Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck is one of only four three Michelin starred restaurants in the UK and it resides in the Berkshire village of Bray, which is also home to The Waterside Inn (another three starred restaurant which I loved).
The dining room is very much not what I expected; it has an old fashioned charm about it (it’s a listed building don’t you know), so there’s low ceilings with wooden beams and it’s actually quite small. The white tablecloths and hundreds of immaculately dressed staff remind you however that you’re not in your Granny’s living room.
To kick things off, a tiny beetroot meringue sandwiching a horsesradish cream was served on the biggest plate I’ve ever seen. It was a simple mouthful but one which was impressively delicious.
Next up, a trolley was wheeled over to our table and a rather dashing waiter served some ‘nitro poached aperitifs’. There were three flavours to choose from; ‘vodka and lime sour’, ‘tequila and grapefruit’ and ‘gin and tonic’ – I opted for the latter. An egg white mixture was dropped into a bowl of dry ice, creating a freezing cold meringue and although the flavour wasn’t particularly distinctive, it certainly had the fun factor.
Red cabbage gazpacho with pommery grain mustard ice cream sounded like a bit of an odd one but the blend of textures, flavours and temperatures worked together perfectly.
‘Jelly of quail, crayfish cream, chicken liver parfait, oak moss and truffle toast’ had a very theatrical presentation. It started with a box filled with moss being placed on the table and we were told to put a little sheet of edible plastic on our tongue which ‘tasted of the forest’. Some water was then poured over the moss which sent dry ice cascading over the table which was a great touch. The quail and crayfish was utterly divine and the little piece of truffle toast was moreish to say the least.
Bread was next, which was surprisingly simple; a choice of white or brown sourdough with some really salty butter – hoorah, salty butter! Don’t get me wrong, the bread was really good, but I was kind of hoping for a bit of choice – a bit of three Michelin star variety.
‘Snail Porridge’, which has become something of a signature dish, was a vibrantly green, herby soup filled with actual porridge oats and sliced snails. I’ve never had snails cooked so perfectly before; so often they’re like rubbery bits of leather but here they were as soft as anything.
The roast foie gras was a real highlight and it easily wins the award for the best foie I’ve ever tasted. The crab biscuit that was sticking out the top of it had both a sweet and seafood flavour which was great and the perfectly formed dollop of barberry (not had that before) was a brilliantly sharp accompaniment for the richness of it all.
The ‘Mad Hatter’s Tea Party’ brought a touch of theatre back to the table. We were presented with a box of gold covered pocket watches which were then dropped into a teapot filled with hot water. As it melted to create a beefy stock (which honestly tasted like Bovril) we then had to pour it over an eggy creme caramel concoction which had tiny mushrooms sticking out of it – the attention to a detail was ever so impressive. The highlight of all of that work however was a simple ‘burnt toast sandwich’ which was absolutely delicious.
Next was another signature dish of theirs, ‘Sound of the Sea’, which was served with a giant shell that had an iPod hidden inside. The idea is you can taste something that looks like a wave crashing onto the beach whilst listening to exactly that – it was most bizarre. The dish wasn’t for the faint hearted though as the seafood aroma and taste was epicly strong – it was too overbearing for my lady friend but I really loved it. The only thing that let it down was a piece of chewy, rubbery octopus – which was a shocking oversight for a three star kitchen.
‘Salmon poached in a liquorice gel’ was such a clever balancing act of flavours. The tiny balls of Golden Trout roe provided an intense seafood explosion, whilst the vanilla mayonnaise was sweet yet didn’t make it feel like a pudding and the tiny pieces of grapefruit brought a refreshing touch to it all. A beautiful plate of food too.
‘Lamb with cucumber’ was a more straighforward dish – the lamb was cooked well and the cucumber was a refreshing companion for it. There was even a little strip of crispy lamb fat sticking out the top – crispy lamb fat makes me very happy. The side dish filled with the heart and liver was a nice touch and a cold jellied consommé, which gave my taste buds an intense meaty wallop, was very pleasant indeed.
‘Hot and iced tea’ was ever so clever; it was a small glass of tea – one side hot and the other side cold. You could even feel both temperatures go down your throat which was insane.
Both puddings were really enjoyable ‘Macerated strawberries’ was a pretty little thing but it was ‘Botrytis Cinerea’ (which is a kind of mould?!) that was the stand out pud. Each little ball represented a flavour present in Sauternes, so when you took a mouthful of everything at once it was actually like you were drinking the stuff.
‘Whisk(e)y Wine Gums’ were little whiskey jellies that were stuck on a framed map which made for slightly bizarre presentation. The final sweet thing in this epic luncheon was ‘Like a Kid in a Sweet Shop’ – the edible chocolate playing card and toffee in an edible plastic wrapper were real highlights.
Without doubt I really enjoyed our lunch; it’s definitely an experience worth experiencing – the only slight problem for me is the cost. The tasting menu is £195 a head (plus booze), but after they return from a sixth month Fat Duck residency in Sydney that price is going up to £220. Don’t get me wrong now, it’s a brilliant restaurant with clever food and lovely staff, but is it really worth that kind of dollar? I’ll have to think about that one….