Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Restaurant Review: The Fat Duck
High Street, Bray, Berkshire, England
The Fat Duck, Heston Blumenthal's restaurant. Currently the best restaurant in the UK, and third overall in the world. A former number one in the world in 2005, and running up to El Bulli for the last four years. The Fat Duck is famous for it scientific approach to cooking and has been highly influential in the molecular gastronomy movement. This was the number one restaurant I wanted to go to when Kathy asked me send her a list of places I wanted to go. Lets just say I had high expectations going in.
This is the sign outside, the only distinguishing marking to tell you where the restaurant is, other then that it is a very discreet building
The restaurant is located about forty-five minutes west of London in a town called Bray. We, Kathy, Cam, Siobhan, and I, took the train from Paddington Station in London to Bray and then it was about a five minute cab ride from the Bray train station. Or cab driver stopped by an unmarked old looking house and told us we had arrived, like I said the building was quite discreet. At a restaurant of this caliber there is really no need to advertise, especially outside the building as there is no way they would take walk-ins. We entered the building and took our seats. First impressions were quite different from Gordon Ramsay's. The dinning room was quite small with low ceilings. We were told that the building itself was over two hundred years old, and use to be a farm house. Overall it felt very warm and cozy, with the old wooden beams running across the ceiling and the fireplace across from out table. Very different but still very nice and welcoming.
We sat and the sommelier approached out table and offered champagne. He showed a menu first to Cam, and then to me, and we both pointed to give it to Kathy. Kathy selected a bottle of champagne for the table. The then Maitre'd came over to show us the set menu and said to go over it and they would make any changes if there was anything we didn't like or had an allergy too. We went over the menu and our first reaction was how large it was. We did not really need to make any changes to it, other then Siobhan being a vegetarian which they were alerted to when the reservation was made. Next came time to select wine. Now out of all the restaurants we went to The Fat Duck was the only restaurant with set wine parings, in the end it comes to about eight glasses of wine over the course of the entire dinner. That may sound like a lot but you have to understand that this is not just some dinner, it is more then that. I would compare it to a night at the theater and eating a meal here takes around four to five hours. In fact the menu itself was inspired from Alice in Wonderland and followed that theme throughout the dinner. It is a spectacle for all your senses. Nostalgia foods as Heston Blumenthal puts it, he is trying to evoke feelings through slight, sound, smell, and especially taste.
Our menus were set, our wine parings picked, and our first glass of champagne done, let the theatrics begin...
A server approached our table with a cart. On it was a container, a vat of liquid nitrogen, a pressurized canister of egg whites, and a bag full of flavorings.
Nitro Poached Green Tea and Lime Mousse
The liquid nitrogen was poured into the contained and then some of the egg white was shot into the nitrogen. The extreme cold turns the egg whites into a mousse and it placed on your plate and the flavoring of green tea and lime is dabbed on. This was just a palate cleanser, and it was very refreshing. Quite cold but warmed up quickly in your mouth and the fresh flavors of green tea and lime come through. Very interesting.
RED CABBAGE GAZPACHO
Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream
This was our first course, and again it was very interesting. The gazpacho itself was quite sweet, but the mustard flavor of the ice cream came through to cut the sweetness and round out the dish. Separately the two components are not very good, but once you eat them together it is a complexly different flavor. Very well done and very interesting dish.
More theatrics for our next dish. That is real moss in that box, and we were told to place the strip inside the container on our tongues as she sprayed a moss scent above our heads.
Next she poured liquid nitrogen into the box to cover the table in mist and we were told to dig into our next course.
JELLY OF QUAIL, CRAYFISH CREAM
Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast
2002 Peter Lehmann, Riesling Reserve, Eden Valley
This course was the first we had a wine paring with. The quail and crayfish cream were quite rich but had a velvety smooth texture, and the sweetness of the riesling complemented it perfectly. The toast was quite interesting, with the moss flavor and aroma already on our palates, the flavor of the chicken liver came through. This was a course that played with all the senses, and it was a very interesting experience, and one of the most memorable of all for me.
Jabugo Ham, Shaved Fennel
2006 Collio Blanco, Klin, Primosic, Friuli-Veneza-Giulla
The snail porridge was again very interesting, see a theme developing. The texture was like porridge but the flavor was completely different. You could taste all the components separately, but also as one, I have having trouble explaining exactly how it tasted. I will just say I am a fan of snail, and it still had the distinct flavor of snail but something else as well. I liked the dish.
ROAST FOIE GRAS
Gooseberry, Braised Konbu and Crab Biscuit
2008 Vouvary, Abbaye De Marmoutier, Vigneau-Chevreau, Loire Valley
Now over the last few weeks, I have had my fare share of foie gras, and I have developed quite the taste for it. I love foie gras, and I have to say nothing really stood out about this foie gras. It was good and well prepared. The gooseberry complemented it nicely, but I have had better foie gras, and to me this dish did not stand out the same way the others had.
More theatrics with the next course, the bowl was placed in front of us without any liquid in it with a tea cup of hot water and then she opened a case with four pocket watches in it. We were to take the pocket watch and dip it into our tea cups to let it dissolve and then pour the contents into the bowl. This was suppose to resemble when the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland dips his pocket watch in his tea at the Mad Hatters tea party.
MOCK TURTLE SOUP (c. 1850)
"Mad Hatter Tea"
Turtle soup reached the height of its popularity in the 19th century in Britain but because turtle meat was prohibited and very difficult to import the alternative "mock" turtle soup was developed using calves' head and feet. The tea that we had to make was a beef consume. It was poured over an egg, a beef dumpling and a few fresh herbs. The gold flakes you see are from the watch. This consume was quite flavorful but because of the way it is served I felt that is was not hot enough. Other then that this dish was quite good.
For the next course they really tried to play with your senses again. We were given big seashells that had head phones coming out. You were to put the head phones in and listen while you eat the dish.
"SOUND OF THE SEA"
DaiGinjo Masumi Nanago, Miyasaka Brewery, Nagano Prefecture
This dish was a little over the top. They would not tell you what it was until after we ate it. We sat and listened to the sounds of the ocean, waves crashing, and seagulls screaming while we ate this dish that appeared to be sand, seaweed, and ocean foam. The flavors and textures were nice, but it felt like a bit much with the headphones in and everything. One thing I can say though is never has food changed a wine as much as it did for this dish. The sommelier warned us not to drink the sake before we started eating this dish. I had to see why, and the sake was very biter until you had it with the dish, it became very mellow and quite nice.
SALMON POACHED IN LIQUORICE
Artichoke, Vanilla Mayonnaise and Golden Trout Roe
2004 Quinta Da Falorga, Garrafeira, Dao
Although this dish did not exactly stand out for me, it was quite interesting. I have never tasted salmon like that before, in fact it did not taste like salmon at all. It did have the texture of salmon but the flavor was completely different, the liquorice was quite pronounced. The vanilla mayonnaise did round out the flavor though. So like I said, this dish did not stand out among some of the others it did have an interesting and unique flavor.
POWDERED ANJOU PIGEON (c. 1720)
Blood Pudding, Potted Umbles, Spelt and Pickles
2004 Val Di Cornia Suvereto, Olpaio, Rubbia Al Colle, Tuscany
Blood pudding, how many of you squirmed a little bit when you read that. I have to admit when I saw it on the menu I did a bit too, but one thing when eating at a restaurant like this, you absolutely have to try everything. Even if it is something you think you will not like, the truth is the chef most likely knows what they are doing and whatever it is in the dish, it is there for a reason. I found this out, the blood pudding went wonderfully in this dish, it complemented the tender pigeon as well as the wine.
HOT & ICED TEA
Another dish that completely messed with your senses. I am not quite sure how they did it but it worked quite well. They placed the little cups in front of us and told us to take large sips but not to rotate the glass and keep it facing the same way. As you sipped on it you had the sensation of hot tea at the exact same time as iced tea. It was a very cool sensation. Now we discussed it a bit and were not sure if it was like oil and water and one was sitting on top of the other because it felt like the two temperatures were coming from both sides of the cup. Not sure how they did it, but it was very cool... and hot.
TAFFETY TART (c. 1660)
Caramelized Apple, Fennel, Rose and Candied Lemon
2007 Grasevina Izborna Berba Prosusenih Bobica, Krauthaker, Kutjevo, Slavonija
This was the first dessert course. Now I don't know if it was because we had eaten so much by this point or if I was starting to get a little drunk but, the desserts did not stand out to me. They were okay but it seem like they lacked a certain quality that the rest of the meal had.
Black Forest Gateau
2008 Alella, Dolc, Mataro, Alta Alella, Catalunia
Again this dessert did not stand out to me. The flavors were good, and the cake itself, was very soft and delicate but for me the wow factory that was present in all the other courses just was not there. Although one thing that did impress me was how perfectly formed the quenelle was.
WHISK(E)Y WINE GUMS
These were little whiskey wine gums, made from various famous whiskeys from around the world. They were good, tasted very much like whiskey, with a little bit of sweetness. Kathy said she preferred real wine gums.
"LIKE A KID IN A CANDY SHOP"
The final "course" we received was a little bag of goodies. It had four little treats in it. I am not going to post the pics of them because this post is already long enough. It came with Aerated Chocolate filled with mandarin jelly, Coconut Baccy coconut infused with aroma of black cavendish tobacco, Apple Pie Carmel with an edible wrapper, and The Queen of Hearts and she made some tarts. All the little treats in this bag were excellent with very good flavors.
Now after all that bombardment of sensations, what did I think of The Fat Duck in the end? Did it live up to everything I wanted it to be? Well it is funny but, when we first left The Fat Duck and we were on the train back to London we discussed what we had just taken part in. Initially and I am not sure why I was not impressed, maybe it was too much, a sensory overload, or maybe it was just too much to live up too, but what I really think it is, because now that I go back The Fat Duck was definitely one of the best restaurants that we went to on this whole trip. I think they peaked too early, it was all the early dishes that impressed me the most, I only realized that when I went back and started to look at the photos and started to write about it. Eating at The Fat Duck was most definitely more then just some meal, it was a complex and well thought out serious of sensations designed to provoke certain sensations and memories. In this sense it was like a piece of literature or art, the artist was trying to evoke some sort of emotion on the subject. So in the end I think The Fat Duck could easily be the best restaurant I have ever been to in my life, and why wouldn't it be, it is the number three ranked restaurant in the world.