It’s no secret that Damien and I are rather food obsessed. I mean, on our very first date he lured me in with his plans to go on a nine day foodie tour of hatted regional restaurants in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. When he asked me if I’d like to join him I immediately replied “Yes!” and as they say in the classics, the rest is history. Our love of all things to do with food was what helped to bring us together, and it is something that we have continued to enjoy since.
We have been fortunate to dine at some amazing restaurants together. Mutually, our all time favourite meals having been consumed (in no particular order of preference) at The Royal Mail (country Victoria), Est. (Sydney) and Iggy’s (Singapore). However, in recent times we have eased off on our fine dining extravagances. We genuinely enjoy food from all manner of countries and levels of sophistication.
We deliberated for quite a while as to whether we could justify including a dining experience at Heston Blumenthal’s foodie famous establishment The Fat Duck. Like many other Aussies we were captivated by his television series, and were simply amazed at the levels of his imagination and self-taught genius when creating food. Long before our year off was even a twinkle in our eyes we daydreamed about some miracle occurring where we would find ourselves in England and at his restaurant. To us, The Fat Duck seemed like our holy grail.
So it’s no surprise really that when our travel plans for 2012 were in gestation that we somehow managed to ponder whether “could we, should we” include a visit to Heston’s home of food. Ultimately, what we decided to do was hold off making the decision until we were already travelling. But the idea seemed to grow and grow and we were unable to put it to rest, so whilst on our travels we decided to leave it to fate (and to Bacchus). Due to the restaurants extreme popularity, you can only book up to three months in advance and you simply have to be the first cab off the rank when the bookings are open online to secure a table.
The end result was that we were successful in getting a reservation, and once we had that little confirmation blinking at us we were totally stoked!
The Fat Duck is situated in Bray, a little village outside of London, which we were to discover is also the residence of two other three Michelin Star restaurants. Heston’s restaurant, being near the top of San Pellegrino World’s Top 50 Restaurants list for nine years (including holding #1 or #2 spots for six of them), clearly sat proudly amongst it’s peers. It is however, a rather unassuming looking building from the outside. The inside too is not ostentatious but comfortable and appealing to dine in. We were particularly impressed with our table by the window and tucked away around a small corner, so not in the thick of it with the other diners. To be honest, I think we scored the best table in the house.
But getting down to the real point of this post, the question is, did it live up to our lofty expectations? The simple answer is YES. This dining experience was definitely the most outstanding one we have ever enjoyed. What set this experience apart from the others (in our now top four) is not just the exceptional food but the precision of the staff and the theatre of the presentation of the meals. It is worth mentioning that at no time during the three and a half hour meal did we feel over full. Experience has shown us that this is a sign of a well designed degustation menu. We both agreed that the matching wines we had were not as “wow” as we had hoped for (we could not afford the staggering prices of the more expensive matching wine option), but they were still lovely wines.
So without further ado, here is the menu and a brief description of our thoughts on each dish:
This amuse bouche was light and airy in texture and had a pleasingly delicate and subtle savoury flavour. It was a gentle introduction to what was to come.
NITRO POACHED APERITIFS
Vodka and Lime Sour, Gin and Tonic, Campari Soda
Our waiter rolled a trolley over to our table with laboratory looking equipment. He then asked us what flavour aperitif we would like. I chose Gin and Tonic, Damien chose Vodka and Lime Sour. He then explained that the foam he pumped out of a canister would be placed into the silver bucket of liquid nitrogen. The foam ball floated on top of the nitrogen. He then removed them. Mine was served as is with a twist of lemon, and Damien’s was dusted with a fine lime powder. Citrus Grove essence was sprayed in the air above us just before we popped the little aperitifs into our mouths. They melted into a slightly chewy mass. We both found them to be an extremely refreshing palate cleanser and noted that they were not as cold as we thought they would be.
RED CABBAGE GAZPACHO
Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream
This dish had simple and clean savoury flavours. The rich texture of the ice cream offered a nice progression in the meal but taken on its own was not the most outstanding dish. It’s place in the menu was well chosen.
JELLY OF QUAIL, CRAYFISH CREAM
Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast
(Homage to Alain Chapel)
Wine pairing: 2008 Collio, Klin, Primosic, Friuli-Venezia Giulia (Italy)
Words are pretty much insufficient to describe the awesomeness of this dish! This was our favourite dish of the meal. This was truly perfection. The food was presented with a wooden box of moss that overflowed with liquid nitrogen and coated the table with a delightful cloud of white mist. We were then asked to open small containers that held a tiny film of oak moss. Next we were advised to sample some of the Truffle Toast. The toasts were slightly crispy and coated in just the right amount of truffle and finely sliced radish. The piece de resistance was without doubt the white bowl containing distinct layers of chicken liver parfait, quail jelly and crayfish cream. The textures of these ingredients were immaculate as well. It was a faultless dish.
Iberico Bellota Ham, Shaved Fennel
Wine pairing: 2009 Bourgogne, Domaine Leflaive, Burgundy (France)
This was a surprising winner of a dish and generous in size. The flavours had a very distinct home cooked feel about them, Heston’s take on comfort food. I have not eaten snails before so it was a revelation to me what a pleasantly earthy flavour they had. Damien had tried snails before and noted that Heston bought out the delicate flavours beautifully, without any funkiness you usually get with snail dishes.
ROAST FOIE GRAS
Barberry, Braised Kombu and Crab Biscuit
Wine pairing: 2011 Pinot Gris, Signature, Rene Mure, Alsace (France)
It’s fair to say that if foie gras appears on a menu we often gravitate towards it. So we are well acquainted with this delicacy and the variety of ways it can be prepared. This dish was in a class of its own. I personally have never tasted better foie gras and didn’t realise it could be so silky smooth and melt in your mouth goodness. It was a taste explosion of the best kind. The Braised Kombu and Crab Biscuit were an ideal complement.
MAD HATTER’S TEA PARTY
Mock Turtle Soup, Pocket Watch and Toast Sandwich
In a series of fun dishes this one provided the best theatre. Our waitress asked us if we were familiar with the tale of Alice in Wonderland and we were presented with a bookmark quoting part of the story . The table was then adorned with a high tea centrepiece complete with a Mad Hatter’s top hat and toast sandwiches. We were next presented with an ornate box that was opened to reveal two gold leaf Pocket Watches. We were asked to then dunk our Pocket Watches (which had a tea bag string attached) into the water of our glass tea pots. They melted to produce the stock of the Mock Turtle Soup. The “tea” was then poured into our soup bowls and the gold leaf swirled around the other ingredients in a most eye catching way. It was such an enjoyable dish due to so many quirky elements to tell the story. Most importantly though the flavours were excellent as well. The toast sandwiches to Damien were inspired. They were literally very thin wafers of pressed toast between slices of bread.
“SOUND OF THE SEA”
Wine pairing: Daiginjo Masumi Nanago, Miyasaka Brewery, Nagano Prefecture (Japan)
This is one of Heston’s most famous dishes, and understandably so. In this dish he plays on the idea that all your senses, not just taste, sight and smell, can be used to enhance the flavours of the dish. After experiencing this, we both agree. Different kinds of sashimi and a variety of sea plants were beautifully arranged on a glass plate atop a bed of sand. A salty tasting foam and edible sand tied all the elements together. The key to the dish is that you listen to sounds of the seaside through head phones, presented in a sea shell, while you eat. We felt that the sake that went with this creation was the best food and wine pairing of the entire meal.
SALMON POACHED IN A LICORICE GEL
Artichokes, Vanilla Mayonnaise and Golden Trout Roe
Wine pairing: 2008 Vernese, La Grola, Allegrini, Veneto (Italy)
This was a dish that did not immediately wow us both but crept up on us as we ate more of it. This was an enjoyable dish however, the licorice flavour wasn’t very evident. We were particularly taken with the individually plucked grapefruit cells that formed a bed under the salmon. This is an example of the level of detail that went into this dish.
LAMB WITH CUCUMBER
Onion and Dill Fluid Gel
Wine pairing: 2007 Brunello di Montalcino, Poggio alle Mura, Castello Banfi, Tuscany (Italy)
This was another outstanding plate. The lamb was unbelievably succulent. The cucumber, cream and gravey complimented it wonderfully. The Onion and Dill Gel fluid was served separately and was amazingly rich and delicious. The lamb crackling didn’t go down to bad either! Yummo!
HOT & ICED TEA
What the?? This was a glass of tea gel that was indeed hot and ice cold at the same time. We were told to drink it in a particular direction to ensure we got the hot and cold drink equally. Bizarre, inventive and refreshing.
Olive Oil Biscuit, Chamomile and Coriander
Jelly and Ice Cream Cornet
Wine pairing: 2009 Passito di Pantelleria, Ben Rye, Donnafugata, Sicily (Italy)
Oh wow! This was just too pretty to be food, was it not art? It was the most beautifully presented meal of the day. And let’s just say that the taste equalled the presentation.
The Jelly and Ice Cream Cornet was presented to us exactly as a miniature ice cream cone. It was completely enjoyable but entirely overshadowed by the main part of the dessert.
Black Forest Gateau
Wine pairing: 2010 Alella, Dolc Mataro, Alta Alella, Catalunia (Spain)
This dessert was quite a contrast to the previous one due to its minimalist presentation. I am not usually overly interested in chocolate desserts, but this was sublime and the matched wine tasted like the cherry flavour of the cake. It was another standout pairing.
WHISK(E)Y WINE GUMS
These were presented on a small board that showed a map with each of the Whisk(e)y Wine Gums attached to where the Whiskeys came from. We were asked to pull the gums off the board in a particular order to better appreciate the variations in the five whiskeys used.
“LIKE A KID IN A SWEET SHOP”
We were each given a lolly bag that included the four sweets below. The names of each were presented a lolly scented card. I liked them all, Damien was not a fan of the Coconut Baccy. Our favourite was the Queen of Hearts which was sweet biscuit in a sugar coating made to look like a playing card. The Apple Pie Caramel was our second favourite.
Coconut Infused with an Aroma of Black Cavendish Tobacco
APPLE PIE CARAMEL
With an Edible Wrapper
(no need to unwrap)
THE QUEEN OF HEARTS
(she made some tarts….)