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U.K. / Ireland

[Bray, U.K.] The Fat Duck (2008)


Restaurants & Bars 22

[Bray, U.K.] The Fat Duck (2008)

ulterior epicure | Jan 25, 2009 10:00 AM

Here's an excerpt from my blogpost about a recent meal at The Fat Duck. You can read the entire review (and see the pictures) at the ulterior epicure (


...Of all of the m.g. restaurants I’ve visited, The Fat Duck has been the most successful at hitting the sweet spot where the brain is connected to the stomach. Through subtle clues and queues, it did a better job of eliciting a dialogue between the food and me than its peers. There’s a process of discovery at the table and afterward. One’s curiosity is not beyond scratching.

Given my relatively low expectations, the food at The Fat Duck impressed me. Most of it was interesting and quite tasty. Where gimmickry and theatrics were employed, they had a demonstrable purpose and directly contributed to creating the food. Sure, parts of it did seem like the circus, but in those moments, The Fat Duck made me feel more like a kid wanting to be a kid rather than an adult being humored.

I found the dichotomy in Blumenthal’s tasting menu most compelling. Dishes generally fell along two paradigms. On one side, there were the classics - nostalgic forays into tradition cast in a new light: “Snail Porridge,” “Roast Pigeon of Anjou with Black Pudding,” and “Mrs. Marshall’s Margaret Cornets.” For me, these were the more gustatorily gratifying dishes. Was it because these were more familiar? Or, was it because there were just tastier?

On the other side were the experimental dishes that, for me, were driven by multisensory experiences: the “Nitro Green Tea and Lime Mousse,” “Oak Moss,” and “Sounds of the Sea.” For me, these caused more intellectual stimulation than palate pleasure (though this isn’t true for the “Nitr0 Greet Tea and Lime Mousse”). Again - is this because these dishes were less familiar to me? Or, were they just less tasty?

Some, like the “Nitro-Scrambled Eggs” and “Hot and Iced Tea” straddled the divide, combining tradition with a multisensory experience. When it came to taste alone, I loved the “Nitro-Scrambled Eggs” but wasn’t particularly wild about the “Hot and Iced Tea.” But, I found the “Hot and Iced Tea” much more fascinating than the “Nitro-Scrambled Eggs” because I was unfamiliar with the technique. So too, the discovery of Benzaldehyde in a collection of ingredients was exciting.

I don’t think there’s a hard and fast rule here - it’s like the nature versus nurture debate.

Did The Fat Duck convert me to being a proponent of molecular gastronomy? Certainly not. But it did stir my gray matter. And, as stated at the beginning of this novel, the fact that I walked away with a new perspective on food was a reward worth the wait.

The 16th century stone building the restaurant resides in is a forgotten pub. What I assume to be the original wooden beams are exposed on the inside, giving the interior a lovely off-kilter look. The effect reminded me of Van Gogh’s “Bedroom in Arles.” Unframed canvas panels vibrantly aglow with yellows and shades of periwinkle lined the space, fitting perfectly into the peculiar shapes framed by the wooden beams.

Though quite lovely, I did not find the restaurant particularly warm or cozy. And this was surprising given its smallness and character.

Perhaps it was the staff?

As stated above, the service dampened the occasion and experience. In fact, at times, it was downright nippy. The reception was frosty, the middle sagged, and we oft felt like the forgotten table. Maybe this is a style the British prefer? After all, they seemed quite well-received by the annual Front of the House Awards.

I noticed that the front of the house was extremely international. When I asked one of our servers, he confirmed this and rattled off no less than ten (European) countries represented, including Germany, Poland, Spain, and France. But I suppose this is the diversity that Michelin 3-star restaurants attract.

Would I go back to The Fat Duck? I suppose. Though the menu seems a bit stale, there are enough a la carte items to warrant a return. But I’m not going to be the one getting up a 4 a.m. to dial for reservations next time.

I’d rather devote my energy to gaining that elusive ticket to the fountainhead, el bulli.

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