Wednesday 28 July 2010

The Fat Duck - Bray, Berkshire

Warning: Extremely long post!

Heston Blumenthal. My idol. The reason why I do what I do, and aspire to be what I want to be. I knew for a fact that I had to dine at The Fat Duck at least once in my lifetime, so what held me back? Nothing. So I fought, and I got a reservation!

First off, don't get me wrong - I am ecstatic about having dined at The Fat Duck, however, I am a little gutted that my body decided to fail and give itself a cold that restricted the access of Heston's incredible flavour combinations to my nose, on this rare occasion. Nonetheless, at the young age of twenty, I hope to dine here again, when my sinuses are clear and I am able to enjoy the experience one hundred percent.

So... to begin my Fat Duck experience, I was exceptionally lucky to meet the very lovely Head Chef, James Petrie, through my contacts, and be shown around the Experimental Kitchen. It was fascinating. I wish I worked there. I'm not sure what I am allowed to reveal so I shall reveal nothing! I mentioned to James that I was sad to see that the Bacon and Egg Ice cream had been taken off of the menu.

My brother and I enjoying a drink in the Hind's Head.

After a quick drink in the Hind's Head, we headed into The Fat Duck, and were seated by the very charming waiters. After feeling a little light headed from my glass of wine on my empty-stomach-except-for-one-banana, we just ordered some sparkling water. The waiters then said that the Head Chef would like to offer us each a complementary glass of champagne...?! Wow! Yes Please! Now, coming to The Fat Duck, you feel special, but this made me feel extra special, a VIP! What a fabulous introduction to the meal!

Mum a little excited about the complementary champagne...


I apologise that this photo is out of focus; I was borrowing my Dad's camera and I haven't had a great deal of experience with it! I think this photo still deserves to be in here!

The meal began with a "palate cleanser" of Lime Grove - Nitro Poached Green Tea and Lime Mousse.

Making the Nitro Poached Green Tea and Lime Mousse right in front of us.

This was incredibly refreshing, and lasted in the mouth longer than I had anticipated. It almost felt like a matcha and lime meringue that disappeared after a few seconds, leaving you cleansed and refreshed and ready for the next eleven courses.

The unpasteurised butter was pretty hard to spread when it first came out...

but as it warmed to room temperature, it became more spreadable! The waiter frequently came over to top us up with bread and water.

The bread was a good shout - most of the dishes were wet, so the bread became very useful in mopping up any residues that were left on our plates.

Next, the Red Cabbage Gazpacho, Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream.

The waiter pouring the Gazpacho at the table.

This was my brother's favourite dish. There were microcubes of a type of vegetable we couldn't quite work out. We thought it might be cucumber. This enhanced the texture sensation and the flavours were smooth and gorgeous. I loved how perfectly sized each microcube was. I could easily eat more of the Pommery Grain Ice Cream for dessert!

Following the Gazpacho was the Jelly of Quail, Crayfish Cream, Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast.

We were given films; similar to the Listerine strips that you put on your tongue which tasted of oak. I, unfortunately, could not taste anything because of my cold. The flavour must have been incredibly light.

The waiter poured over a woodland-scented liquid nitrogen over the moss to give us the smell of the woodland, which enhanced the flavours of the dish.

Moss with the scent of the woodland.

I have never had truffles until now and where else to first try them other than the second best restaurant in the world?! The Truffle Toast was divine, I was tempted to add some of the Jelly of Quail, but it was moist enough and I didn't want to risk spoiling it. The toast had delicately cut radishes and herbs on top. It looked beautiful. The Jelly of Quail I did enjoy although jelly textures aren't my favourite. The layer of Jelly of Quail tasted very much like gravy. I loved the sweetness of the pea at the bottom and a slight hint of seafood from the Crayfish Cream. I absolutely loved the show with the mist and woodland scent.

Then came the infamous Snail Porridge, Jabugo Ham and Shaved Fennel.

Perfectly cooked snails in the Snail Porridge.

Myself enjoying the Snail Porridge.

Snails used to be one of the only foods I disliked. This is probably because I have always experienced snails from places where they have no idea how to cook them. When I think of snails, I think of a bitter earthy flavour with a chewy and slimy texture, yuck! But Heston has now changed my view of snails forever. They were so meaty and tender. The porridge was bright green with parsley. There was a slight heat to the porridge - I thought horseradish or perhaps mustard. I very much enjoyed that hint of heat and the whole dish overwhelmed me. This could, possibly, be my favourite dish of them all, perhaps because I had the lowest expectations of it. Please sir, can I have some more?!

Following the Snail Porridge was the Roast Fois Gras, Gooseberry Coulis, Braised Konbu and Crab Biscuit. The menu said that the Fois Gras was served with Rhubarb, but the waiters told us it was served with a Gooseberry Coulis.

I enjoyed this very much. I have never before experienced Fois Gras roasted. I liked that there was different outer layer compared with the inside. I wasn't too keen on the carpet, the bottom layer, as it tasted a bit funky for my liking. The Crab Biscuits were slightly sweet and very tasty.

Next, we were given a bookmark with some quotes from Alice in Wonderland on.

This was in preparation for our Mock Turtle Soup (c.1850) "Mad Hatter Tea".

We were given a bowl with all the components of the soup, but without the stock. We were given a separate cup of hot water to which we added our golden watch, where our soup stock would develop.

This was then poured over the other soup components.

Mock Turtle Soup (c.1850) "Mad Hatter Tea".

The Mock Turtle Soup was fun, but the least exciting (flavour-wise) of all the dishes. The stock began warm but then rapidly lost it's temperature, resulting in an almost cold soup during consumption. The Mock Turtle meat was juicy and succulent, but there were no other distinctively enjoyable flavours or textures in this dish.

After the Mock Turtle Soup, we were given a rather strange looking spoon...

The "Sound Of The Sea" followed the "Mad Hatter Tea". We were given a shell with an iPod inside.

The iPod played sounds of the sea, funnily enough! Lapping waves and seagull chatter.

Myself listening to the "Sound of the Sea" while I tuck into some tapioca and fried baby eel edible sand, delicious!

The actual sounds of the sea were a great idea. It was lovely to escape from the restaurant for a few minutes, while indulging on some seaweed and vegetable broth foam and some tapioca and fried baby eel sand. I enjoyed most of this dish, but some flavours were a little bit too...funky, I would say. I can completely understand that these flavours are meant to be in the dish, but they were just not for me. The gelatine (or agar) strip, again, I didn't like. It was similar to the strip that I wasn't such a fan of in the Fois Gras dish. Of the cuts of fish, I liked the mackerel best, probably because it was most easily recognisable to me. There were some pieces of seaweed. A couple gave you small bursts of seawater in your mouth as you popped them open with your teeth. This, altogether, was a very interesting and enjoyable dish.

Following the "Sound of the Sea" was the dish I was mainly looking forward to; Salmon Poached in Liquorice, Artichokes, Vanilla Mayonnaise, Golden Trout Roe and Manni Olive Oil.

The reason why this was the dish to which I was most looking forward is because this was the first experiment I ever saw Heston carry out on television. This started my fascination in Heston's work. It was many years ago, on one of his programmes of "Full On Food". He had discovered that salmon and liquorice have similar chemical properties, which implied that they would therefore complement each other in a dish. He experimented with combinations of different types of liquorice and salmon (as far as I can remember) and I am assuming this was his end result.

I was a little disappointed that I couldn't taste the liquorice, I asked my brother and he said it was very subtle. Stupid cold! I wish it were a little stronger, but I guess I can't really say, when I have a cold. My brother did agree that it could have been a little stronger. The textures were creamy and the fish very soft. The Vanilla Mayonnaise was very subtle but detectable. I loved the sharp contrast of the bursts of grapefruit. I think the artichoke may have been a little too overpowering compared with the other ingredients in the dish. I did enjoy this, but it didn't live up to my great expectations. However, it is most likely that this is due to myself having a cold and being unable to detect the very delicate flavours, very sad.

Finally, the last of the main courses, and the richest of them all was Powdered Anjou Pigeon (c.1720) Blood Pudding and Confit of Umbles.

The waiter stressed that we should eat the second half of this dish with the first half. This second half, to me, seemed like a heart rice pudding with sugar puffs on top. The waiter told us the sugar puffs were actually spelt.

The Anjou Pigeon was sensational, completely faultless, cooked to absolute perfection. It was so tender, succulent and full of flavour. I was definitely left craving for more! I'm not too into my offal, so I wasn't sure about the rest of the dish. At the beginning, I was a little hesitant, but by the end, I was loving it. The crunch of the spelt gave a great contrast to the soft heart rice pudding. I'm not too sure about the blood sauce with the Anjou Pigeon; I would have preferred something a little different. However, the foam gave an amazing contrast, as well as the kohlrabi. The pigeon crisps were very light and wonderful when dipped into the blood sauce.

After our savoury dishes, we were given the Hot and Iced Tea.

The waitress told us to drink the tea as they put it in front of us, and not to twist the glass at all. This was because they had positioned the glass so that the left half was iced and the right half was hot. It was slightly viscous, which I assume is to keep the two different temperatures separate. It was lemon tea. A refreshing introduction to the desserts and an unusual but pleasant sensation in the mouth.

The first dessert was the Taffety Tart (c.1660) Caramelised Apple, Fennel, Rose and Candied Lemon.

The most stunning dessert I have ever seen; Taffety Tart (c.1660), Caramelised Apple, Fennel, Rose and Candied Lemon.

Please correct me if I am wrong, but have you ever seen a dessert more beautiful than this? I hardly wanted to eat it, as I didn't want to destroy it's beauty. I decided to go for it, and boy, it's beauty did depict the exquisite taste explosion. So many flavours were jumping all around my mouth. So zingy, citrusy, tangy and vibrant. All the flavours were so very powerful. This dessert also emphasised what an incredible coupling apple and blackcurrant make, which the lemon and fennel enhanced. Wow!

After this mind blowing dessert, we had something very famous, from Heston's Search of Perfection - The BFG, Kirsch Ice Cream and the smell of the Black Forest.

To start with, we were given mini bottles which contained "the smell of the Black Forest".

I'm not sure if I was supposed to taste it, but I did and it tasted of kirsch.

The BFG was delicately decorated. The cherry jam was rich and tart and reminded me of how much I love cherries. I haven't tasted many black forest gateaux's before, but I know this was the best one I would ever experience in my life.

Demolished - The "BFG", Kirsch Ice Cream and the smell of the Black Forest.

It doesn't seem like I ate this very gracefully... which, I guess, is a sign of how much I enjoyed it! I was more impressed by the textures in this dish, rather than the flavours, unlike the previous Taffety Tart. This was probably because I was half expecting most of the flavours in there. It was still an extremely well executed dish.

From our glances at other tables, we had predicted that our next course would be the Whisk(e)y Gums. After the waiters and waitresses cleared our wooden slabs, we were given spoons and forks. We were bemused. We had seen every other diner eat their Whisk(e)y Gums with their fingers, why were we given spoons and forks and no one else? Then this strange-looking piece of apparatus sat next to us...

What was going on?! "Courtesy of the Head Chef" said the waiter. gosh! "Time for breakfast!" said the waiter. We were getting very special treatment now. It was the legendary Nitro-scrambled Bacon and Egg Ice Cream! How wonderfully kind and thoughtful James was to organise this dish for us to enjoy. I had mentioned how disappointed I was that it had been taken off of the menu, but I was never expecting this! I truly felt like a celebrity. We couldn't help but enjoy the confused and envious looks on the other diners' faces.

The waiter told us that these were special eggs, produced by special chickens. The chickens were fed on bacon sandwiches and shaken to produce bacon flavoured eggs.

The waiter nitro-scrambled the eggs in front of us and placed the ice cream onto an adorable miniature sized piece of French toast, with tomato jam and a crispy strip of streaky bacon. What a wonderful surprise and fantastic little show. I felt so very privileged and honoured. Thank you, so much, James and the staff at The Fat Duck for this truly unique experience!

The tiny piece of toast was just so cute! I actually said "Ahh, look at the tiny toast!" out loud when they first handed over the plate. It was almost like a slice of a donut - soft inside and delicately crunchy on the outside. It could well have been a miniature slice brioche. The ice cream itself had a smoky taste. The tomato jam was very sweet and delicious. I absolutely loved it. I felt so lucky to have been given the opportunity to try such a dish, and such a surprise too!

After being completely blown away by the wonderful unexpected previous dish, we were given our Whisk(e)y Gums, which were not accompanied by a spoon and fork!

They were served on a photo frame with a map of where each whiskey came from and in which order to eat them. I wasn't expecting much from these, but again, they surprised me. The initial melting of the gum gave a very mild whiskey flavour which then developed into a stronger and bolder flavour with a final blast of whiskey. This left the palate and throat with gentle warmth. I have never really appreciated the flavours of whiskey before, but after consuming these Whisk(e)y Gums, I am now very intrigued with the world of whiskey and can fully understand why Heston has put these on the menu.

After the Whisk(e)y Gums, we were given our final piece of the now-thirteen course meal. "Like a Kid in a Sweet Shop".

The bag contained a menu which has the scent of a sweet shop. The treats inside included Aerated Chocolate Mandarin Jelly, Coconut Baccy, Apple Pie Caramel with an Edible Wrapper and The Queen Of Hearts. Even the red stamp on the envelope of the Queen Of Hearts was edible, it was made of chocolate!

The restaurant atmosphere was classy, yet unpretentious. The restaurant layout was cosy, but not claustrophobic. There was, however, a great deal of background noise, which made it difficult to understand what some of the waiters and waitresses were saying and sometimes what we were saying to one other at the table! We were one of the last tables to be seated, so as the end of the meal drew closer, the restaurant started to quieten down and the noise became much less of an issue.

I loved how everything was so delicately balanced; nothing was overpowering (the Taffety Tart was powerful, but worked!), there were no nasty after tastes and no garlic or onion hangovers (as I call them). This is an obvious sign of confidence, which of course they have a great deal of.

The only negative factor that affected the experience enough for me to write about it was the fact that the waiting times were considerably long as the meal progressed. I think we waited for just over twenty minutes between some courses near the end of the meal. It was quite tedious waiting that long between courses. Also, I noticed that the waiters became less attentive as the meal progressed, which may have been due to their preparation for the evening service, or could well have been because of their preparations for our Bacon and Egg Ice cream, or purposely delaying us because of the extra course. If it wasn't for these two minor negatives, I could hardly fault the whole experience. I think that the Bacon and Egg Ice Cream and complementary champagne more than made up for these, though!

The bill came to £686.81 for four people. Was it worth the money? Well, it was actually worth more!

My favourite dish? It's hard to say. I would probably say that my favourite savoury dish was the Snail Porridge because it completely blew away my expectations and I very much enjoyed the heat with the dish. My favourite sweet dish would be the Taffety Tart, my palate has just never experienced anything like it. I can only assume that this had a similar effect on my brain as a Class A drug. And, of course, the whole novelty with the Bacon and Egg Ice cream, I have to admit that it was one of my favourites too!

The whole experience was magical, just like a dream, and to top it all off, I went to see Inception at the cinema after the meal. I left the cinema very confused, had I dreamt my almost indescribable day?! Thank God that no, it was reality! Every minute I was inside the restaurant I was buzzing. I couldn't believe that I was actually in there! Twenty four hours later as I write this post, I am still buzzing from the experience. My only regret was that I didn't ask James if I could have a photo with him. Still, I can't believe I have just dined at the second best restaurant in the world! Amazing. Wow!