I thought it useful to share some thoughts about The Fat Duck – but if you are planning to go, don’t read this as I may spoil some of the surprise.
I had always been a bit cynical about the hype surrounding this restaurant, and so I was really in two minds about whether to go. However, I am really glad I did because it is one of the great dining experiences in the world. All the hype is entirely justified. The food is designed to challenge your palette and play with all your senses. It is truly a unique experience, yes it is “molecular” like El Bulli, but Adria’s approach seems to be to have fun and introduce culinary “jokes”, whilst Blumenthal seems to want to challenge your senses and give you a very different experience to a normal restaurant.
For lunch we chose the tasting menu at £115 a head and with matching wine at £90 a head, and with an aperitif, water and service the bill came to about £250 per head. Was it worth it? OK I could have had 10 lunches at my local gastro-pub for the same cost, but that is an irrelevant comparison. This is a fantastic experience and, if you can manage it, it is well worth doing.
The meal starts of with “Nitro-Green Tea and Lime Mouse” this is the palete cleanser and is made at the table. The waiter “cooks” a quenelle of whipped egg in liquid nitrogen. You quickly eat what looks like a small meringue dusted with green tea powder and citrus oil in sprayed in the air around your head. It tastes both hot and cold at the same time and really does clean the palete.
We are then given a plate with two squares of jelly – one orange the other deep purple. We are told they are orange and beetroot jelly, and we should eat the orange one first. We do. It tastes really weird. You know the flavour but can’t place it. Next the purple square, and the answer it dawns on you. It is a purple square of blood orange jelly and an orange square of golden beetroot - a really good demonstration of how we associate visual cues with the taste of food.
Next “Oyster, Passion Fruit Jelly, Lavender” which is an oyster in jelly, but with other flavours like horseradish – very interesting. This was followed by “Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream, Red Cabbage Gazpacho” here the mustard ice cream works well, the slight heat of the mustard juxtaposed with the coldness of ice cream and offset with the red cabbage, and again it was very interesting.
The next dish is “Jelly of Quail, Langoustine Cream, Parfait of Foie Gras, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast”. First a wooden box of moss is placed on the table, and then a small bowl with a quenelle of foie gras parfait which is resting on a layer of langoustine cream over the quail jelly and next to this is a small truffle toast with minute radishes. On the bed of moss are little plastic boxes you get breath freshener film in. You start the dish by placing this film on your tongue to get the woody flavour of the oak, and then the waiter pours hot water over the box of moss which has dry ice in it. The result is a cloud of oaky/mossy flavoured dry ice smoke, which creates the atmosphere to eat the toast and foie gras/cream/jelly mixture. Both taste fantastic with deep complex layers of flavour, enhanced by the visual spectacular and the woody aroma – gastronomic theatre. All these initial dishes were served with a nice dry Silvanier Spatlese which worked well with them.
“Snail Porridge with Joselito Ham and Shaved fennel” was the Fat Ducks signature dish, and so it was interesting to try it. The porridge has a great parsley flavour underpinned by the taste of oatmeal, the snails sit on top of this, with a slivers of ham and very finely shaved fennel. They are all lightly cooked and have a great flavour. A dish where all the parts come together and nicely complemented with a dry white, Chateaueneuf Du Pape.
We moved onto the “Roast Foie Gras with Almond Fluid Gel, Cherry and Chamomile” served with a Vouvray. The two sauces complemented the foie gras well, and a marinade cherry finished the dish off very well.
“Sound of the Sea” has got to be Heston’s new signature dish. It is absolutely stunning. I thought it was going to be more fun over substance but it isn’t, it is brilliant. The dish recreates a rock pool with seaweed, oysters, sea water foam, and sand, and you are given an iPod in a shell so that you can eat the dish listening to the sounds of the seaside - as you savour each mouthful you hear gulls in the background. It really does work well on many senses – the taste, the texture, the look and the sound. Absolutely brilliant. However, not 100% perfect, it is served with a glass of Manzanilla which just doesn’t work with the dish, its dryness detracting rather than enhancing.
Expectations were high for the ext dish of “Salmon Poached on Liquorice, with Artichokes, Vanilla Mayonnaise, and Olive Oil”, the salmon is wrapped in a liquorice gel, so it has a coating that is like a skin, the plate has pink grapefruit cells scattered across it and this is coupled with some roasted artichokes and the mayonnaise. I really like the dish but it got a few mixed reviews from my friends. The texture is very interesting – quite slimy in some respects - but isn’t really good, “fatty” salmon like this? It was served with a Ca’ Marcanda, Gaia from Tuscany which worked well.
The next course was “Ballontine of Anjou Pigeon, Black Pudding, Pickling Brine and Spiced Juices” – this is almost a normal dish, great rare pigeon, an intense black pudding puree and small roasted turnips. This was served with a great South African Merlot/Cabernet/Petit Verdot that had lovely mature Bordeaux qualities.
Next we had a refreshing “tea” to transition to he desert courses. Again Heston plays with the senses. The “tea” is served in an insulated cup, and it is quite weird because one side of the liquid is hot, the other side cold, so you drink something that is simultaneously hot and cold – definite culinary sleight of hand – I wish I could work out how it was done as it was great fun. The fun continued with “Mrs Marshall’s Margaret Cornet” a miniature ice cream cone decorated in old fashioned seaside colours, which was very tasty. Next in the fun courses is a “Pine Sherbet Fountain” which is a miniature of the old Bassett Fountain found in English sweet shops. This one had a cinnamon stick instead of a liquorice straw and pine flavoured sherbet.
The first real desert is “Mango and Douglas Fir Puree, Bavarois of Lychee and Mango and Blackcurrant Sorbet” served with a Breganze Torcolato from Veneto. It was all very good, but to be honest I remember the intense flavour of the sorbet the most. It is a good dish, but unfortunately quite pedestrian when compared to what was to follow.
The sensory challenges then continue with the next two courses as we move into breakfast – it was a long lunch! “Breakfast” kicks off with a small box of “Parsnip Cereal” which you pour into a bowl and add milk to – yes it looks like a bowl of cornflakes. However, the parsnip flakes are sweet and are complemented by sweet milk. Next is another classics “Nitro-Scrambled Egg and Bacon Ice Cream with Pain Perdu and Tea Jelly”. The eggs are “scrambled” in liquid nitrogen at the table and served on toast with a slice of bacon. It is very weird, everything works so well as a desert, the eggs have sweetness and a great ice cream texture, the bacon also has sweetness and the pain perdu complements them perfectly. The wine with this course was a Jurancon.
The meal now moves towards the end with “Whisky Wine Gums”. These are served on a photo frame that contains a map of Scotland and Tennessee with the gums are placed over each geographic area the different whiskey came from. In all there are 5 gums representing Glenlivet, Oban, Highland Park, Laphroaig, and Jack Daniels. They each tasted very different perfectly capturing the essence of each of the whiskies. Petits fours were served next, we had “Carrot and Orange lolly’s”, “Mandarin Aerated Chocolate”, “Violet Tartlets”, and “Apple Pie Caramels in edible wrappers” – all very good and interesting, especially the caramels which just exploded with flavour.
It was an amazing meal – a truly memorable experience. Days later we are all still talking about it.