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The Fat Duck - Mon, 18th Jul 2011
High St, Bray. UK.
Prices: ~$400 14 courses with matched wines
Style: One of the best in the world
26th Feb 2018

Our top 5's:

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  2 : Jacques Reymond
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  5 : Matteo's

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Review by Lachie
Just a little restaurant in Bray

It was a few years ago when I first saw an episode of Heston's Feasts that I developed what can only be described as a culinary man crush on Heston Blumenthal. Back then I never would have thought that one day I may actually be able to eat at his restaurant, but in June this year I managed to do just that; although I'm still not sure I believe it.

It all started when Sarah and I decided to go on a holiday to Europe, we had a limited selection of possible dates, so it was locked in pretty tightly. Reservations at the 42 seat, world renowned restaurant are understandably hard to get. They take reservations two months in advance, and boy you'd better be on that phone when they open at 10am (GMT) if you want even half a chance. Basically, Sarah and I spent about 35 minutes dialing, hanging up, and redialing until we actually got through (there's some hints and tips about this process which I'd share but don't really have the space here, check the comments). Needless to say, we got through and spent the rest of the evening dancing around the living room (and watching repeats of Heston's Feasts).

Two short months later our pilgrimage was complete, we had arrived.

Inside was just as unassuming, low ceilings, bare dark wood beams, with a few simple art pieces adorning the walls. But looking around there were hints we were walking into one of the best restaurants in the world, some nice bottles of wine going around, interesting flower arrangements, and of course a sighting of dry ice or liquid nitrogen at a table side. Although I think the biggest hint that this restaurant is something out of the ordinary is the kind of knowing, respectful looks exchanged between any diners who happen to catch each others eyes. In a room this small, there's a sense of camaraderie amongst strangers who have all sacrificed something to be here.

There were really only two choices we had to make upon arrival, and both were pretty easy. The first was whether we'd like a sparkling aperitif to start (of course we would), the second was the choice of wine to accompany the 14 course menu. The wine menu is, well, heavy to say the least. We chose the 90 pound matched wine option, (which is actually the cheapest of the matched wine options). Once again, as if to remind you exactly where you are, there are hints on the list about what's to come: sake, a Croatian wine, some odd Italian grapes here and there.

There's really no other way for me to do this, so I'm going to go through the afternoon course by course. And that went for about 5 hours, so this post is going to be pretty long.

The amuse bouche arrived with minimal fuss and brief explanation - it's an aero beetroot biscuit with horseradish cream. Anyone who has watched Heston's Feasts as much as I have can probably guess how this is done (it involves making a light cream of beetroot and a vacuum chamber). It was a strange little thing, and a great way to kind of subvert your senses, it looks like it should be sweet but you know it's not, and the horseradish cream had a bit of a kick which takes you by surprise.

The first entree is what really sets the scene, it's really what I think of when I think of Heston. It's silly, it's fun, it's deeply strange, and of course it requires liquid nitrogen. It also just so happens to taste delicious. Nitro Poached Aperitifs were essentially flavoured meringues, but sexied up by poaching them in liquid nitrogen and adding various scents and flavours at the table. Sarah went with the "Vodka and Lime Sour" while I had the "Gin and Tonic". The tastes were, of course, astounding (seriously, it was as good as any gin and tonic I can remember), but there are other elements to this dish worth mentioning. One: texturally they're weird, the kind of tongue burning sensation from the cold feels like a taste-bud exfoliator - setting your taste buds on edge for the rest of the afternoon. And two: the fun part, watching Sarah exhale after placing this in her mouth was akin to watching her become a dragon with "smoke" emerging from mouth and nostrils. It was, in a word, hilarious; just another hint at the direction Heston likes to take food in.

Following the "nitro" came a Red Cabbage Gazpacho, poured at the table over a Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream. I assume this dish replaced the famous Bacon and Egg Ice Cream, and I've read people being disappointed about that. I was perfectly happy with this offering though.

Next came the Jelly of Quail, Crayfish Cream with chicken liver parfait, oak moss, and truffle toast. In order to Heston it up a bit it's served with a oak tea poured over a garden bed containing dry-ice, sending "smoke" everywhere and (allegedly) releasing the oak moss aroma; also a film not unlike (and packaged like) those mouthwash strips which instantly dissolve upon contact with the tongue - but oak rather than mouthwash flavoured.

Next, one of the dishes with a reputation that had preceded it. The Snail Porridge, unveiled with a little flourish and a wry smile on behalf of the waiter, it's everything you've been led to believe it is. It was Sarah's favourite dish of the day, and the only time I've ever really enjoyed snails.

Course number five was the rather decadent Roast Foie Gras with Barberry, Braided Konbu (whatever that is) and Crab Biscuit. If you look at the picture you can see the foie gras sitting on a few strips of something we never quite worked out, it may have been leek.

Then, again, came a dish as famous as the restaurant itself. The Mock Turtle Soup . Anyone familiar with the feasts will know this one. A plate containing pork cheek and a turnip "egg" is presented to you with a cup of hot water. Then the story of the Mad Hatter's tea party is explained where he dunks his gold fob watch into boiling water to make his tea. At this point gold watches are brought out (in a specially designed display case) which you place into the cup of hot water and watch as it becomes the most amazing smelling beef broth. This is poured over the other dish and combined into one almighty wonderful plate. I think the waiters must love this one, as they get to participate in the magic and theatre of the experience.

Next, Sound of the sea. Before the plate of food is brought to the table you are given a large shell with a pair of headphones dangling out of it. Through the headphones (ostensibly from the shell) is piped sounds of a beach: waves, seabirds, what have you. Then on a piece of glass over a sand bed comes the next course. Three pieces of sashimi (yellowtail, halibut, and mackerel) with various types of seaweed on a tapioca and baby sardine edible sand. Regular readers will know my distaste for all things fishy, but I actually ate most of this (Sarah got half the mackerel). I figured, if I'm going to eat fish anywhere, it's going to be here.

Then came another fish dish. The Salmon poached in liquorice gel. Coming as it did as a shiny black puck with artichokes, vanilla mayonnaise, lightly pickled ginger and golden trout roe, it was yet another example of immaculate plating. The salmon was, of course, cooked to perfection, and the delicate liquorice flavour added so much more depth than I'd imagined possible to a piece of fish.

Lamb with cucumber was next at the table. Probably the most "normal" dish of the day, it still came with a hollowed bone containing sous vide lamb neck and a cold lamb consomme with hints of lavender and peppermint. The menu suggested this dish was from a recipe circa 1805, a nod perhaps to Heston's obsession with antiquated recipes and cooking techniques.

To herald the beginning of desserts was Hot \& Iced Tea. When people ask me what that actually is it's hard not to simply restate the name of the dish. It's exactly what it sounds like, except (in true Blumenthal style) the surprise is that it comes in a single glass. An almost imperceptible change in colour within the liquid tips you off that all is not as it seems, and as you start to drink you get distinct hot tea, followed immediately by iced tea. Surely this violates some tenant of thermodynamics, at this point I'm starting to suspect Heston is indeed a witch.

The first of the desserts is Macerated strawberries, served with a miniature Earl-Grey ice cream cone with raspberry base. It arrives on the plate looking like a miniature picnic, complete with red and white checked picnic blanket (chocolate), concealing an olive oil biscuit beneath.

This is followed up by The "BFG" or Black Forest Gateau. This is probably as close to what it sounds like as you can imagine, but made and presented to perfection in a tower with about a million layers of sweet things (by this stage of the meal I had enjoyed quite a lot of wine and food and was beginning to embrace hyperbole a little).

Which brought us to the penultimate course. The Whisk(e)y Wine Gums. A framed map of Scotland (and a small segment of the US) is brought to the table with five miniature jellied bottles attached. As you peel each off the glass, beneath is written the type of Whisky of which it is made (for example Glenlivet 12yo, Oban 18yo etc). As somewhat of a Scotch fan, I was a massive fan of these. Each had the very distinct taste of the whisky it was made from, and as a fan of all sugary treats I want Heston to package and market these things so I could keep some with me at all times.

Finally one last trip to childhood with the whimsically titled "Like a kid in a sweet shop". A pink and white paper sweet shop bag is placed on the table containing four treats, Aerated chocolate with mandarin jelly, Coconut Baccy, Apple pie caramel (complete with edible "plastic" wrapper and The Queen of Hearts. This last one stole the show. Inside a small envelope (sealed with edible chocolate "wax" seal) is an abnormally thick playing card (printed both sides to look the part). As if that isn't cool enough, inside the chocolate card is the thinnest imaginable fruit tart. Completely mind blowing.

And then it was gone. That was it. That was my meal at The Fat Duck. Most likely never to be repeated, but something to be relived in my mind over and over again for years to come. This was the most amazing culinary experience that I've ever had, or likely to ever have. It was not only worth every penny, but also lived up to and surpassed every considerable expectation. I'm under no illusion that I have been extremely fortunate to have been given a chance to eat somewhere that many people will only ever dream of, but if you ever have even the slightest chance, don't hesitate. I cannot imagine any way in which you would be disappointed.


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