Food: Modernist Cuisine
Address: High Street, Bray, Berkshire, SL6 2AQ, United Kingdom
Phone Number: +44 (0)1628 580 333
Guide Michelin: 3 stars
What I paid: £450 (tasting menu per person including wine-pairing and service)
Visited: November 13, 2015
Heston Blumenthal’s celebrated restaurant The Fat Duck reopened in the end of September (2015) after a nine month “break” (i.e. after a six month pop-up in Melbourne/Australia, a £2.5m renovation of the restaurant in Bray and an overhauled menu).
The Fat Duck has now adapted an online ticketed reservation system where the guest has to pre-pay for the menu (with only one option a £255 per person excluding beverages and service). Maybe necessary but at least for me a very rigid booking system where you have no option to cancel, change date or even sell the “ticket”.
Even though Heston states that the most annoying question he’s ever been asked is “When will the menu change?” I personally think this is the most interesting aspect of my visit this evening. Why this question is irritating: “The titles may stay the same,” Heston says, “But the dishes change”. That said, the menu has changed now, but not entirely. Removed from the menu are the classical orange and beetroot jellies, the egg and bacon ice cream, the mustard ice cream with red cabbage gazpacho, the snail porridge, the quail jelly and the salmon with liquorice. However, “Sounds of the Sea”, stay along with the savory ice lollies, Fabs and Zooms.
Heston says the menu now is a story and worked with a coaching psychologist, an illustrator, a font designer, and the writer of Billy Elliot to reimagine this. The web site further describes the menu: “The whole experience is a Journey, centered around a nostalgic trip full of playful memories, filled with curiosity, discovery and adventure. This nostalgic trip is based on a collection of some of my favourite childhood holiday memories, spanning a whole day. The menu is your itinerary for the day, represented on the map you’ve just seen on the homepage”.
A short summary of The Fat Duck’s history:
- 1995: a 29-year old self-taught Heston Blumenthal buys a pub in Bray and transforms it into a bistro.
- 1999: first Michelin star.
- 2001: second Michelin star.
- 2004: awarded the ultimate third Guide Michelin star.
- 2005: voted number one on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list (ahead of El Bulli)
- February, 2015: closes Fat Duck (Bray) and moves to Melbourne for a six month pop-up.
- September, 2015: The Fat Duck is absent in the 2016 Guide Michelin guide for Great Britain & Ireland. Consequently, Fat Duck will have to win those stars back as the restaurant was not (re)opened in time for the Michelin guide critics to review.
- 29th of September, 2015: reopens a renovated Fat Duck in Bray with a new menu.
The wine list cannot hardly be described as fun reading, at least not if you are the one paying… You can of course find good wines but the mark ups are in most (all?) cases substantial. From that perspective, in combination with that I didn’t know what flavors to expect, I opted for the wine package (with commonplace wines a £145 + the obligatory “discretionary” service fee), which hardly can be described as a catch. However, you do not go to Fat Duck to find a bargain (especially not in the wine list…), but to experience a journey…
And here comes “The Journey”:
The Day Before We Go: Are we nearly there yet?
The waiter explains our amuse bouche as an aerated beet shell with horseradish cream to prepare the palate for the dishes to come. I nice way of “getting ready”!
I liked this new dish, “Just the tonic!”, that was fresh, light and with flavors of cucumber and Jerusalem artichoke. Fittingly, the beverage package had a gin as the choice for this dish.
Next up were nitro-poached cocktails (this have also been on the menu previously). You had the option to choose from about 5-6 different drinks (e.g. Gin & Tonic and Paloma) and the texture of those frozen meringues were less crunchy but more soft in comparison to similar nitro-poached servings I have had (not necessary better but different). Good!
And the question accompanying this welcome drink is: who will be the dragon?
Morning: Rise and shine, it’s breakfast time
“I’ve brought your cup of tea. I didn’t know if you’d like milk or sugar so I brought rabbit” said the waitress and served a cup of “tea”.
The “tea” contains a velouté (“tea”) of rabbit with tarragon and mustard, and was cold on one side and hot on the other. Both good and interesting!
Why do I have to choose between a variety pack and a full English?
English flavor-packed cereals arrived in miniature packages. The bowl accompanying the cereals (i.e. where the cereals were poured) contained a scrambled egg custard with truffles at the bottom, charted by layers of tomato jelly, bacon and toast cream.
Since I am not grown up with those flavors for breakfast (i.e. tomato cornflakes, sausage pillows, and tomato and mushroom crisps), I guess it’s more fun for one who have, and that can identify all those enhanced senses from his/her childhood.
That said, one of my friends really liked this “breakfast”, but for me, it was one of the least appealing servings.
Mid-Morning: First one to see the sea…
A shell arrives with an iPod mini hidden inside. It is playing seaside sounds: seagulls and the waves rolling. On a glass plate, next to the shell, is malty tapioca “sand” with slices of raw kingfish, bonito with abalone, seaweeds and tidal succulents, plus “sea” foam. This is the original “Sound of the Sea” dish that has been on the menu for ages. One of the better interpretations on the numerous variations I have had on this theme.
Savoury lollies, presented as ice creams:
Left (in the pic above): the Waldorf salad rocket (walnut, celery and apple ice)
Right: a salmon-avocado-horseradish twister.
I liked the lollies but they were not any of my favorites this evening.
This new dish (“Then we went rockpooling”) on the menu consisted of crab, trout roe, smoked caviar, white chocolate, mussel veloute, and clam-sea water jelly. Nice!
Afternoon: If you go down to the woods today…(and we did)
If you go down the woods today… This dish of mushrooms, beetroot, truffle, lovage, and black currants (among other things) was one of the highlights this evening!
Blumenthal once said that food has an amazing ability to turn adults into kids through texture, smell and flavors of their childhood. This dish attempted to recreate the tea party from Alice in Wonderland, where the gold clock was dipped into a tea cup.
The Mock Turtle Soup at The Fat Duck is a flavorful pressure-cooked stock that is ice filtrated and then reduced in the (Genevac) Rocket Evaporator (i.e. an evaporator with a built in centrifuge to avoid bumping) to create the ultimate flavorful consommé. Some gelatine is added and the gold watches are formed.
Evening: Are you ready for dinner?
The “starter” was labelled as a “Prawn Cocktail” and consisted of langoustine on shiitake, kombu, daikon, crystallized seaweed, black sesame and plum puree. Superb quality and a very good flavor match.
This Duck à l’Orange (duck breast, black pudding puree, duck heart coated with crisp bread crumbs, orange zest, turnip discs, grilled onions, green coffee gel) is probably the best duck I ever had!
A tip: don’t play with the fire…
Château d’Yquem, a Premier Cru Supérieur wine from the Sauternes, is indisputable the best and most famous sweet wine in the world. Yquem’s success stems largely from the site’s susceptibility to attack by “noble rot” (Botrytis cinerea). This dish has been on the menu since October 2012 and was originally called Botrytis Cinerea but is now referenced as Grapes and Cheese on the menu.
The various elements of this dessert represent the (deconstructed) flavours of Château d’Yquem. All “grapes” on the plate have distinctive flavours and textures and, as the new dessert name implies, there are also cheese additives (e.g. Roquefort powder).
It is more or less impossible to remember and describe all those individual flavours but it’s for sure, as a whole, a world-class dessert!
The whisk(e)y gums, each placed on their respective geographic locations (Jack Daniels is a little bit misplaced though, at least in relation to the other ones…), is another classical Fat Duck serving on the menu. All of the gums had captured the essence well of the original whiskey taste.
Bedtime: Off to the land of Nod
Counting Sheep comes with a furry spoon (no pic) and is a new dessert inspired by Johnson’s Baby Powder. The dessert features malt, orange blossom, tonka, milk and meringue. Good!
And then to dream
Blumenthal’s culinary alchemy lies in harnessing the power of memory and imagination to provoke surprise and delight, and making his diners feel “like a kid in a sweetshop”.
With such a strong concept in mind, this last serving (i.e. the Petit-Fours) named “like a kid in a sweetshop”, pretty much sums up the overall feeling of this dinner.
In reality, a sweet shop rolls out and you now get the chance to use your previously given coin, to be able to purchase some candy. This sweet shop is a spectacle in itself and hardly surprising it resulted in a little “collection” of candies. Those sweeties (e.g. white chocolate Queen of Hearts with a raspberry compote filling, aerated chocolate with mandarin jelly, caramel with edible wrapper and nougat with shortbread, caramel and chocolate) were put in a little bag and I let them remain there (for my breakfast…) when it now was about 2:00 AM and it was time to end the Fat Duck journey.
Summary: This evening at Fat Duck was definitely a memorable one. Excellent, friendly and knowledge service, in combination with a “cosy” setting and world class food together with friends, made this a truly memorable dinner. The only real complaint we had in regards to this dinner is that the dining room is extremely noisy and we all had a hard time even hearing each other. But apart from this complaint (that actually were annoying) this is a genuinely nice place to have dinner at. I am not sure that the map (accompanying the “journey”) and everything surrounding that is necessary, but it is on the other hand not disturbing either (at least not the first time you have dinner there).
It is well worth mentioning that, even though a lot of hi-tech equipment and new techniques are used at Fat Duck, it is always with the purpose of getting the dish to taste better, and this is unfortunately not always the case (in other restaurants). However, as Heston works with all our senses (e.g. in the Sound of the Sea) the new innovative ideas/techniques also address other senses; Heston’s world is multi-sensory! But again, it is not for gimmickry, but to enhance the overall experience of the meal and to play with perception and augment the dining experience.
If you could get a reservation (and yes, it is tough to get a booking) and you have the means (and yes, it is expensive), you are definitely up for a once in lifetime dinner/experience! The Fat Duck isn’t a restaurant you visit frequently and this partly due to the fact that the menu doesn’t change on a regular basis (read: very seldom), but also because the “journey” is so special and unique, that it wouldn’t be fun to repeat (if the theme and/or the food doesn’t change). Highly recommended (at least one time)!