous dish at the Fat Duck, the dish was first conceived when Heston received his first shipment of snails to the restaurant, and on the same day he had a conversation with his head chef who had just returned from Chinatown in New York, who mentioned that he had eaten fish porridge. This led to the development of the dish, but the unappetizing name and texture of a snail porridge needed something to set it apart and make it taste amazing- the inclusion of one of the main ingredients: parsley, was initially to make the dish seem more palatable, by combining it with the familiar combination or parsley and garlic, it would have the flavour profiles of a traditional escargot.

The moment they waiters and waitresses lift the lid of the porridge, you are hit with this wonderful earthy, almost savoury aroma from the parsley, garlic, and ham. I think this was one of the best smelling dishes I’ve ever had. Your first bite is quite a shock to the tastebuds, there are a lot of flavours going on at the same time. The snails, braised for hours before a quick sauté in butter, were perfectly cooked, it had a nutty aroma with a tender center. The parsley and garlic gave the dish an earthy, meaty taste. The ham shone through with a burst of savoury flavour. The individual oat grains had a distinctive bite but soft enough so that it didn’t overpower the rest of the dish. The fennel providing freshness and a faint aniseed taste, as well as a textural crunch. The dish was so rich it got a little heavy towards the end, but I would willing eat a lot of this, despite knowing that I’d feel sick afterwards. Good

 

 

Crab biscuit, Roast foie gras, and oyster vinaigrette

The foie was soft enough to wobble but had a nice crisp exterior(cooked sous vide before being blowtorched), the braised kombu was a revelation, it packed so much briny and meaty umami flavor that complimented the foie wonderfully, even though I’ve never had the two paired together before. The crab biscuit was wonderfully sweet, for those who live in Sngapore, it actually tasted a lot like the traditional snack, fried cuttlefish tossed in sugar, but with a much subtler flavor. The barberry sauce on the side didn’t really need to be there, it was a little hard to work it into the dish, because the combination of the kombu, the foie, the toasted sesame, and the crab biscuit was devastatingly good on its own. This dish, although vastly changed from the original, was his first signature dish. Very good

 

 

Mock turtle soup

A cute card is presented to you, explaining the history of the dish, an indication that you are about to have tea with the Mad Hatter

“Welcome to wonderland!” A waitress opens up a jewellery box holding 4 gold watches, presenting them while explaining our roles in this tea party. “You have to take the golden watch, and place it into this empty teacup” She then proceeds to pour hot water over it, “Now, stir the tea to dissolve it, just like the March Hare did in the story!” The watch quickly dissolves into a perfectly clear beef consomme, with edible gold flakes swirling around. The dish is then completed as the consomme is poured over a bed of pork cheek, pickled turnip, black truffle, and mock turtle egg (Which is turnip mousse with a sweet gel, topped with enoki mushroom)

The pork cheeck was perfectly cooked, it added a nice unctuousness to the dish. The soup was nothing like I’ve ever tasted before, it had an intensely complex flavor to it, predominantly savoury, with a slight acidity and tartness to it, as well as a sweet aftertaste. The faux egg had a texture so similar to that of an egg that I was starting to question my sanity. Pickled cucumber and turnip added a fresh contrast and acidity to cut the rich pork cheek. Good

 

 

Sound of the sea

This was perhaps the dish I was most looking forward to. I’ve heard of diners who have broken down and started crying because of the emotions this dish triggered in them, that’s powerful. Most of the time when a dish makes me cry, its never for good reasons. This dish took 3 years to conceive. The inspiration for the dish stated with Professor Charles Spence, who invited Heston to crunch on pringles in front of a microphone while wearing headphones. While he crunched, Spence adjusted the volume level and the higher frequencies of noise and played it back to Heston. The crisps had become much crunchier- manipulation of sound had dramatically altered the eating experience. this eventually gave birth to one of the Fat Ducks most famous dishes- sound of the sea.

My mum, who knows nothing about the dish(there is no description of the dish on the menu, apart from its title), actually managed to guess at the beginning of the meal that they would be giving us a seashell to listen to the sound of the waves crashing, the waiter whom she was talking to at that point was suitably impressed

The edible sand is a mixture of tapioca flour and fried sardines, a texture that took months before being able to perfect the right texture and flavor, the end result was so convincing that one of the development chefs had declared, ‘This is the sand of my homeland,Velezuela.’ Months later, a package arrived at the fat duck, it was 25 kilos of sand from the Venezuela shoreline. The chef had asked his father to ship it over, and till today, it is still used as the sand served beneath the dish.

The seawater foam brought the dish together for me. It looked a little unappetizing initially because of how similar it looked to seawater foam, the kind you get when seawater washes up on shore, but I guess that is the exact intended effect. Despite the dish being inspired by the sea, the dish wasn’t overpoweringly ‘fishy’ or too briny. The sand was incredibly delicious, adding a sweetness that seems like it would stick out like a sore thumb in the dish, but it integrated itself well with the fish. The actual fish components comprised of a piece of yellowtail, mackerel, and halibut; they were wonderfully fresh. As gimmicky as it may sound, the iPod really added to the dining experience, it drowned out the background noise and really made you forget where you were, allowing you focus on the dish. It kind of put you in a very private and intimate place with the food you were eating, I found it to be quite a personal experience that I’m struggling to accurately describe. To say that it transported me to a beach was a little bit of a stretch for me, but I can understand why people get emotional when eating the dish. There is a multi sensory aspect to this dish, and if you have a strong enough memory of being close to the ocean, it’s very easy to latch onto it while having this. The moment I pulled out the iPod from my ears, the intensity and flavors seem to suddenly dip. One of the best damn things I’ve tasted. Superb

 

 

Salmon poached in a liquorice gel. Artichokes, Vanilla Mayonnaise, golden trout roe

Interestingly enough, the basis for the dish was not the combination of salmon and licorice, it was actually the fact that asparagus and licorice have a compound in common- asparagine. The asparagus component has since been replaced with artichokes, I’m not sure if there is a scientific reason behind why artichokes were chosen as the replacement. I was prepared to dislike this dish, licorice is not a flavor that I particularly enjoy, but the flavor of the licorice gel was actually fairly subtle, and the texture of the gel seemed to blend well with the mi cuit(In between rare and cooked) texture of the sous vide salmon, you can’t have a lot of the salmon and gel without starting to feel a little bloated and sick, but the portion was perfect. The vanilla mayonnaise was what gave the fish a nice creamy mouthfeel, it was a little surreal for me because right as I was about to taste the vanilla mayonnaise, my brain couldn’t quite figure out of I should expect a savoury taste(Because its mayonnaise), or a sweet one(Vanilla). Heston talks a lot about how we perceive vanilla to be sweet, when in fact is isn’t sweet at all, could this be the him playing a trick on his diners? It tasted fairly neutral, but had a slightly sweet aftertaste. The golden trout roe, marinated in soy sauce, gave the dish encapsulated bursts of briny, salty flavour. Good

 

 

Saddle of venison: beetroot soubise, risotto of spelt and umbles

This is hands down the best cooked piece of meat I’ve ever had(the youtube video involves me trying to capture the texture of the venison). This is the kind of texture that I imagine sous vide should be about. Incredibly tender while still retaining a lot of it’s natural juiciness. The beetroot puree was incredibly smooth, so much so that looked like it was made syntheticly. There were small cubes of incredibly sweet candied chestnut that really brought the dish to life. The risotto of spelt and umbles was an interesting side dish. Umbles are basically the liver, kidney, and offal of a deer, The ‘Risotto’ is actually spelt(a kind of wheat) cooked in a risotto style, and it is topped with more spelt, but this time dehydrated, fried, and glazed, to provide a sweet and crisp contrast to the dish. It is topped off with a fried sweetbread. It didn’t have as strong a taste as I thought it would, considering that is basically a risotto of offal, it was surprisingly easy to eat, and although Im not going to pretend like I understand everything that was going on, I could tell like there was a lot of thought that went behind making the offal of deer so palatable to the average diner, I actually enjoyed the risotto more than the venison. Good

 

 

Hot and Iced Tea

The secret behind the dish is that fluid gels can be make to a consistency that passes for a liquid(although to be honest, part of the magic is not knowing how it works). I don’t want to delve too much into how it is achieved, but the dish is quite magical in its own way. You begin drinking the citrusy Earl Grey tea, one side of the tea is completely hot, and the other side is completely cold. I was not expecting this, I had initially thought that we would start with the hot portion and then transition to the cold, but it was served such that you got both temperatures at the same time(I just checked with other diners, this was done intentionally). The surprise drove my mouth crazy, having hot tea on the right side of your mouth, and cold tea on the left, coming from the same cup, its so surreal that you cant quite believe its happening, its like a little voice in your head is screaming out “wtf is going on? WHATS GOING ON? THIS DOESN’T MAKE SENSE”

I eventually turned to drink the hot side first and it magically transitioned to cold, that was a much better experience for me. When I was staying in Cesky krumlov(In the Czech Republic), I had a sink with two antique looking brass taps, one for hot water and one for cold, but the water that came out of it when you had both taps turn on was not well mixed together into one steam with a consistent temperature, there was of course an average temperature, but every once in a while there would be a burst of cold water, and sometimes a burst of warm water, the change was always surprising because you never knew when it was coming up. Hot and iced tea had a sort of similar effect on me, despite what I knew about the dish, it still held a lot of magic for me. Palate cleansers should be fun like this was. Good

 

 

Taffety tart: Caramelized apple, fennel, rose, candied lemon

Heston seems to be very proud of this dish, having mentioned that he had worked on it for over a year before it finally made it’s appearance on the menu. Clearly the technique here is impeccable, sheets rolled out so thin they would make Kate Moss proud, each sheet precisely cut to the exact same dimensions. The presentation was superb but overall the flavors in the dish felt a little out of balance for me. The dish had too many sour components that overpowered the rose cream and caramelized apple, the citrus gel was incredibly strong, and the blackcurrant reinforced the sour notes as well. Most of the dishes at the Fat Duck seemed to have a personality, even the one that didn’t taste good to me(Jelly of quail), but the Taffety tart was very forgettable. Okay

 

 

The BFG

A dish from his in “search of perfection” series, as the dish is served, the smell of kirsch is spritzed into the air, a precursor to what is, hands down, the most delicious dessert I have ever had. Let’s start with the ice cream, which is one of hestons first obsessions, how he managed to get the ice cream to such a smooth, matte consistency, is beyond me. The ice cream released a burst of kirsch flavor that was assertive yet did not intrude on the palate, so that you could enjoy the star of the show, the BFG. I did not take a photo of the cake, but a quick google search will quickly explain just how complicated the construction of this cake really is (click here), the result? Absolutely delicious. The cake is one of the softest I’ve ever tasted, the cream one of the lightest, contrasted beautifully with the cold, shaved chocolate, which added a subtle crunch. The sourness from the cherries, reinforcing the flavour of the cherries from the kirsch alcohol, balanced out by the bitter-sweetness of the chocolate, It was a truly fitting end to an amazing meal

 

 

Bacon and egg ice cream

Well, the BFG would have been a fitting end to the meal, but I had to request for the infamous bacon and egg ice cream(since been taken off the menu), and they willing obliged with two portions. The waiter greeted us with a cheerful “wake up, it’s time for breakfast“, before pulling two eggs out of an egg carton, cracking them into a pan, and telling us that he did not have any gas, which would mean that he had to use liquid nitrogen. How inconvenient. If you watch the video below, the moment he mentions the need for liquid nitrogen, you can hear a suspicious “hmmm….” coming from my mum. As the liquid nitrogen is added, the eggs sounded like they were ‘sizzling’, thus completing the illusion of cooked eggs. A while later, when he couldn’t stir the frozen eggs anymore anymore, it was spooned out onto a piece of pain perdu(french toast) and a slice of ethereal candied bacon, so crisp and thin it looked like glass.

The dish lacked the complexity of both the previous desserts, it didn’t feel like a complete dish, but it was certainy whimsical and fun; the pain perdu, which was smeared with tomato jam, was absolutely delicious. The sweet decadence of the caramelized french toast cut with the savoury, meaty taste of the jam. The ice cream provided a burst of intense egg flavor that really made you feel like you were eating a delicious breakfast. Okay

 

 

Whisk(e)y Gums

A picture frame with the map of Scotland, and a tiny portion of the United States(Tennessee) were presented to us at the table. 5 gummy sweets in the shape of a whiskey bottle were stuck onto it. It represented the 5 regions where the different whiskeys were made, 4 from Scotland, and 1 from Tennessee. I’m not exaggerating when I say that if you had about 10 of these gums, you would be feeling tipsy is no time. No chewing was required, the warmth of your mouth melted these soft gums down into what was in essence, pure whiskey. Fine whiskey is a little lost on me, so I can’t accurately comment on how good or bad this was, but one whiskey in particular- Laphroaig from Islay, had an intense smoky aftertaste. Okay

 

 

Sweet Shop
Before you leave the Fat Duck, no actually, before you are presented with the bill, a candy bag full of wonderful surprises awaits. A tiny card that reads:

“Like a kid in the sweet shop” menu
Smell me!

Take a whiff of the card and you are immediately hit with the scent of a candy shop. It’s been 3 weeks since my meal at the Fat Duck, I’m currently smelling the card as I type this; it still smells delicious, I’m almost tempted to try eating it, but I shall refrain myself

  

Aerated chocolate. Mandarin jelly
The process for making this is quite interesting, if you’re interested in the technique, you can find it here, I’ve actually tried making this at home, but I had a hard time trying to get the chocolate to set right. Im not going to lie, this was basically a high end version of the Aero chocolate bar, made with much better chocolate, and the air pockets in Heston’s version were also significantly bigger. The mandarin jelly was surprisingly intense and was a nice addition. Okay

Coconut Baccy. Coconut infused with an aroma of Black Cavendish Tobacco

I don’t really have a good picture of this, but the brown strips at the bottom of the photo are the Baccy. It was fun to chew on, but overall this was a little lost on me. Bad

Apple Pie Caramel(No need to unwrap)

I am not a huge fan of caramel sweets in general; this had a nice punch of apple flavour, but I didn’t quite get the overall taste of an apple pie. What impressed me most was the edible wrapper, it had the exact same texture and feel of those plastic wrappers used for sweets, right down to the crinkling sound that plastic makes when you crush it. Okay

Queen of hearts (she made some tarts)

Tucked away in an envelope, sealed with what looked like red wax(turned out to be chocolate), this was easily the best of the 4 sweets.  Its not hard to figure out that Alice in Wonderland is Heston’s favourite book, the queen of hearts playing card is printed on a slab of white chocolate, the detail and sharpness of the print is amazing. And in the center lies an ever so thin layer of raspberry compote and crushed up shortbread. The layers were tiny, but the flavours they carried were strong, I was surprised that I was tasting more of the raspberry and shortbread than the white chocolate. Very good

So how was the Fat Duck? I can’t say that it was the best food I’ve ever eaten, but overall it was the best dining experience I’ve ever had(so far). The pacing between each course is spot on, we left the Fat Duck feeling full but not bloated. Service is impeccable, even the ghoulish looking sommelier had a sense of humour. The waiters and waitresses engaged the diners with their playful banter, and were able to lay the foundation for a whimsical dining experience. There is definitely a distinct connection between the interaction that a diner makes with the front of house staff, as well as the interaction the diner makes with food produced in the kitchen, they both seem to be playing the same tune, in the same pitch, and the conductor is King Heston himself.

Despite all the build up to the meal, I was not disappointed at all. You often hear so much about the dishes served at the Fat Duck, and to be able to actually taste his snail porridge, to experience the sound of the sea, to smell kirsch as you cut into the Black Forest Gateau, it gives you so much more appreciation to the food being served. In that sense, the meal was inspiring to me in so many ways. I refuse to believe Im done with the Fat Duck, it doesn’t feel like I can be done with it. I need to return here someday…

13 thoughts on “The Fat Duck, United Kingdom (***)

  1. I have been missing all your Europe posts! catching up now lol
    Wow, thanks for sharing your journey at the Fat Duck. I personally think Fat Duck is more fun that El Bulli! Very whimsical and playful. Each dishes has its own stories, I am sold.
    The one that I really want to try is the sound of the sea. iPod inside a seashell? that’s beyond genius ! lol
    When I first read BDG I was a little confused coz I watched his Black Forest Gateau video a few times before and BDG never crossed my mind for being the same thing haha. I’ve also tried his aerated chocolate technique before, but I used mixture of water and chocolate instead of chocolate and oil, love it.

    Happy belated Christmas and Happy New Year! Now I’m moving to your next post…

  2. This is an amazing review! It’s fantastic how you had managed to remember each experience so clearly like it happened yesterday and the videos really helped achieve a much better insight to the text! Almost felt I was there myself, ALMOST. But your review definitely has me putting Fat Duck on top of my bucket list. Thank you for a really well-written entry!

    (Got overly excited and commented on the wrong entry!)

    1. Cheers! I actually try to write down my immediate thoughts on the dish as I’m eating it so that I make it permanent, capturing the experience at it’s most vivid moment is pretty time consuming but also the most accurate I guess. Glad you appreciate it, are you based in Singapore?

      1. It IS time-consuming and evidently a heck of an effort on your part because you couldn’t really just mindlessly enjoy your meal since you had to take notes! So really, props to you. It makes for wonderful reading on my end. (:

        Yes, I’m a Singaporean! (:

      2. Haha, its good to know that all the disapproving looks I get from fellow diners when I prevent them from eating just so I can get a shot of their food have paid off somewhere. I actually answered me own question when I was skimming through your blog, I took classes at palate sensations too!

      3. Haha I know the disapproving stares well. I read that you’ve tried El Bulli as well! That was top on my must-go list, it’s a pity they closed! Did you enjoy the experience?

        Oh yes Palate Sensations! What did you sign up for? My friends surprised me with a macaron-making sesh, it was pretty fun and it made me really appreciate the art of a well-made macaron.

      4. It was overall quite a surreal and lovely experience, although not all of the food itself was enjoyable, there were some pretty bad tasting dishes, but the funny thing is that alot of the dishes are still ingrained in my memory till today, even the bad ones. It was only recently that I read Ferran Adria mention that some of the dishes on the El Bulli menu were not there to taste good, but rather to evoke thought or discussion, and if thats what he was setting out to do, he definitely achieved it during our meal

        I signed up for the 8 week basic skills course I think, to be honest I dont think I learnt all thaaat much. I would’ve been better watching youtube videos of any particular skillset I needed and just figuring it out from there. Oh nice, my sis is the baker in the family, shes been for some macaron classes but not the Palate sensations one, I mainly do savoury stuff, although lately Wilson of http://www.lapetitevancouver.com/ has inspired me to start playing with desserts, plus for some reason people seem happier to receive cookies and brownies, as opposed to say… a roast chicken (I’d personally love to receive a roast chicken)

  3. I checked out a few blogs that detailed their experiences there and most of them had similar sentiments about not thoroughly enjoying every single dish but it was undeniable they could still remember each course vividly, so I suppose Ferran Adria achieved what he set out to do. The meal was a 5-hour affair, was it not? I would have loved to experience it. I read somewhere that there is another relatively casual restaurant nearby that is Adria’s favorite and some said the food there is better than El Bulli’s. Perhaps that could be my substitute.

    Sweets are always much better received perhaps because they are more presentable, though personally I see absolutely nothing wrong in receiving a roast chicken! PS is rather expensive, if I remember correctly what it had cost for a 3-hour session of macaron-making, an 8-week course must have been through the roof. And baking is relatively more fuss-free than cooking, from personal experience. Though I am not of any authority on such matters….seeing how I had set off the smoke alarm once in the States when I tried making popcorn for the first time.

    1. Our dinner reservation was at about 7.30 if I recall correctly, we left around 1am. It was pretty hilarious because my sister felt sick halfway through the meal(alcohol + uneasy stomach before the meal), and she had 2 waiters taking care of her, one of them was fanning her with a paper fan. I constantly remind her that she fell sick at the restaurant with the hardest reservation to get in the world.

      Yeah the course was pretty expensive but it was a graduation present, oh were you studying in the states? So was I! I can definitely relate to kitchen mishaps(and injuries)

      1. I went on an exchange program for 6 months in Seattle, best 6 months of my life so far. Where were you studying? I cannot begin to count the number of times I set the smoke alarm off……. but in hindsight, being on my own in a foreign country was what made me pick up some culinary skills. Nothing like starvation to give one a little push. Was skimming your blog and it appears you are really knowledgable foodwise, is this your profession or a really well-developed interest? (Also like the way you write! It’s engaging.)

        I cannot imagine a waiter constantly fanning a diner, it must have been pretty amusing for you!

      2. Ah you were in Seattle, the city that never stops raining?(just exhausted my knowledge of the place) I was in the bay area, san jose/cupertino for 2 years, then I was in Los Angeles for 2 years. I remember setting off the smoke alarm in my 2nd year and it was this incredibly high pitched beeping noise that I didn’t know how to turn off, so I ended up disconnecting the wires just to shut it up. I dont think I ever put it back though. Nono what I do is purely interest and alot of (failed) experiments, the sounding knowledgeable portion probably stems from me trying to understand the science behind why things happen the way they happen, I believe understanding the science behind cooking will help you improve your cooking much faster than just pure repetition, plus it helps with getting consistent results.

        Haha, she had to leave us and go to the patio area of El Bulli to get some fresh air, the rest of us stayed on and dined in the main restaurant. She would come back to our table every 15 minutes to eat 1-2 courses, decide she was too sick, then go out again. At least she can attest to having received good service at El Bulli. Did you travel anywhere else while you were in the States? Add me on facebook and we’ll talk there>Lennard Yeong, this comment page is turning into a mini forum!

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