Many years ago, when I had fewer responsibilities than I have today, and a job that paid enough for me to indulge my every whim and fantasy, I went to Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck restaurant. At the time, it was officially The Best Restaurant In The World – and it didn’t disappoint. I have longed to go back there ever since, but three kids and a lack of funds prevents me from doing so.
However, I can live vicariously, and one of the members of our Dads’ Dining Club was treated to the Birthday Treat Of All Time by being taken to Heston’s Three-Star pearl.
And so, I am handing over my blog to my friend Scott – who was my dining companion on that heady day evening back in 2006 – for his review of The Fat Duck.
“For any serious foodie, a visit to The Fat Duck is definitely high up on the list of things to do before you die. Last year I opened a Christmas card from my wife and a hand written note fell out telling me that my present was dinner at this fabled establishment. I was of course ecstatic and asked her when we were going and how long it had taken her to secure a table? “ I haven’t booked yet” she replied “ I have to log on to a website at exactly 10am on January 2nd and see if we get lucky”. So not exactly a firm booking then! However, we made it to the reserve list that day and it came to pass that last Saturday night my wife and I along with two other couples entered through the ( very small) door of the restaurant that has held the title of the ‘best in the world’ and has been voted the best in the UK for five years running.
Owner Heston Blumenthal has become world renowned as a ‘culinary alchemist who researches the molecular compounds of dishes to enable a greater understanding of taste and flavour’. His words. It is on this basis that you have to approach your dining experience at the Fat Duck as you are not really going there for dinner in the true sense of the word.
For a start, there is no menu choice as they did away with their A La Carte menu some years ago. Instead, there is a 14 course tasting extravaganza priced at £195 per person for which you need to allow four hours. Whenever The Fat Duck is mentioned, most people immediately think Snail Porridge which is indeed on the menu and is a timeless classic.
“However for those of us lucky enough to have been there before ( I went with Keith in 2006) there are plenty of new additions. For the full tasting menu, just click on the website. It gives you a general idea of the dishes but in no way can it give you any idea of the experience. It is themed around Alice in Wonderland and one particular dish is perfectly named as the ‘Mad Hatters Tea Party (c.1850)’ Mock Turtle Soup, Pocket Watch and Toast Sandwich. No other restaurant in the world could get away with something so ridiculous on paper but believe me, it was the most extraordinary culinary theatre.
All of the waiting staff have been expertly trained to strike the perfect balance between traditional 3 star service with the whimsical flourishes that need to be deployed to complete the experience. For this course, a glass teapot containing hot water sits on top of another bowl containing various ingredients that represent the head of a caterpillar made of a puree of turnip and swede and a body made of Ox tongue cooked sous vide compressed with slices of lardo.
Once this was on the table, the waitress presented us with a glass case containing 6 gold ‘pocket watches’ which were in fact a kind of gelatinized bouillon composed of beef and mushroom stocks reduced into a syrup, leaf gelatine and 10-year-old Madeira, hand-wrapped with edible gold leaf. This was placed in the hot water in the teapot where it slowly dissolved into a consomme which was then poured on the contents below.
A three-tier stand was then placed in the centre of the table with little triangular sandwiches with a toast filling. The oooh’s and aaah’s that emanated from all of our mouths just summed up the evening perfectly. And that was before the dish was even tasted.
Multiply this by 14 extraordinary individual moments of culinary joy and you have the Fat Duck experience. All told we were at the table for 4 1/2 hours but never has time passed so quickly in a restaurant. Must be something to do with the magic pocket watch!
So in true DDC style here is my summation:
- Venue: Intimate and unassuming with a homely warmth about it. Only 40 covers and well spaced tables. The food is the star of the show here, so it doesn’t need to be anything more. 9.5/10
- Atmosphere: Clearly everybody is excited to be there and you almost have to stop yourself from nudging your companions as you feel part of something very special. We really could have been the only people in the room, so absorbed were we by what was in front of us. 9.5/10
- Food: Extraordinary. Any further superlatives are superfluous. 11/10
- Service: Faultless. A perfect mixture of the ultra high end attentiveness you would expect from a 3 star establishment with just the right amount of humour and whimsical flourishes. 10/10
- VFM: The most expensive meal I’ve ever eaten but the most amazing culinary experience which could probably only be equalled in one or two places in the world and therefore the universe. Therefore a bargain. 10/10
- The Wife: Perfect – 10/10!