Restaurants & Bars

12 hours at Heathrow - what I did (ate).

estufarian | Nov 6, 200209:47 AM

Thanks to those who made suggestions to my previous enquiry. But I wanted something ‘different’ – and I got it!

12 hours at Heathrow is enough to spoil any vacation. But my selection criteria included wine and food (on the way to Iran, so was expecting a barren period in that area). Searched Michelin and AA (but not in London; experience in the past suggested too expensive). Finally settled on Bray and The Fat Duck (despite the generally negative reviews on this board, but guided by a chef whose tastes I respect who raved about it). The alternative in Bray is the Waterside Inn, more highly rated by Michelin, but not the AA.
No public transportation to Bray – but there’s a bus to Maidenhead. Slow (over an hour), but it passed through Langley – where I spent some of my formative years, giving me an opportunity to see how the old home town had changed. And with 12 hours, time wasn’t critical (incidentally lunch reservations at The Fat Duck can only be made up to a month ahead). The simplest connection from Maidenhead is a taxi (I didn’t investigate other local transportation).
Strolled around Bray (which takes all of 5 minutes) and checked out the Waterside Inn – decided I’d made the better choice (at least for lunch) and entered The Fat Duck a little early. More spartan than I’d expected – but the food’s the thing anyway.
Contemplated the ‘Grand Lunch’ at £70, but reality intruded – 1:00 local time was only 8:00am back home, so an 8 course breakfast was too optimistic. The value choice was a 3-course menu at £30 with 3 choices for each course. So that’s what I did.
First came a complimentary green tea and lime sour, served in a fancy shot glass. Beats OJ as a breakfast starter. This was layered (and foamed) and was large enough for 3 swigs. The middle taste was superb, but the first and last had the individual ingredients dominating and weren’t quite balanced. I hesitate to say it, but smaller would have been better here.
Next came another non-promised dish. Grain mustard ice-cream in a red cabbage gazpacho. The gazpacho was poured around the ice-cream by the server and this was a visually stunning dish. Superb presentation, food as art. And the taste almost matched. Excellent, with contrasting textures. The only mild criticism was temperature – if the gazpacho had been hot (I know – it wouldn’t have been gazpacho) I would have been even more impressed (the plate held the ice cream in a sort of ‘volcano’ within the dish). But easily my best breakfast ever (so far).
The first official courses (I was able to try two – by trading with companions) were a parfait of foie gras with black truffle quenelle and spiced fig; and snail porridge with jubuago ham. Textures and balance were the themes for both. Not my normal breakfast porridge, but both went well with a Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris that had some residual sugar that contrasted well (and matched the fig particularly well).
The main courses were Pork Belly with Black Pudding Broth and Fondant Potatoes; and Breast of Guinea Fowl with spinach purée and beet crumble. Both were excellent, but the outstanding part was the beet crumble. Brilliantly conceived – it was so simple in theory – but who’da thunk it. The crumble topping was pain d’épice. That one may appear in our kitchen soon. Pork belly is one of my favourite dishes and this was good – but I’ve had better (Susur Lee in Toronto sets the standard for Pork belly).
Desserts were pretty good. My experience has been that ‘modern’ restaurants generally blow it on the desserts. Weird flavour combinations seem to be the norm. These were certainly weird, but worked for the most part. The first was a salted Butter Caramel with Roasted Pistachios (this is actually a classic Iranian confection – as I found out only hours later), served with a chocolate cumin sorbet and caramel sauce and the second (again we shared) was a rhubarb compôte with a mint granité and chocolate beignets (a twist on the over-fashionable molten chocolate cake). Loved the rhubarb. Chocolate’s not my thing.
For an extra £3 you get tea and mignardises – certainly worth the extra money. The tastes were a Basil Bavarois, a Beetroot jelly, a Red Pepper Lollipop and Crystallized Fennel.

So for £33 (+ tip) you get 5 courses. A pretty good deal and well worth the money. The food was excellent, with some brilliant touches. I’ll charitably assume that Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adria
have developed along a similar path at around the same time. And I’ll gladly go to either. And with a 12 hour stopover at Heathrow, it’s tough to get to El Bulli!
I recommend that anybody else facing a Heathrow layover try the same thing.

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