Lunch at The Fat Duck Restaurant

Mrs. e took me to lunch at HestonBlumenthal’s the Fat Duck in Bray on Saturday as a 30th birthday present.She’d booked it in January or something, and it came as a pleasant surprise when I teased it out of her a few weeks ago (I’m not very good with surprises).It’s was recently voted the second best restaurant in the world, and the best in the Europe. It’s famous for it’s ‘urrg’ factor; snail porridge, egg & bacon ice cream are deliberately named to entice the curious. You can’t help but think of a bowlof ready break with shells sticking out of it. Obviously the actual dish looks nothing like this… but more of it later.The table was booked for 12pm, when it opens so we were the first people in.This meant an fairly early start to get from Gipsy Hill to Maidenhead. Up toPaddington, 10:57 out to Slough and a cab to bray, we arrived slightly early.Bray is a beautiful village and we had a small wonder round to kill time. Wealso found the other great restaurant there, Michel Roux’s TheWaterside Inn and a pretty church yard. 12 o’clock came around and we entered the restaurant.I left my bag with the matre d’ and we were Shawn to out table, (number ten,nicely in the corner but near the window so you can look out into the street one way and across the street the other). Lunch at the Fat Duck doesn’t happen to me everyday, and neither does hitting 30. With this in mind we both plumped for the degustationmenu. 19 mini courses that showcase the playful nature of Heston’s approachto food. We also thought, what the hell, and ordered the accompanying wine menuthat complemented it. This also saved me from the Gutenburg Bible sized winelist. The waiter then borough over a wax sealed envelope that informed us exactlywhat we were going have have.Also in another ‘once in a lifetime’ sort of way I decided notto take photographs of every dish. A: it would have been a bit touristy, B: this was a special present of my girlf, and if she’d bought me say, underwearI wouldn’t publish pics of that would I? And C: You need to go there yourselfto get the surprise, it’s about taste as much as presentation.The degustation is part lecture, part theatre and part science lesson. The whole thing really does leave you questioning and thinking about food and wine. It’s also perhaps not the sort of thing to try at home, as the first course proved.  

NITRO-GREEN TEA AND LIME MOUSSE The waiter arrived with a small chrome cauldron of Liquid Nitrogen (here’s1001 other things to do with it) and a small canister in which there wasan egg mouse infused with Vodka, lime and green tea. This combination is a ‘natural’palette cleanser. The vodka strips any fat from your tongue, the lime opensup your taste buds and the green tea generally refreshes the mouth. It’s a greatshow opener and sets you up mentally as well as psychically for what’s to come.The waiter squirts a blob on a spoon, dips it in the container, and laps thenitrogen over it. Then it’s out, and onto a small plate for you to pick up andplace in your mouth in one go. Now I have to say it does have the desired effect,it sort of fizz’s on your tongue like an alive meringue. 

OYSTER, PASSION FRUIT JELLY, HORSERADISH CREAM, LAVENDER mrs e’s favourite. The rock oyster was split and filled with mild horseradishand lavender, and set in passion fruit jelly in it’s shell, which was set ona round pat of rock salt decorated with a sprig of lavender. The tastes startedon the front of the tongue, there was a mild saltiness from the oyster justabout there behind the passion fruit. I didn’t get much of the horseradish ormuch lavender, though mrs e’s more sensitive mouth did. 

POMMERY GRAIN MUSTARD ICE CREAM, RED CABBAGE GAZPACHO This was great, the warmth of mustard came through really quickly, but not asquick as the cold of the ice cream. It went well against the raw fresh zinginessof the red cabbage. This was the first of a series of ‘ice creams’ presentedas little quenelles. 

JELLY OF QUAIL, LANGOUSTINE CREAM, PARFAIT OF FOIE GRASHells teeth, the gloves are off now. This dish came as a sort of savoury dippyegg. We were each given a solider of toast to dip in and spoon the foie grasonto. As the bottom of the shell shaped cup was a pea puree, then the rich quailjelly, then the foam topping. The foie Gras came half submerged in, a yolk perhaps?We also went for the accompanying wine list that complimented the degustation, so with all the the above we were served a E.Lustau Fino Puerto, Sherry (Spain)which was cold and crisp, and rather nice. So all the above dishes are servedcold, very cold in the first courses case. We then moved to the famous… SNAIL PORRIDGE, Jabugo ham, shaved fennel.Signature dish? Certainly the most well known. It was more like a sort of risotto,the oats were cooked in garlic, parsley and butter I think so consequently was bright green., The tiny shavings of ham and the plump snails we arranged ontopof this and crowned with the fennel, which was pickled I think. What did ittaste like? I liked it. I think snails taste like.. musky scallops, and theslight tartness of the fennel worked a treat.

ROAST FOIE GRAS Almond fluid gel, cherry and chamomile The meaty chunk of foie gras was dusted in chamomile and beautifully presented.The almond gel was a little unusual, and reminded me slightly of sun tan lotion, but it tasted great and so did the cherry. I was all fairly light and easy going. A pinch yourself reality check moment came when mrs e said ‘I preferred the oyster’. To which I replied incredulously ‘how can you prefer oysters over foiegras!’ Before realising what I’d just said.

SARDINE ON TOAST SORBET Described on the menu as ‘Ballotine of mackerel ‘invertebrate’.. nope, me neither,but the fish was spanky fresh. The accompanying marinated daikon was quite mild,the other sorbet though was a little too fishy for me.

SALMON POACHED WITH LIQUORICE Composition and layout were excellent, the small piece of fish was sealed safeand snug in the liquorice, which proved remarkably mild. It dishes like thisthat make you go ‘Liqourice?’ but the trouble is most peoples experience ofliquorice comes from Berty Basset, which is more sugar and molasses that liquorice.The asparagus tips were tasty too. 

POACHED BREAST OF ANJOU PIGEON PANCETTA My favourite of the main dishes, The pastilla was the leg meat in half a squarefilo parcel complete with hospital corners. The rest of the breast was servedrare, and was fantastic. It also came with tiny baby turnips and roasted babyfennel. What set it all off for me was the pistachio’s though, they added areally gamey earthy nutty quality. yum. Oddness alert!

WHITE CHOCOLATE AND CAVIAR Next up the waiter came and presented two white choc circles, about the sizeof a 10p, topped with a blob of caviar. He advised us to place it in our mouths,not to talk, and just let it all melt together over our tongues. In the meantime he offered us some light reading, in the form of a short history of MrsAgnes B.Marshall, more of her here.It was her who invented the edible ice cream cone in 1888, not the yanks in1904 as they claim -Pah! Anyway after about 2 minutes we got to try…

MRS MARSHALL’S MARGARET CORNETA tiiny cornet, decorated around the edge with coloured icing, and filled withboth ice cream and fruit puree, suddenly you’re transported to the sea side.It’s like the soul of every ice cream you’ve ever had, magic.PINE SHERBET FOUNTAIN From the sea side to the school tuck shop, yes it’s a tiny sherbetfountain. only you feel like a giant as it’s a really small tube. It wasgood, but it’s not spacedust!Back from our childhoods we then had…

MANGO AND DOUGLAS FIR PUREE Bavarois of lychee and mango, blackcurrant sorbet. The last and most ‘normal’sorbet and a two in square of the bavarois. Lots of fruity flavours on thisdish.

CARROT AND ORANGE TUILE, BAVAROIS OF BASIL, BEETROOT JELLY Awooga! What’s all this? The thing is that in other versions I’ve seen of themenu, these jellies came right at the start of the meal. In fact the Fat duck website version has them that way round, yet my printed copy and I had themat the end.. so, we came a bit unstuck here theme wise, the jelly’s remindedme of fruit pastals, but then I was still on a kick from the sea side and tuckshop courses. The carrot and orange tuile came in a ceral box like a Kelloggs variety selection, once we’d open them thewaitress (yes we’d been through one guys shift) poured over a splash of milk.I was reminded of breakfasts in hotels and such, and if this was a sort of cereal,then next up was the desert that was the full english…

SMOKED BACON AND EGG ICE CREAM The other signature dish, or at least infamous. The pain perdu had a wonderful caramel flavour to it, and reminded me of toffee apples, the egg ice cream wasgrand, and very creamy and tasty, it sat atop a sort of bacon reduction thing,memory fails slightly here as we were numbed by a 1984 Vin Santo,C. Argiros(Greece) which was described as a blend of over 30 grapes, none of whom gotalong in my mind. The tea jelly was excellent, and really refreshing.In the final furlong now, we went for two latte’s and found room to pop in a

PARLINE ROSE TARTLET each.

The bill, with an extra G&T and two bottles of water and excellent service….£402.19 Was it worth it? Well what’s ‘worth’ really mean? I’ll tell you what it was. It was the most evocative meal I’ve ever eaten. It took four and a half hours to eat, plus another two traveling, in fact it took the whole day.(it’staken almost as long to write this up), The staff were magnificent, they made you feel totally at ease, you could ask them questions and actually talk aboutthe food. But it also took me on tour of flavours, memories and emotions, whichis what Heston’s food is all about really. The food was the equivalent of perhaps hangliding and the wine like swimming with dolphins. It truely was a once ina life time experience and a wonderful present. Yes we could have gone on a holiday somewhere for that sort of money, maybe a weekend in Europe. But why can’t once in a lifetime expreiences happen outside Maidenhead?We came out of the Fat Duck into the warm afternoon sunshine and took a smallwalk around the village which looked like a long lost England. We past the villagechuch and came upon a cricket match in full swing. We stoped and watched a while and the next tubby player out of the club house go out for a duck.. it couldn’t have been more apt or funny.Thank you mrs e

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