Fat Duck. Where do I start. To be honest I have actually only been familiar with this restaurant for months, not years. Ironically, a colleague of mine, who would never ever imagine to be inside any fancy restaurant, pointed me to the Fat Duck’s website.
There was something about that website that intrigued me at first glance: The simplicity and the Fat Duck logo. Secondly, I liked the fact that I could find all the information I needed about the food, drinks, prices, how to get there and where to stay. The fact that the team behind FD had not just the physical enjoyment at the restaurant in mind but had considered the virtual experience of it also, provided me with an idea of something very well organised and above all clever. Too many restaurants use flash, which I hate, and think more of their own brand and promotion, than how to make it easy as possible for the user to find the right information he or she is looking for. But not Fat Duck.
After I in August last year read Laurent’s review of his Fat Duck experience, I knew that I had to go there too. Laurent had described a kind of restaurant that was unusual in a completely new and different way, which I found very appealing. Our taste in restaurants is very comparable.
Early September I happily realised that I would get a opportunity to visit London and of course I wanted to book a table at Heston Blumenthal’s famous place – even if it would mean that I should eat rye bread sandwiches or pasta with canned tomatoes for a whole week to save up the money.
Fat Duck allows reservations up till two months in advance, but I was in Rome at the time and rang the restaurant when I returned to Copenhagen around the 1st of October. Boy, I was glad that I didn’t wait any longer than that. Although I was reserving a table for lunch, I got only two choices of either noon or at 1.45 p.m. It seems like Fat Duck mostly gets reservations from fine guests who have secretaries to book for them. There was a funny misunderstanding between the woman one the phone and me, she though I was such a secretary, but she finally realised that I was in fact making the reservation just for myself.
I arrived 28 November very early in advance by train from Paddington to Maidenhead Station and then with a taxi to Bray and killed time on strutting around the little village until the clock was 1.45. As you probably imagine, I was excited as ever.
The room is smallish and divided in two by a few joisters in the middle. It was full apart from a single round table almost under the stairs, which would take you to the first floor and the loos. The room was buzzing with people gathered around the round tables, 12-15 in total. Various types of people, the very elegant four past-middle aged women friends, who would much later on play tricks on each other by paying the bill before the other could do it. These ladies were probably the owners of the limos parked just outside the restaurant at the mini parking lot with the waiting drivers.
Then there was the four young charming French speaking friends, the young English brother and sister allowing themselves only water and no tea or coffee after the dessert. There was a fine French business man with his chic and slim wife dressed in a Diane von Fürstenberg. There was a companionship of other three French middle aged couples, who were drinking White Burgundy from the same fine glasses I bought not so long ago. A few other tables, and then there was Trine.
The sommelier wheeled out the trolley with four different champagnes in front of the table for my selection. I knew from the wine list on the web that one of them was much more expensive than the rest, but naturally I had forgot which one that was. I therefore chose with my heart and selected the Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Brut Rosé 1999 and it’s the best champagne I’ve ever tasted as far as I can remember. I had never dreamed that champagne could be this seducing.
The Tattinger was incredibly nuanced in pleasing my palate, very very full in taste with fruit, so sophisticated with many tones and a gentleness so marvellous.
On a side note about wine lists, every restaurant should publish their wine list on their websites, really. They would save time at the beginning of a dinner because, then people wouldn’t need to study the whole book to find out what the wallet and the palate would be able to agree upon.
The first course was Nitro-Green Tea and Lime Mousse (2001) a little white ball, an egg shell with a soft middle of a sweet taste balanced with lime and that was cool and refreshing. Laurent has a small video of how this is created. Then a hailstorm of dishes followed:
Oyster, Passion Fruit Jelly,
Horseradish Cream, & Lavender
Pommery grain mustard ice cream,
red cabbage gaspacho
Parfait of Foie Gras
I thought is was fun to see my table completely covered with smoke but I didn’t fully understand why they did that. The texture of the parfait was smooth in a firm way and taste-wise very intense and amongst the best dishes of that day.
w/ Joselito Ham & Shaved Fennel
Roast Foie Gras w/ Almond Fluid Gel,
Cherry, & Chamomile
“Sound of the Sea”
My goodness. This dish could very well be the dish of my life. The whole sensing of it stimulated me beyond belief. It’s adorably and picturesquely beautiful. I have no recollection about the scent, but the taste and the feeling of the food in my mouth was fantastic and very tasty. I felt a slight crunchiness of the tapioca, softness and tickle-ness of the elusive foam. The ‘beach’ was hiding three fish and unfortunately I was only capable of catching that the last one was a superb oyster.
I ate it while I was listening to huge breaking waves splashing lappingly onto the sand coming from the iPod’s head phones. I was in my own private world, shutting out the ambience – just focused on enjoying the sound of the sea.
Salmon Poached in Licorice, Artichokes,
vanilla mayonnaise, & “Manni” Olive Oil
This dish was the only one that didn’t reach perfection. The salmon inside was wonderful, moist, very pure and clear in taste, a lovely quality, but the liquorice package didn’t work for me. The artichokes were exquisite and the vanilla mayo too much and too rich.
Ballotine of Anjou Pigeon
Black pudding “made to order”, pickling brine and spiced juices
Hot and Iced Tea
Mrs Marshall’s Margaret Cornet
Before the server brought me the ice-cream, I had got a small booklet introducing the cook Agnes Bertha Marshall, who was the first ever to write about the ice cream cone. Tasting this crisp cornet ginger ice cream afterwards, I couldn’t deny the affect and the sentiments that the read and the tasting had on me. I was really moved to tears and for the first time of my life.
Vanilla Stick w/ Citric Powder
Pine Sherbet Fountain (pre-hit)
Mango and Douglas Fir Puree
Bavarois of lychee and mango, blackcurrant sorbet
Nitro-Scrambled Egg and Bacon Ice Cream (2006)
The woman waiter Good Morning Madame’d me and explained that I would have scrambled eggs for dessert. With liquid nitrogene she turned the egg into ice-cream. The bacon was made of sugar and didn’t taste like bacon but added sweetness to the ice cream and to the toast. An entertaining and tasty dish, but a bit too rich for my appetite after that many dishes.
and tea jelly
Whisk(e)y Wine Gums
I know this looks kind of strange, but it was actually a whisky tasting. It was clear and easy to distinguish them from each other, and each had different flavours and degrees of smoke to it. I know just about zero about whisky but with this map I learned where each type of whisky originates. I was amazed at how much taste the staff had been able to encapsulate in those tiny gums.
Carrot and orange lolly, mandarin aerated chocolate, violet tartlet
Apple pie caramel “edible wrapper”
What was absolutely striking about this meal was the way that each dish was distinctly designed in taste. What I mean and love about this is that each dish was composed to stimulate the ability to identify flavours, a bit like when I’m tasting wine. A good wine makes me taste different aromas when the liquid passes through the tunnel of my mouth, the tip of my tongue, the middle, my palate, my gums and finally the back of my tongue. I experience sweetness, sour, bitterness and spices. Each bite at Fat Duck was like this. A designed tasting perfection.
Chuck wrote about FD that you can sense the chef’s enthusiasm for food *and* experience; instead of his cash register. This is true. There is a lot of gaming around with the extensive use of the nitrogene wizard at your table, the use of the iPod, but I found it sincere curiosity and the desire to share that. To me it wasn’t show-off.
A little word about the service which was fine and perfect (of course). In the beginning the staff was very formal, but after a while they mellowed. When ordering the champagne I also asked for a glass of white Burgundy to be served when I would have finished the rosé. At the instant of my thinking OK now please pour me more wine as my glass was empty, the sommelier came and suggested me a red one instead to accompany the more heavy courses. He also suggested to drink only water with the Sound of the Sea dish. I appreciated this guidance and got a 2002 Gaja La Maranca di Magari (in a Riedel glass btw.) offering a fat fruit scent, a fruity taste balanced with heavy tannins with hints of wood. The finish was restrained and long, and I really like it. The Magari matched the salmon/liquorice dish very well, because the pepper from the black shield made the wine’s flavours evolve in my mouth.
The look and feel of this envelope with the black stamp with the Fat Duck logo was so perfect, delicate and luxurious that I didn’t dare to open it during the lunch. I know this sounds silly, but I wanted to wait until I would start writing this post and providing me with the last sensing enjoyment of it. The paper has a soft outer skin like the feeling of velour whereas the inner side is sensed more rough. It’s a fine souvenir.
Fat Duck knocked me sideways and I have to go back. Some day.
Bravo Mr Heston Blumenthal!