Address: High Street Bray Berkshire SL6 2AQ
Telephone: +44 (0)1628 580333
SPOILER ALERT – Please do not read this review if you do not wish to see what the dishes at The Fat Duck look like.
I am perhaps not the most objective person when it comes to a review on The Fat Duck. After all, I am a big fan of the culinary genius Heston Blumenthal, and I have spent many happy evenings watching his UK Channel 4 TV show, Heston’s Feasts.
Needless to say, both the restaurant and Heston himself have received bag full of awards. The Fat Duck received its third Michelin star in 2004, and was voted the World’s Best Restaurant by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2005. This restaurant literally receives thousands of calls a day, and bookings are open on a rolling basis up to 90 days in advance. Since I did not manage to book early enough last time I was in London, when I finally got a table at The Fat Duck this time, I was acting like a jubilant fat kid in a cake shop (or a complete idiot)!
(If you are living in the UK, you should check their website for availability for the next few days. Bookings have to be cancelled 1 week in advance, therefore sometimes a few tables will be released for those days.)
As Heston started the restaurant by buying a small 450-year-old pub in Bray (which was all he could afford at the time), The Fat Duck is set in a quaint little house, in shades of white and brown and rustic with exposed wooden beams. Even though The Fat Duck is one of the top restaurants in the world, the ambience is approachable and unpretentious, qualities which are reflected in Heston himself. It is notable that this Michelin three-starred restaurant has no dress code (and I did go there in jeans).
We were presented with a leather-bound menu upon being seated. The restaurant only serves a Tasting Menu (£190), and still and sparking water is complimentary, while wine pairing will be at an additional cost of £125. We started our meal after the waiter warmly enquired if we had any dietary requirements.
(1) Each dish at The Fat Duck was an inspiring sensory experience, and we started our meal with an amuse bouche made with beetroot and sweet horseradish cream. The little tart popped in my mouth, and was very light and crispy, like a very airy form of meringue. The exciting contrast between beetroot and horseradish already set the bar high for this meal.
(2) Our first course was a Nitrogen Poached Aperitif, which came in a Vodka and Lime flavour, a Gin and Tonic flavour and a Campari Soda flavour. The waiter gently “poached” a spoonful of cream in liquid nitrogen, making sure that the ball did not break. I went for Vodka and Lime, and the waiter sprayed a bit of lemon perfume around us as we ate. The ball was icy and was lightly crispy on the outside while soft and runny on the inside, and had to be eaten very quickly.
(3) What followed was the Red Cabbage Gazpacho, served with a Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream. The creamy and fatty taste of the ice cream blew my mind, and it worked excellently with the gazpacho which had an intense, perceptible red cabbage taste. Not to mention that the colours were beautiful!
(4) The Jelly of Quail, Crayfish Cream was perhaps the most theatrical course. The theme was based on a walk through the jungle, which Heston thought was best embodied by moss and truffle. We were told to put a tiny film on the tip of our tongue to get an oak taste, while the waiter poured water into the grass patch to release the smell of oak trees (in the form of dramatic white fumes); we then dug into the silky smooth Chicken Liver Parfait and a piece of Truffle Toast, which was light and crunchy and absolutely scrumptious. It is worth a mention that somehow my brother and I did not react to the smell and taste of oak/ moss very strongly. Heston believes that tastes can be altered by our other senses and are sometimes very subjective, and this is an instance where moss simply doesn’t mean very much to us (even though we found the truffle hugely exciting).
(5) It was soothing to finally have some hot food, a bowl of Snail Porridge with Iberico Bellota Ham and Shaved Fennel. The snails were tender and supple, and the porridge was cooked to perfection, just like what I would want my breakfast to be! The grainy porridge matched excellently with the softness of the snails, and the fennel was a welcomed addition.
(6) The Roast Foie Gras was served with a piece of Braised Kombu seaweed from Japan and a semi-transparent sheet of Crab Biscuit. The roast foie gras was faultless – perfectly cooked and incredibly tender, while chopped chives, sesame and some sweet Barberry puree accentuated its deliciousness. The crab biscuit had a remarkable taste and reminded us of prawn crackers back in Hong Kong!
(7) The Mad Hatter’s Party, as its name suggests, is inspired by Alice in Wonderland. Heston is not only interested in innovative cuisine, he also looks back at many historical recipes (his strong interest in historical British cuisine is evident in the menu of his Mandarin Oriental restaurant, Dinner by Heston (see my review here)), and he tried to recreate a Mock Turtle Soup popular in the Victorian times. When turtles became unaffordable, people in those days starting making a mock turtle soup with a calf’s head, tail and feet. His version of the mock turtle soup was a calf broth, with one dramatic addition – a “Golden Watch” would be dissolved in a teapot of hot water, transforming it into your soup; the soup was flavour packed, and matched well with the blob of horseradish jelly.
On the Mad Hatter’s tray was the “Toast Sandwich“, which was literally a sandwich with a piece of toast as its filling. The thin, crispy toast had a gorgeous bite, and tasted a little bit like bacon!
(8) Sound of the Sea – this was the time when we had to put our headphones on. Sound of waves and chirping birds were played on an ipod nano so that we could feel like we were by the sea while we enjoyed our dish which resembled sand on a seashore. The dish comprised of cured mackerel and halibut, the powdery “sand” which had fried sardines in it, and foam which was made of seaweed and vegetable broth. The ingredients were bursting with fresh seafood flavours, and I was completely wow-ed by the amazing layers of textures! The attempt to create a serene seaside feeling was definitely achieved, as by the end of our course my brother and I were falling asleep from listening to the soundtrack.
(9) Finally a less ceremonial dish, the Salmon poached in a Liquorice Gel. The salmon was wonderfully soft, wrapped in a thin layer of liquorice gel and topped with Golden Trout Roe which popped in the mouth. The dish was then dotted with some Vanilla Mayonnaise which was creamy and sweet. I found the salmon magnificent, but my brother seemed to dislike the taste of the liquorice gel.
(10) This course was simply named “The Duck“, and it was definitely Michelin Three-Star worthy. The duck breast was exquisite – juicy, pink-middled meat and brimming with fresh, delicious flavours; it was served with potato puree and a “cigar” with shredded duck inside.
(11) My friends often spoke about this Hot & Iced Tea. Sweet in taste and thick in consistency, the magical thing about this tea was that it was simultaneously hot and cold – one sip would be hot, and then the next would be cold – it was a profound sensation (even though admittedly, if you don’t microwave liquids properly it would be simultaneously hot and cold too, if you get what I mean).
(12) Our first dessert was the Clove Caramelised Blackberries, served with Hojicha Tea Ice Cream Cornette.
The clove flavour in the blakcberries was a bit peculiar at first bite, but it soon got better and the whole taste just seemed very playful. The olive oil biscuit was delectably crumbly and melted in the mouth, and some crunchy pistacchio bits added the final touches.
(13) The “BFG” does not mean Roald Dahl’s Big Friendly Giant, it stands for Black Forest Gateau, a piece of kirch black forest cake, served with ultra-smooth kirsch ice cream. The waiter once again took out his spray, and gave us some kirsch smell while we enjoyed the cake. The gateau was cold, creamy and delectable, and the waiter explained that the dessert’s kirsch theme is based on black forests where cherries (used to make kirsch) come from. I found the kirsch taste incredibly lovely and enjoyed every spoonful of this delightful treat, while G expressed his dislike for the overly strong alcoholic taste.
(14) These Whisk(e)y Wine Gums were ingeniously stuck to a framed map of Scotland, with the gums being made from whiskey coming from various regions of Scotland. We were supposed to follow the key and eat from number 1 to number 5 so that there would be a crescendo in the intensity of whiskey flavours. My brother, who had actually given up on listening to the waiter’s introduction since the second course, foolishly went straight for Gum number 5 and almost spat it out as it tasted too strongly of Jack Daniel’s. I, on the other hand, savoured each bite of these chewy, adorable alcoholic candies. (N.B. I will not spit out anything that is sent out from Heston’s kitchen, even if he decides to make an absinthe porridge one day.)
(15) We ended our meal with this goodie bag called “Like a Kid in a Sweet Shop“. In it was a piece of aerated chocolate with mandarin jelly, which tasted refreshing and was very light in texture thanks to the aeration process. There was a pack of shredded caramelised coconut which was sweet, chewy and mellow and reminded us of tasty coconut desserts from Thailand; the apple pie caramel tasted just like normal caramel to me, and lastly, there was a piece of white chocolate with the Queen of Hearts printed on it (echoing the earlier Alice in Wonderland theme); the white chocolate was delicately thin, yet managed to sandwich a layer of strawberry filling in it – absolutely brilliant!
If I have not praised The Fat Duck enough in my review above, let me conclude by saying that dining there was a truly unforgettable, Charlie-and-the Chocolate-Factory sort of experience.