Thursday, March 19, 2009

Dinner at the Fat Duck


I don't normally write restaurant reviews on this blog but this week I did something I have wanted to do for a long time and I need to tell the world.
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I had dinner at the Fat Duck.
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I am thoroughly intrigued by the pleasure and delight Heston Blumenthal obviously derives from making the food that he does and the apparent impossibility of mere mortals reproducing it. I really wanted to try it.
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Better and stranger than I was expecting it was like falling through the looking glass.
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But to start at the beginning. Months ago I rang the restaurant and, after waiting on hold for the best part of an hour I spoke to a friendly woman who told me I could have a table for four at 7pm on the 17th March. Had to say yes.
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Then we waited and waited and finally it was March. Time slowed.
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To snail's pace.
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And then, out of nowhere, it was March 17th. Our day!
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The man and I caught the train to Waterloo, Jaey and Marie joined us at Richmond and we got off at Windsor. We'd booked a cab to to Bray - got in to the wrong mini cab as it happens but hey - it was cold. And we got there!
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Place is tiny with low ceilings crisscrossed with beams. Lots of front of house - and all of them delightfully cheerful. Started with champagne - of course. Then a man came over with a trolley and what looked like an ice bucket which he filled with liquid nitrogen and then he made quenelles - one at a time - from egg white that had been mixed with lime and vodka which he then froze. Then this little frozen meringue was put on a plate and dusted with green tea powder and you eat the whole thing in one go - and it really is like nothing you have ever put in your mouth. Meanwhile they spray something with a little atomiser only you don't notice till you've swallowed and then you have this amazing scent of citrus and lime. They did this for each of us around the table - and our palettes were cleansed and we were buzzing.
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The first woman who served us told us they would serve a couple of dishes in quick succession to take the edge off our excitement and then we would be able to relax and enjoy the whole evening.Then there were a teaspoon size ball of grain mustard icecream - yes I ate it in one! - in a gazpacho of red cabbage that was darkest purple with tiny tiny cubes of cucumber in the base, quickly followed by the most sublime thing you've ever seen. They brought out a square of oak moss about 30cm square onto which they tipped more liquid nitrogen to make it smoke so you had this really lovely smell of woodland forest. There were little tiny plastic cases about 2cm long that you popped open and there was a thin sheet like gold leaf that you put on your tongue and it melted to give you the flavour of smoked wood. Then you ate a tiny rectangle of truffle toast topped with miniscule dice of radish and in a separate deep cup was langoustine cream with a lump of foie gras parfait and tiny tiny cubes of quail jelly scattered like tiny jewels. Could not have been more impressed (I thought) and we did calm down a little, partly I think because it was already just like magic to be there and from now on it could not be a disappointment.
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A few minutes later it was the famous snail porridge - a circle of dense green made from puréed parsley and barley grains with black slices of snail and an elegant swirl of fennel ribbons on the top - just amazing flavours and textures, cooked raw clean rich - wow.
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Then the was cube of the most sublimely well cooked peice of foie gras studded with toasted pine nuts on a plate with a stripe of bitter almond cream and a kirsch cherry - and I think it was this one that a tiny stripe of zested lime. Each plate was so incredibly exquisite I wish I had taken a camera and shot each one before I started. Partly as an aide memoir and partly so I could lick them surreptitiously in case some magic of alchemy offered a final taste.
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Sound of the sea - whaaaa. First there were conch shells and each one had a mini ipod with the sound of a very english beach - ie more lonesome seagull than crashing wave. Then they gave us a 30 cm square dish that had a wooden base covered in shells and things and there was a raised glass square like a platform upon which everything was edible. There was sand made from tapioca that was so fabulous it had all of us determined to find out how it was done topped with tiny crunches of eel skin, individual slices of raw fish - yellowfin, salmon and mackerel, and a spume of foam down the side made from essence of fish. So beautiful to see and to eat.
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By now I never ever want to leave.
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The next plate has a thick rectangle of salmon that has a fine black skin made from intense liquorice that didn't penetrate the fish somehow, with a slick of vanilla mayonnaise with two halves of grilled artichoke heart and tiny drops of olive oil - a rendition of salmon in black & white. Strewn across the plate like petals were dozens and dozens of individual pellets of ruby grapefruit - you know the little tiny bubbles of flesh they have inside each segment? - adding colour and miniscule bursts of sour.
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There was a short hiatus of perhaps 10 minutes and I was vaguely aware of the other tables but not really. Though it is actually very small and the tables are quite close together you don't hear other conversations and there are an extraordinary number of staff but no sense that they are under each others' feet or putting any pressure on you to do anything other than have a fabulous time. They serve slices of a great sourdough bread - white and brown, with salted and unsalted butter - and whenever one of us finished a piece they would come and offer more individually, occasionally lifting the plate to clear the crumbs and replacing it again till all the savoury dishes were done.
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And indeed the next one was the last one of said savoury plates. Tiny - that word again - tiny portions of sliced perfectly rare pigeon, boned and rolled and poached in spiced red with a slick of what looked like dark blood and was in fact black pudding.
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Just swooning with pleasure.
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After that they came with little glasses of tea - ever so slightly jellied - one half hot and one half cold vertically in the glass - so strange a sensation - wonderful.
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They bought a bowl filled with those silver confectioners balls into which they had stuck four little ice cream cones with a crispy salty skin and filled with an apple curd. Waaah!
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Then little tubes that looked like hollowed out sticks with a kind of tube at the top like liquorice but we were warned not to eat it - it was there to scoop out the sherbert in the bottom of the 'stick' - and now our mouths are zinging and no one can stop smiling.
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The next plate has a thin orange stripe of mango a bright orange disk of the same and woody flavoured deep red/black thick stripe and a perfect ball of blackcurrant sorbet.
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I'm starting to worry that this might be coming to an end but they bring out mini cereal boxes with cornflakes that are really parsnip and a bowl to tip them into and a jug of parsnip flavoured milk to pour over them once you've tried them plain - all this after the woman announces that now it's time for breakfast!
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Still there is more - the man comes back with his liquid nitrogen and makes balls of frozen scrambled eggs - some of which sticks to the bottom of the pan just like real scrambled eggs - and he balances the eggs on top of little slices of pain perdu across which he drapes a slice of bacon. There is also tea jelly.
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It is almost over - but not quite yet. There are two more plates put onto the table - one with perfect shiny round disks of darkest chocolate that is violet in your mouth, then chocolate cups that are bubbly like aero's and taste of mandarin. On the other plate there are four caramels wrapped in cellophane which we are instructed to eat without unwrapping - which taste like essence of rich butter with a little crackle before the wrapper melts against your tongue.
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By now it is nearly 10.30 - we have been here since 7pm. I can't believe that really is it. I want to applaud it has been so astounding.
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Can't wait to go again.

4 comments:

Lizzie said...

No pictures?!

Great report, thanks for posting.

bron said...

I know - deeply regret deciding I wouldn't take a camera. Will have to go back again...

Krista said...

Glad you enjoyed your experience. I have a belated birthday present to collect on this summer so hope to finally visit shortly!

bron said...

Krista you are a lucky woman with that to look forward to...