The Fat Duck
Some say that the Fat Duck is UK’s best restaurant. It has 3 Michelin stars (last one awarded in 2004) and the Fat Duck has been awarded from 1 to 3 Michelin stars in the fastest of time out of any 3 Michelin star restaurant and was voted the world’s best restaurant in 2005 (this year the St Pellegrino awards ranked it as the 33rd best restaurant). The Fat Duck is located in Bray, Berkshire, England, and most people, like me, travel to Bray just for the Fat Duck (or the neighbouring 3 Michelin star restaurant The Waterside Inn).
The owner of The Fat Duck is Heston Blumenthal (he no longer works in the restaurant and is not the main chef) and the restaurant opened in 1995. It is located in a very cute 16th century building, very similar to the surrounding cottages of Bray. The Fat Duck is one of those restaurants that serves molecular gastronomy food (although Heston apparently dislikes this term and thinks his food is a combination of cooking techniques and tricks on diners’ perceptions). There are 40 chefs in the Fat Duck as well as some people not classified as chefs, but just helping in the preparation process, so on average my guess is that there are around 60 people working there (some of them for free, but the main waiter explained to us that they have one of the highest number of paid staff out of any restaurant). On an average day they have between 80-90 covers a day between lunch and dinner (there are 13 tables inside). Just like in Noma, the Fat Duck has a laboratory next to the restaurant where the chefs develop new dishes.
My fried Ellen was organising a weekend to Bray, where a group of people rented out a cottage in Bray and then ate at the Fat Duck, and she invited my boyfriend and me to join. It is extremely hard to get a reservation at the Fat Duck, because the restaurant is so small, and you need to constantly call them all the time when the reservation lines open, to be successful. I have tried to do this many times before but been unsuccessful, so I was happy to find out that my friend Ellen had found a trick, you can rent one of the cottages in Bray (they are not cheap, on average £325 per night for 2 people) and get a reservation at the Fat Duck, as they arrange that for you. Ellen and her friends were staying in another cottage and my boyfriend and I had another cottage all to ourselves. We arrived in Bray at around 6pm, checked in and then waited for our 7pm reservation. We were actually so keen we went to the Fat Duck at 6.50 only to walk into a staff meeting and be told by the main waiter that we were too early and had to come back at 7pm. We went to see Ellen in the neighbouring cottage and then went back to the Fat Duck at 7.05.
When we were seated only one other table was occupied, and over the next 2 hours we watched people arrive and occupy the 13 tables in the room. What struck me was how small the Fat Duck was, it was like Noma, a small restaurant, where due to the size it is so hard to get in. After we were seated we ordered some champagne and at this point the main waiter invited us to have a look at the kitchen. Not sure why he invited us, and we were the only people that got invited to see the kitchen, which I thought was a nice gesture of them. What surprised us both was how small the kitchen was, it was tiny and full of chefs. There were actually two parts of the kitchen, divided by a wall and each of them was very small. It was surprising to me a restaurant could be fully functional and so good with such a small working area. We also got to meet the main chef who was Canadian and who was absolutely lovely and telling us about the amuse bouche that we got as we were talking to him. The amuse bouche was a delicious beetroot infused ball, and the chef was explaining how they make the taste so strong as it is beetroot juice they use in a special way. The explanation sounded incredible, but unfortunately I have now forgotten the details.
When we came back to our table from the kitchen visit we had our first course, which was “nitro poached aperitifs”. A lady came to our table and said she will make an aperitif with liquid nitrogen and we had to chose a flavour from “vodka and lime sour”, “Campari soda” or “tequila and grapefruit” and she said this will clean our palette and make us more hungry and ready for the rest of the 13 courses. We always share dishes but here the lady said we could not share these aperitifs and had to eat them as soon as they appeared on our plate. I chose the tequila and grapefruit aperitif and the lady made it in front of me and after a few minutes of mixing the aperitif in her liquid nitrogen bowl produced for me a roundish cold thing that she told me I had to eat straight away. I was so excited about eating my first course at the Fat Duck, I even forgot to take a picture. Luckily I managed to take a picture of my boyfriend reaching out for his “Campari soda” aperitif, but he was equally keen and hence his hand is in the picture. I don’t think the taste of these aperitifs was incredible, but it was tasty, and a great show, great opening to the Fat Duck meal, and my aperitif did taste like grapefruit and tequila. I enjoyed it.
The next, 2nd dish, was “red cabbage gazpacho with pommery grain mustard ice cream”. I have seen a lot of criticism of this dish by food critics, who don’t like it, but I absolutely loved it and my boyfriend thinks this is because it had that eastern European sort of taste to it.
The third dish was called “jelly of quail, crayfish cream, chicken liver parfait, oak moss and truffle toast”, a dish that was supposed to trigger your senses, and first the waiter brought you a small package that had sort of thin film in it that you had to put on your tongue and this should have triggered your smell of moss. The waiter had brought a little box full of moss and then poured something like liquid nitrogen over it and you were supposed to smell it and get in the mood for eating. I did not think the film tasted of much, and it did not really trigger my sense of smell, as I tried super hard to smell the moss but could not really, and neither could my boyfriend, but once again the thought put into this was interesting. Then it was time for the food and we were given two things, a small and cute truffle toast topped with radish and parsley as well as chicken liver parfait with jelly of quail in crayfish cream. I very much enjoyed the truffle toast, thought that was delicious, and I liked the chicken liver parfait with the sauce that was put in a very cute round plate but was less keen on it.
The 4th dish was the iconic “snail porridge, Iberico Bellota ham, shaved fennel” and I was given a small bowl of green coloured porridge that had snails and Iberico Bellota ham in it and it was topped with shaved fennel. I absolutely loved it and when I was eating it was thinking I would love to have this porridge for breakfast every day instead of the sweet banana and honey porridges I usually have. The shaved fennel was so thin and lovely and I usually would not eat or order snails and here I loved them. Great dish in terms of taste, creativity, execution and look.
For the fifth dish, my boyfriend and I got different things, not really sure why. My boyfriend was given “roast foie gras, barberry, confit kombu and crab biscuit”. Barberry is a type of plant and kombu is an edible kelp and the foie gras was beautifully plated topped with barberry and crab biscuit. I tried a bit of it and it was extremely powerful. Not sure how they had managed to cook it so intense, but it was very intense, slightly too intense for me, but very impressive. Instead of the foie gras I got three scallops which were perfectly cooked, I have not seen them as well cooked before really where they are so nice and crispy on one side and perfect inside and they were served with some sauce and some spices. I am not the biggest fan of scallops, but I did very much appreciate the skill in the dish.
The 6th dish was probably the most memorable one and one of the dishes that created the most discussion among us, Alice in Wonderland inspired dish, called “Mad Hatter’s tea party” which had “mock turtle soup, pocket watch and toast sandwich”. The thought behind this dish was amazing, there was such a show. At first you were brought a teapot full of water and a cup underneath it, each were made out of see-through glass so you could see that in the tea cup underneath the tea pot was a small egg made from turnip custard, pieces of cucumber and some ox tongue. Then the waiter brought you a fob watch that looked like it was made out of gold, and in Alice in Wonderland the rabbit dipped the fob watch into the tea, and in the same way you take the golden fob watch which is made out of freeze-dried beef stock covered with gold leaf and you drop it into the tea pot and watch it dissolve into your own beef stock which you then pour over the vegetables and ox tongue in the tea cup and you have made yourself a wonderful soup. I liked the show of the soup and creating it more than I liked the taste of the soup, but it was very good. By this time the waiters had also brought you a plate of sandwiches in the most amazing plate that is topped with a hat that looks like the mad hatter’s hat. The sandwiches were cute and small and had many different things inside of them including homemade ketchup. I liked the taste, although it was quite unusual and I would not like to have these sandwiches every day for lunch, but tasting them like this was quite interesting
The 7th course is the one that gets a lot of press and is one of the most famous courses at the Fat Duck called “sound of the sea”. At first the waiters brought you this large beautiful seashell that had an ipod mini nano inside of it and you put the headphones inside of your ears and listened to wonderful sea waves. This was supposed to get you into the mood for the fish course that followed. Then you were given a gorgeous plate that had sand, which was covered by glass and on this glass the seafood, fish and various sea vegetables and plants were arranged in one line and next to it was a line of foam which sort of reminded you of the sea foam, and on the other side of the seafood was the “beach” which was supposed to make you think of sand made out of tapioca, breadcrumbs and eel. It was extremely though out, and just beautiful. The waiter also said that they had abalone as one of the fish, and they source it from Northern Ireland, and very few restaurants use abalone, but they want to. I loved all the various fish and seafood on the plate, and I ate everything and I would never order abalone in a Chinese restaurant, but here I did not even know which piece was abalone and I happily ate it.
The 8th course was the one that my friend Ellen liked the most called “salmon poached in liquorice gel” which was served with artichokes, vanilla mayonnaise and golden trout roe on top of the salmon. The colour of the salmon was dark as if poached in liquorice, and I don’t like liquorice at all, but I could not really taste it with the salmon. My boyfriend and Ellen said they could, but I was just eating a lovely and flavoursome salmon dish with artichokes, which I also like.
The 9th course was “Lamb with cucumber”, and you got sliced pieces of lamb with small pieces of cucumber, which also had green pepper and caviar oil. The plate was wonderfully decorated, beautiful green and brown colours. The lamb was extremely soft and tender and it just melted in your mouth, it was a beautiful piece of meat and beautifully cooked, and went so well with all the other things on the plate, a great little lamb dish. We also got a side dish of small pieces of lamb neck, heart and some other piece of lamb. I found these extremely strong in flavour and overwhelming and could not have too much of this.
By this time we had finished with our main courses and we had a little in between course, “hot and iced tea”, and it was extremely interesting how they had made it. The cup and the around of it was hot, and inside there was cold tea, and you drank it and tasted hot and cold tea at the same time. I have no idea how they had made this so the hot and cold did not mix together, but it was great.
The next course was one of my favourite courses at the Fat Duck, called “botrytis cinerea” and it is a necrotrophic fungus that affects many plant species, but mainly wine grapes. I am not really sure which part of the dish was made with fungus though. The dish we were presented with was beautiful, it had these different textured and different colour and size round balls and all of them tasted like different types of wine. So it felt like you were eating wine. The textures of some of these were incredible and they were served with this delicious crumble. I thought it was an incredible course to move us into the deserts, superb.
The 12th course was something my boyfriend loved called “eggs is verjus, verjus in eggs” and we were brought what looked like an egg, but it was no ordinary egg and it was made out of white chocolate (the outside of it was in the colour of the egg) and the inside of the egg was made like a real egg with a yolk and egg white and it was made so well, and it was incredibly delicious. It was placed on some crunchy sweet bits. The skill going into this was incredible, how you could make it so tasty and everything like in the texture of egg, the outer shell was hard and the inside of it was soft, like a soft boiled egg, just phenomenal. One of the best dishes I have had in a while.
The 13th course was one of my personal favourites, as I love wine gums, and it was called “Whisk(e)y wine gums” and they brought you a large frame that inside of it had a map of Scotland and on different places of Scotland (and a small bit of USA map next to Scotland) it had little wine gums in the shape of whiskey bottles. They were numbered and you were supposed to start with number 1 and move to number 5. The first whiskey wine gum was from Speyside Glenlivet and it actually tasted like the whiskey from this area (according to my boyfriend, I would not know). I don’t really know what different whiskey’s taste like, the only one I sort of know what it tastes like was Tennessee Jack Daniels, which was the last whiskey and the wine gum did taste like it, and what was amazing that all these wine gums had these strong interesting flavours. My boyfriend was saying one of the whiskeys has a super smokey flavour and the wine gum was exactly like it. Another just incredible dish.
The last course was called “like a kid in a sweet shop” and the waiter brought you this pretty paper sort of take away bag with pink and white stripes, and you could have a look inside and eat the variety of amazing things that were inside. There were four things, and my favourite one and the most impressive was “the queen of hearts” and it was a small edible chocolate made like the card queen of hearts. It was incredible how real it looked, just like the playing card, and you could not guess it was edible, yet it was so tasty, so thin, yet full of all these wonderful flavours, just incredible. Another thing that I very much liked was a small toffy called “apple pie caramel” which had an edible wrapper, so you just put it in your mouth with the wrapper. It tasted like apple and caramel, delicious. The other things in the bag were “aerated chocolate, mandarin jelly” which was a small round chocolate. The other cool thing was the “coconut baccy” which was coconut infused with an aroma of black cayendish tobacco and it was served in this cool green bag, like roll on cigarette insides are. I did not like the taste of it that much, but thought the presentation was excellent.
I thought I had an incredible meal at the Fat Duck and so many of these dishes I will remember for years to come, and I thought they were some of the most impressive dishes I have seen. However what I did not like was how long it took. We arrived at 7, and we left after 11, so we spend there more than 4 hours. I had 22 courses at Noma, so 1/3 more in the same amount of time. A lot of the time it just felt extremely stretched out, and we were just bored at some times waiting for 15 minutes for our next course to arrive. I wish they had made it a bit quicker, although I do understand that it is probably hard to cook for so many people in the small kitchen. Also whilst I think the meal was incredible, I do prefer Noma and my meal there, as Noma felt like it had more soul. Also this meal was more expensive than the one in Noma, and the most expensive meal I have ever had. However I do think anyone should go at least once to the Fat Duck. Also the cool thing is that after you have been there they send you a video, a sort of cartoon, incorporating all the dishes and ingredients you had, that you watch and remember your incredible meal.
Date: 13/ 09/ 13
Price for 2 people with alcohol and service charge: £597.88