Incredible invention of dishes and highest end of gastronomic adventure combined with genuinely wonderful flavours
SPOILER ALERT – PLEASE DO NOT READ OR EXAMINE PHOTOGRAPHS IF YOU INTEND TO VISIT AND WANT SURPRISES
After its 6 month absence from Bray to refurbish itself, The Fat Duck has returned from Australia to unleash its new menu maintaining some of its old favourites. The kept favourites of The Fat Duck (nitro poached mousse, sounds of the sea, hot and cold tea and whiskey wine gums) have been tweaked and to my great surprise and delight were actually upgrades to the originals I thought and was pleased to see that the snail porridge was not kept for the new menu as I found that just ok. The nail porridge was nothing offensive but shockingly on par with a 4 year old’s merry go round ride at the theme park in comparison to Nemisis and Oblivion and the other food rides that were available in comparison.
I will say right up front that this was an unbelievably clever and gorgeous meal, there is no question. Many that do not like Heston Bluemthal’s unorthodox ways are adament on this but I stand by what I have always thought on this issue and it is still quite simple: if you have not tasted the food I’m afraid I simply can’t listen to those verdicts. Yes it is fantastical but the flavours of the dishes were simply out of this world at the same time, right down to the petits fours which would rival the finest lindor chocoloate with a cape on(!). My food grade (percentage) verdict is, as always based on the food alone and that’s what the 100% score is based on and not due to the ocassion it was (I actually had a terrible experience with their customer service on my first visit but was irrlevelent to the food score given for that first visit as well).
I could write a dissertation on this meal but that’s the danger. I will actually let the photos do most of the talking on this occasion, save to say that the absolute food highlights for this round I thought were the tiny beetroot macaroon with perfectly hinted horseradish sauce in the centre; the incredible sandwiches (layer of toast in the middle of normal soft, white bread on the extremities) that were simply the tastiest sandwiches I’ve ever had in my life; the ingenious and delightful full English breakfast bowl and the greatest salmon I have ever had in the form of a lollypop which was actually cured Salmon with rings of avocado and horseradish on the outside.
In order to summarise the food here I will describe one of the dishes to set the tone of how The Fat Duck is different to most other restaurants (and most 3 stars for that matter). The full English breakfast was actually a bowl with 3 layers of different components of breakfast: one resembling egg (truffled egg mousse), one for tomato (jellied tomato consommé) and one for bacon (bacon and toasted bread cream). Each layer was uncannily the absolute essence of that flavour but in the form of a soft gel or sauce and lovely to combine in the mouth. Meanwhile a pack of 6 mini-cereals were placed on the table and we were invited to choose any to sprinkle the ‘cereal’ (which turned out to be crispy and dried mushroom and bacon crackling) on the bowl. Not only was this delicious but the game inside the packs was a jigsaw for each person to make the quickest as the winner was given a special coin which was to be used later to activate the electronic petit fours trolley which was impressive in its own right. The Fat Duck had done its research on us via a form to be filled out by the organiser and a follow up phone call and used this information to laser in to the wooden jigsaw pieces, things that were among the most meaningful to each person at the table. THAT is how The Fat Duck is in a league of its own.
Final thoughts on this, apart from being one of the best meals of my life: I actually thought it was better than the first time round and they had most probably listened to feedback and toned it down to a better result. The meal seemed less dense and more balanced this time and as it was only 16 courses and not 19 as it was, I did not leave feeling like Mr Creosote. The service was also impeccable which was a lovely change and the only thing I didn’t really like was the slightly darkened, no wall-decor feel of the restaurant which did not seem to imbue an atmosphere. The tables are still quite close to each other so it is a little tight which is bad if you have guests on other tables that have nothing better to do that wanting to listen in to and judge others’ conversations. That was the only other negative of this visit which the restaurant cannot be expected to control. Ultimately, you shouldn’t really come to this restaurant if you are wanting an atmosphere or conventional time regardless on the first point – this is supreme invention and flavours probably best enjoyed at a very special occasion.
There was not enough time for the Michelin guide to grade the restaurant suitably before it closed so it is therefore currently not in the guide at all for 2016, but my summary is based on what I had and frankly I will be amazed if it does not regain the three stars for next years’ (2017) Michelin guide release for the UK. I also think it would be ridiculous if it did not.
A superb collection of wonderful dishes, expertly conceived and executed resulting in food moments of pure gold.
Food Grade: 99%
At the time of writing (5 Feb 15), this remains one of the most sacred food experiences I have ever had. Prior to going abroad for 6 months, it was the perfect excuse to find out first hand what the actual result was for one of the world’s best, located a 15-20 minutes drive away from Windsor. Firstly, there are a lot of strong opinions floating among the population regarding Heston Blumenthal and his cooking and my first question to the many cries I have heard about it being just wacky theatre, is: “Have you actually dined there?”. If the answer is no, then I simply recommend doing so in order to have the opinion based on experience. Do not worry if you are a sceptic; I too have my negative points on this restaurant in spite of the score however, please remember the score is based on the food alone.
So, on to the amuse bouche – the nitro tea and lime mousse was a marvel. After a tub of liquid nitrogen was brought to the table, mousse was squirted in to this pan causing a fizzing and bubbling affair rather like sodium dancing on top of water. The reaction with the liquid nitrogen caused the mousse to form in to a perfect sphere, which when eaten (after being sprinkled with tea essence) dissolved instantaneously in an utterly refreshing manner causing two jets of nitro-vapour to come out of my nose as if a dragon, whilst essence of tea extract was sprayed over us floating on to our heads and faces to finish the refreshment off. Then, we were handed the menu.
This gives an idea as to why this venue is simply off the charts in terms of creativity and all the photos will speak for themselves. The true, powerhouse moments for myself came with the camomile foie gras dish with foie gras toast, whilst ‘smelling’ a forest at the table and the bacon and egg ice-cream which was in fact vanilla cream (that had been injected in to 6 genuine egg shells cracked at the table) poured in to another tub of liquid nitrogen at the table, forming the perfect scrambled egg texture and look, which sat on a fried slice of syrup brioche with a genuine wafer thin slice of crystallised bacon (therefore sweet and genuinely beautiful). That’s not to say that there were a couple of only ‘ok’ dishes such as the snail porridge – clever, yes but if I had my eyes closed it would have literally been a salty, sludgy set of noodles and the parsnip cereal was hugely entertaining but again more unique and fun than wonderful in flavour. That said, when moments such as the foie gras and main bacon and egg combination come along, these moments are special – I was genuinely blown away in happiness and all the other surrounding dishes were simply a treat to behold – this is why on the rating I give it the mark based on the euphoria caused at these dining sensations experienced.
Unfortunately that food happiness was almost shattered with an episode at the table in which the waitress (who has served as the head waitress on numerous episodes of Heston’s TV feasts) utterly ruined the meal at one stage early on in the lunch. As one of the first dishes was laid down I excitedly and politely said that I had forgotten what that dish was and what I received in return was the same waitress saying calmly and without any expression or any eye-contact, “Did I not tell you I would explain the dishes…?” as she placed them down. This basically destroyed the experience and I was close to actually suggesting we leave, but the lengths that had been gone to, to get the table prevented me and I don’t think that would have flown very well with my associate Mr Bainbridge whatsoever, however it was the kind of arrogant rudeness I never expected in a million years to be defending myself from in any restaurant, let alone a 3 Michelin starred global affair such as this.
It confirms other varying reports I have heard ranging from the cleanliness of the ipod headphones in the sounds of the sea dish and another remark I have gleaned on the service experienced. I gather that the whole service has morphed in to a well-oiled conveyer belt which had simply lost its soul in terms of the warmth. Although this is hearsay, I can somehow easily believe this to be the case. Probably apt timing therefore for a complete overhaul which is now happening as the restaurant is relocating for the first half of 2015 to Australia whilst a renovation in Bray occurs – I simply hope this extends to the happiness and character of the waiting staff as well while he is at it and that this is similarly transformed when he reopens in the latter part of 2015.
In terms of food, this meal remains unparalleled in its theatre, unmatched in sensation moments and unforgettable as an experience.
Food Grade: 98%
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