Tasting menu at £130/person, wine pairing at £90/person
The Big Fat Phone Bill
Good day and welcome to my Big Fat Duck Post!
I have been in two minds whether to even mention this, but in the interest of readers who have not yet been to The Fat Duck and are seriously considering going, I will spend a few paragraphs on the matter of securing a reservation at this temple of new British gastronomy.
If you work during the day, good luck to you.
Normally when you call the restaurant, you get an engaged tone. If you set your phone to automatic redial, you may just get through one lucky time within an hour, but usually you won’t. But that is only step one. If you are fortunate enough to get through the engaged tones, you will then hear one of two things.
The first option is a pre-recorded message telling you that the restaurant is now booked for the next two calendar months, and they don’t take reservations past that time frame. If you get this message, you can hold on and wait to speak to someone to be put on the waiting list in case of any cancellations. This will normally mean enduring anywhere from 20+ minutes of Alice in Wonderland being read to you (that is the restaurant’s hold ‘music’) – a rather nice idea and clearly the chef has a strong attachment to this great story (see ‘Mad Hatter Tea’ course further below), but it does get a bit old and irksome after many, many minutes of waiting. I got through once a number of months ago and spoke to a South African lady who told me that there was pretty much no point putting my name on the waiting list for a Friday or Saturday (of course, the only two nights I could really go), but I did so anyway and never heard back.
The second option is that you just go straight through to Alice, which means you may be in with a chance if you can just take off the rest of the morning or afternoon to wait. Oh, and one more thing, the reservations line is closed during lunch hours, so you will need to make sure it is a slow day at work and that you clear the morning or afternoon in your diary. I did this, and on my XXXth attempt, I finally got through to a living person after about 20 minutes. And low and behold, they had ‘the last’ table for two available at lunchtime on the Saturday about two months from when I was calling. I don’t think I let her finish before blurting out, “I’ll take it!”
It’s funny, I was extremely worked up about the whole off-putting experience of booking a table, but all of this built-up tension suddenly melted away when I found out I had reached what is possibly the second holiest grail of restaurant reservations in Europe (after El Bulli in Spain, of course).
The Famous Not-So-Fat Chef
I will not beleaguer you with the full biography and ethos of Heston Blumenthal, the chef behind this 3 Michelin star restaurant, which was again the only restaurant in Britain to achieve a full 10/10 in the Good Food Guide this year.
As many of you will be aware, he is one of the chief protagonists in what the media likes to term the ‘molecular gastronomy’ movement. This means that he is intimately interested in the physical and chemical transformations that different foods undergo in the cooking process and that he uses many modern-day – some would say scientific – techniques to create his whimsical dishes. For example, liquid nitrogen was employed in three of the courses during our meal. He is also by most accounts more or less self-taught, having run the restaurant for many years prior to gaining his fabled reputation both amongst his peers and the dining public.
About a year ago, he signed a contract with Channel 4, one of the main television channels in the UK, and has since then become a more familiar name and face amongst the British public through his two television series to-date: Big Chef Takes on Little Chef and Heston’s Feasts. I watched and enjoyed both series, and my key takeaways about Heston were as follows. He seems like a nice, ordinary, down-to-earth guy who is insanely passionate about food. He is intrinsically interested in challenging convention and creating holistic dining experiences where diners can truly enjoy and appreciate the whole act of the meal – not just the food, but the thoughts behind it, the atmosphere and space in which it is eaten, how it is served, and how the six senses experience the entirety of the event. Besides this, he is truly fascinated by the history of food, and loves to research the eating habits of our ancestors to understand how he can bring back some of the key elements of gastronomy from the past and reinvent them for the modern day, creating something both historic and completely new. Nothing embodies this more than the four feasts (Victorian, Tudor, Medieval & Roman) he cooked in the mini-series Heston’s Feasts, a program which I truly took pleasure in and from which I drew much inspiration.
But enough about Herr Heston, I will let you google away for further information on this genuinely intriguing character.
The Serendipitous Blue Road Sign
After months of redialing and Alice in Wonderland hold reading, we were finally on our way to Bray. Our table was booked for 12.30pm and we set out in search of our first 3-star meal in England. Unfortunately, I quickly realized we didn’t have nearly enough gas (petrol) for the return journey, so we would need to stop off on the motorway to fill up. We could only chuckle giddily when we saw that our selected service station was none other than the Heston Services located about halfway between central London and the idyllic waterside village of Bray, where The Fat Duck awaited. Serendipitous to say the least.
We arrived in Bray about half an hour early. Being the true geek I am, I had looked online to see what the building looked like, and even though I had the image of the restaurant’s facade ingrained within my head, we drove straight past it, then turned around once we had blinked and passed through Bray, and nearly passed it again. It seemed there was no parking at the restaurant, and that the parking lot near the village filed was full, but we eventually found the free village car park, which had a few spots left. Phew. No Big Fat Parking Meter, thank god.
As we didn’t want to be excessively early for our meal, we walked around the little village for about fifteen minutes before heading in. Bray is an amazingly beautiful, quaint and picturesque English village, with some magnificently preserved historic buildings and lovingly restored homes. We were very impressed and eventually meandered toward the one building we could no longer avoid.
The restaurant is housed within a small two-story building which looks like it could have either been a private residence or a small inn during olden times. The painted gray monochrome brick exterior is cool and understated, and the only real signs of what lurks beyond the doorway are the subtle metal weather pane-ish sign displaying The Fat Duck’s logo, with its clever integration of duck features (webbed feet and feathers) into three pieces of cutlery, a little gold Traditions & Qualité plaque near on the right side of the door, and a similar Relais & Château plaque on the left. We finally entered.
The Long Fat Meal
Inside, we found the shell of the old building splendidly restored (for instance, there were dark wooden beams along the ceiling) and at once noticed how low the ceiling was. In fact, once seated Mrs. LF pointed out that one of the taller waiters had to duck each time he passed the lowest of the beams, which was situated on the way from the pass to the main part of the dining room. While the room itself is quite small and square shaped (we estimated 50-60 covers), it is sort of broken up, with about one third of the dining space running along, and near, the long wall you see upon entering, and the other two thirds of the space set on the other side of an odd little fireplace which juts from the doorway into the room a little bit.
The decor is minimal and quite white with the exception of the brightly colored, wide rectangular abstract paintings of blues and yellows which accentuate the walls. The tables are fairly well spaced out given the size of the room and those set for two are arranged so that both people sit with their back to the wall looking outward into the room at 6 o’clock and 9 o’clock positions. Mrs. LF also noticed another rather nice feature when she looked out through the window. From outside, you cannot see into the restaurant, but once seated inside, you can see through the beige-brown fabric window shades, which is a good thing given how many people must walk by just to get a peek of what these strange people who spend hundreds or even thousands of pounds on lunch or dinner are being served.
All of the staff were dressed immaculately. However, the rather formal dress code belied the underlying character of the place and its people, which we found to be quite friendly and interactive, and in my mind that is nearly always a good thing.
After being seated, we were presented with some very nice green olives, and then left to ponder the menu.
A few months ago, The Fat Duck got rid of its à la carte menu, so now the only option is the tasting menu. It is about 13 courses all-in-all, so there’s not much to do besides look through, ponder what is in store and figure out whether you want a bottle (or bottles) of wine or one of the two pre-set wine pairings on offer. One of the wine pairings is £90/person and the other is nearly double that, and includes some older vintages. Strangely enough, the wines in the less expensive pairing option were slightly more interesting to me, so I decided to go for that, especially since three of the wines were the same on both menus anyway.
Before moving on, it must be said that both of the butters, one of which was unpasteurized, were of extremely high quality, as was the bread which is baked offsite according to specific recipes tailored for the restaurant.
(Note: you can click on any of photos below to get a full resolution image, with the exception of the last three paired images).
Course 1: LIME GROVE / Nitro Poached Green Tea & Lime Mousse
So, the first course was on, and the opening act of this theatrical meal was about to begin. Enter our specialist nitro-trained waitress, who was to prepare what I would describe as a ‘true’ amuse bouche. Out of the hazy white frozen smoke emerged a little white puff of green limey goodness, on top of which she quickly shook a powdered green tea concoction. From what looked like a little bottle of perfume (Fat Duck branded, of course, just like everything else that was to be served to us), she sprayed some essence of lime in the air and told us we must eat it immediately (I am guessing it may have started to dissolve and lose shape if left alone to oxidize for too long). It was probably the best opening to the meal we could have had. The sharp, refreshing citrus hit of lime immediately started to make us salivate, opened our appetite and got us very ready for the ensuing feast in which we were about to partake. 10/10.
Course 2: RED CABBAGE GAZPACHO / Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream
The next course was simple and beautiful. The gazpacho was sharp, crisp and totally refreshing, with the little vegetable micro cubes providing a bit of texture and flavor variation. But my favorite part of the dish by a long way was the mustard ice cream, which was ice cold against the only slightly chilled soup, sweet and slightly spicy, with a creamy texture that was punctuated by the occasional grain of what I presumed to be mustard. In fact, that ice cream is one of my fondest recollections from the whole meal. Another winner: simple, to the point and, for me, the perfect second course. 10/10.
The mysterious oak moss course…
Course 3: JELLY OF QUAIL, CREAM OF CRAWFISH / Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss & Truffle Toast (Homage to Alain Chapel)
After the spartan simplicity (by Blumenthal standards) of red cabbage gazpacho and mustard ice cream, intermission was over and the show was about to begin again. As we took our seats, our nitro-specialist returned. She explained that we were meant to take out the little dissolvable strip within the Fat Duck branded plastic containers (see first in series of pictures above), which contained wafer thin, semi-translucent strips similar to those breath fresheners that became popular about 5 years ago. We placed the strips on our tongues and a focused flavor of tree bark and moss (sour, woody, rich, round) enveloped our mouths. Truffles of course grow under oak trees, and as there was an intricate and beautifully presented truffle toast as one half of the course, I guess there is where the connection between the truffle and the oak moss comes (?).
Anyway, next, the waitress poured from her black metal teapot a good dose of what I presumed to be oak moss scented liquid nitro smoke. I personally didn’t get the whiff of oak moss, but it certainly made the experience more visually interesting.
Lest we forget the food, it was both different (parfait) and divine (truffle toast). The parfait had four distinct layers of liquid, moving from chicken liver to a jelly of quail (which really had the texture of Jell-O), to oak moss (which didn’t come through as much), to crayfish cream. It was rich, complex, challenging and very delicious. It was very well complemented by the thin, crisp toast topped with moist and chopped black truffles with stunningly presented semi-circular radishes and their green leaves. 9/10.
Course 4: ROAST FOIE GRAS / Gooseberry, Braised Konbu & Crab Biscuit
The next course brought a return to something more familiar, at least within a fine dining context. The foie gras was the perfect texture for me, being quite firm yet with a bit of give and its depth of flavor was wonderfully augmented by the thin slice of Konbu that I made sure to include with each bite. Konbu is a type of edible kelp typically found in Eastern Asia and is well known for containing copious amounts of umami. This pairing may have been too rich for some on its own, but it was greatly enhanced by the pink sauce of gooseberries which added a welcome note of acidity and tart fruitiness to the dish. The two crispy crab biscuits which were inserted between the slices of foie gras and stood vertically as goal posts were also excellent, having a deep sweet and sour flavor that again integrated well with the other components on the plate. The topping of what I believe were sesame seeds and chives was mild and seemed to mingle naturally with the other flavors. So maybe not as simple as it looked after all – pure Heston, pure deliciousness! 10/10.
The Mad Hatter Tea begins its crazy alchemy
Course 5: MOCK TURTLE SOUP (c.1850) / “Mad Hatter Tea”
Luckily, madness was to literally prevail again in the next course, which was the last of the entrées. This dish, or shall I say event, was actually a bit more familiar to me as I had seen Heston ‘invent’ this dish on the Victorian episode of his Feasts television series. The whole idea, and execution of it, was absolutely brilliant.
You are presented with a tea cup that has a golden watch for a teabag. Hot water is added and the edible gold leaf begins to disintegrate (but not completely), revealing a dark brown stock which has probably been frozen at various temperatures many times in order to attain the right texture for the purposes of this dish. Eventually, as you keep stirring the ‘tea’, you end up with a golden colored consommé. This is then poured over what has to be one of the most striking little arrangements I have ever seen (I mean, just look at the mock turtle egg with the little mushrooms sprouting up), in a shallow soup bowl. Once poured, it produced a truly exceptional looking soup and if Michel Roux Jr. had been there in all of his Masterchef: The Professionals glory (more to come on his uncle later on), I am sure he would have uttered his trademark phrase – it really was “as pretty as a picture”.
Luckily, the taste more than stood up to the looks. The broth was rich in flavor, yet it was a very light and succulent soup. The thing that stood out the most for us was the little cube of head cheese. It was composed of immaculate, thin slices of different colors and textures and tasted out of this world. We would have loved it if there had been another cube in the soup (more on that later too)! What a spectacular dish. 10/10.
The wines so far had been very good. The 2006 Trimbach Gewurztraminer had a nice pairing with the foie gras, being sweet and with a good kick of Alsacian acidity, although I had actually preferred the 2007 Riesling Kabinett, Joh. Jos. Prüm (Mosel, Germany), which had been served with the preceding oak moss course. Our English sommelier was very professional and gave a concise and interesting description of each wine served throughout the meal, answering a few barrages of questions here and there without breaking a sweat.
For the Mock Turtle Soup, the accompanying wine was a Madeira, which was a beautiful deep and golden color (see photo above) and an excellent though not altogether obvious partner. Its lush density and syrupy sweetness, which was tempered by a refreshing streak of acidity and hint of spice, somehow worked really well with the richness of the head cheese and the meats within the broth.
Taking a break before heading the rest of the way down the rabbit hole
Before heading onto the main courses, we were afforded a little break, and above you can see a little taster of what the room looks like – from the fireplace you see to your left upon entering, to some of the views from our wall into the main dining area.
Okay, the moment has arrived, the seashell iPods are out
Course 6: “SOUND OF THE SEA”
Next up was one of the most famous and classic dishes of The Fat Duck. We knew to expect the iPods inside the shells, but we certainly didn’t know how this unique concoction would taste. Although the iPod gimmick is a bit silly in the sense that the 20 seconds of looping wave sounds didn’t add that much (if anything) to the seaside experience of the dish, it was very successful in one way as all of the outside noise was drowned out and, instead of looking around or talking to each other, we were both firmly focused on the food in front of us, which got our 100% attention. So in this way, it worked.
And I am really glad that the plate had my full attention, because it was probably my favorite of the savory courses. The overall taste of the dish sort of eludes concise descriptions, so I will hesitate digging my own grave in trying to do so. I will only say that the three sashimi elements in the dish – halibut, yellow tail and mackerel – were exquisite, as were the two pink, ovular pieces of seaweed and the sand itself, which was a crunchy construction of smoked eel and something else which escapes our memory. Everything on the plate was edible. I very happily consumed it all, and was left wanting more. The overall sense I was left with was that of an extremely fresh, unctuous, slightly sweet and satisfyingly complex melange of flavors. 10/10.
The wine served with this course was in fact a sake – Ginjo Sake Dewazakura, Yamagata (Japan) to be specific – a drink of which I know nearly nothing. It was a generous helping, and I thought it complemented the flavors of the sea very well. It had a very floral nose and was actually quite a mild drink given the level of alcohol. Another inventive and successful combination.
Course 7: SALMON POACHED IN LIQUORICE / Artichokes, Vanilla Mayonaise, Golden Trout Roe & Manni Olive Oil
The next course sounded and tasted a bit more sane. The salmon had been slow cooked and was just slightly more than rare. The little cube of fish was encased within a thin skin of black liquorice. The fish had a wonderful texture and delicate taste, but the real star of this dish for me was the vanilla mayonnaise. It was sweet and luscious and although it could have been accused of dominating the dish, I just loved it. The vanilla was brought into check by the salty trout roe, the lovingly cooked artichokes (check out the placement of the little peppercorns on top of them), and the tang of the little pink grapefruit pearls that were sandwiched between the rows of vanilla mayonnaise dollops. After reading about how painstaking a job it had been to prepare these little pink grapefruit pearls, I think I appreciated them even more than I would have had I not known. For me, the liquorice flavor, which on the menu is listed in capital letters as the second most important flavor to the salmon just wasn’t present enough – I also strangely don’t remember tasting the olive oil – but besides this, I thought the dish worked well together, despite its unusual flavor combinations, which I found myself enjoying immensely. 9/10.
Course 8: POWEDERED ANJOU PIGEON (c.1720) / Blood Pudding & Confit of Umbles
This was another more traditional dish that had been well executed. The pigeon itself, from Anjou in the lower part of France’s Loire region, was perfectly cooked, tender and slightly gamey (as you’d expect).The little pieces of confit’d umbles (which is an Old English term for offal) was an equally rich accompaniment which I thought worked well. The deep purple black pudding had a thick consistency and a very strong flavor, which for me was nearly too much given the richness of the other ingredients. Luckily the wafer of crackling and the onions served to just about break up this maniacal ménage a trois. I was glad we were moving onto sweets next as I don’t think I could have handled another savory course. 9/10.
Course 9: TAFFETY TART (c.1660) / Carmelized Apple, Fennel, Rose & Candied Lemon
This was without exception one of the best and most enjoyable desserts I have had in recent memory. It also has to be one of the, if not the, most beautiful dessert I’ve been served in a very, very long time. The thin layers of caramelized apples were magical against the little balls of cream, the crunchy, wafer-thin pastry and posh granola topping. It was fresh, sweet, dense and somehow light at the same time. The other half of the dessert, of which the rose sorbet took centre stage, was a lovely companion to the tart. The candied fruits were as delectable as they were gorgeous, and I would have happily dusted off another plate of the same dessert if I had been given the chance. 10/10.
Course 10a: THE NOT-SO-FULL ENGLISH BREAKFAST / Parsnip Cereal
“Good morning ladies and gentleman, time to wake up, breakfast is now being served,” rifled off the head waiter. He explained that first before moving to our breakfast’s main course we would first be having a bit of cereal. He told us that the milk was very special as the cows in The Fat Duck’s back garden only feed on parsnips, so the milk may taste slightly different than what we were used to. He gave us each a little pitcher of this special milk and we hastily unwrapped our Fat Duck cereal boxes and found some parsnip flakes within. It may not look like much from the photos, but the cereal was heavenly. It was sweet and parsnippy and Mrs. LF commented that she wished she could have this for breakfast every morning. I whole-heartedly seconded the motion. 10/10.
Cooking without gas
Course 10b: THE NOT-SO-FULL ENGLISH BREAKFAST / Nitro-Scrambled Egg & Bacon Ice Cream
Let’s see now…how many courses had we eaten without any pomp, circumstance or nitro? It must have been too many, because the Royal Blumenthal Company was back at our table, with some major stage props to boot.
Our new, male nitro specialist had wheeled out a wooden cart on top of which resided a shiny copper tabletop cooking set. However, we were informed that, in fact, our breakfast would be cooked without any heat whatsoever. The waiter then produced a pair of ‘eggs’ from the Fat Duck egg carton, each with their own little red Fat Duck seals branded onto the shells. He proceeded to crack the ‘eggs’ and let the mysterious pale yellow liquid inside drain into the copper pan. To this he added some nitro gas from a silver thermos and began to stir the ‘eggs’ with his wooden spoon. Another waiter was standing next to him with our French toast and streaky bacon already plated. The nitro specialist carefully extracted the scrambled ‘eggs’ from the pan and placed them on top of the toast, and voila, breakfast was served.
This course of the breakfast/dessert was triumphant. I could not believe how some of my favorite flavor combinations – French toast, maple syrup and bacon – worked so well as a dessert. It was harmonious and sweet in a dessert way (not in an American breakfast way), with the caramelized brioche and sweet-saltiness of the faux bacon melding perfectly with the cold creaminess of the ‘eggs’. Once again, pure genius and totally delicious. 10/10.
Course 10c: THE NOT-SO-FULL ENGLISH BREAKFAST / Hot & Iced Tea
We also had a little glass of tea to go with our breakfast/dessert/I don’t know what course it is anymore. In classic Heston style, half of the liquid was warm, while the other half was nearly ice cold. It was actually a very nice tea and its tannic sharpness was provided a good counterpoint to the sweetness of the French toast and ‘eggs’.
Course 11: CHOCOLATE WINE “SLUSH” (c.1660) / Millionaire Shortbread
I wasn’t expecting much from the chocolate wine slush, and sort of expected to be let down after the previous three desserts. I should have known better. If you care to read the above card, which we were given prior to the slush being served, you will see that this “slush” was originally drunk in England in the 1660’s, and it was a bit of a revelation for me. The strong red wine, sugar and chocolate blended together to make a cool, sweet and refreshing drink (sort of like a granite in texture) which was much more palatable than you’d expect. The port-like flavor was perfectly in tune with the chocolate notes and I loved it. But I must mention the other star of this dish, the shortbread. This could have been the best biscuit I’ve ever eaten. There was a thin layer of dark chocolate on the top and bottom, and then an equally thick layer of biscuit and caramel inside. Crispy, caramely and chocolaty, it was the perfect match for the slush. 10/10.
Course 12: WINE GUMS/ Historic Trade Routes of Britain
As we were winding down the meal, some innovative touches still lurked in the last few courses. All I know about wine gums are the colourful ones I’ve seen sold in supermarket and sweet shops across the UK. I guess I kind of figured we’d be having some flash version of these bright candies at The Fat Duck. But I was pleasantly surprised and very impressed with what we did get.
We were both presented with a dark-brown framed picture of some of the historical trade routes of Britain. And stuck to the glass-covered map were five different wine gums in the shape of bottles, each with a slightly different hue and containing a gummy candy made up of alcoholic beverages from the country to which they were stuck. You literally peeled them off of the picture frame and the entire sweet was edible. They all tasted distinctly of the alcohol they were meant to represent, and as well as being pleasantly sweet they had a little alcoholic kick which made them a very grown-up candies. My favorite was the Mead one, which is an alcohol made from honey. Very innovative and very good. 10/10.
We were offered tea or coffee before our last course, which I presumed to be some type of petit fours, was to be served. Mrs. LF went for a rose petal tea, while I opted for a mild oolong. Both were presented on Japanese style wooden trays with slits carved out on the top layer, so that any spillage could drain to the bottom. The waitress poured hot water over our glasses in the fashion of a proper Japanese tea ceremony and then poured the fully infused tea into the second empty glass pots. It was a nice touch, and both teas were very pleasant.
As a side note, there is a huge range of teas on the tea list, most of which are quite pricey. I didn’t opt for coffee both because I didn’t feel like it and because I understand that The Fat Duck now uses Nespresso, which while fine (I personally don’t love it), is not exactly what you expect from a 3-star restaurant that is so selective in sourcing its other ingredients, right?
Course 13: “LIKE A KID IN A SWEET SHOP”
For the last part of our meal, we were each given a paper bag of sweets (Fat Duck branded, of course) with the traditional pink and white vertical stripes evoking candy canes and childhood memories of bags full of sweets. I think you are meant to take them away with you, but I literally was as excited as a kid in a sweet shop and ate mine all on the spot.
I started with the Coconut Baccy, which truly looked like loose tobacco. The macerated coconut was quite sweet and had the tiniest hint of tobacco underneath the strong coconut flavor. You just had to smile when you opened the packet because it really looked and felt like a pouch of loose tobacco. Not my favorite in terms of taste, but definitely fun and playful.
I then dealt with the two smaller, bite-sized morsels. The aerated chocolate, ostensibly a play on Nestlé’s Aero bars (?), was okay, but definitely the weakest of the bunch. I don’t even remember the mandarin jelly. The Apple Pie Caramel was a different matter, though. The entire sweet was edible, including what looked like a transparent plastic wrapper. It was all toffee, caramel and apple, and was fantastic.
Last up was the best of the bunch. Once you opened the little white envelope, which was fastened with a proper, circular red wax seal, a miniature playing card was revealed. It was the Queen of Hearts, etched in painstaking detail, and on the back of the card was a typical and intricate red geometrical pattern. I looked at the playing card very carefully and was duly astounded at the attention to detail. The outside casing of the card was white chocolate, and they had somehow inserted an insanely thin layer of berry compote into the middle of the card, which ran nearly the full length of the rectangle. It was scrumptious and was the perfect finale to the meal – and proof that while Heston didn’t have an ace up his sleeve, he had done one better. 10/10 based on the sheer creativity brought to the sweets and the smiles they continued to bring to our faces.
The Lingering Fat Memory
We sat down at our table at 12.30pm or a few minutes earlier. We left The Fat Duck at close to 5.30pm. Not once did we feel bored, did our stomachs feel heavy, or did we feel like getting up (except to go to the loos, which by the way are individual and very nice – Fat Duck branded hand soap and lotion there too). It was one of the most pleasurable meals I can remember having at a restaurant.
The service was professional yet laid back, friendly and interactive. The setting was at the same time modern and historic, just like Heston’s food, which was packed full of amazing ingredients, well constructed and sometimes challenging flavor combinations, culinary alchemy and healthy doses of merriment and whimsy.
The wines on offer were quite extraordinary, and I didn’t mention before, but the wine list is in reality a beautiful gigantic book with a brown leather cover. The wines in my pairing were nearly all delicious, and where they were not so on their own, you could see the logic behind why they were chosen to match their particular dish.
Near the beginning of the meal, one of the waiters had presented us with two rather large envelopes, which were sealed with a circular black wax logo. The beautiful paper had an unusual and sticky texture and felt very special. We assumed that they contained our menu for the afternoon, and were told they also contained our chosen wine pairing. This was a very nice and thoughtful touch.
After leaving the restaurant, we definitely needed a long stroll through the village and surrounding areas. We wandered toward the water and eventually ended up at the other 3 Michelin star restaurant in this tiny village (strange how two of the three 3-starred restaurants are in this place, with the other being Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea). The Waterside Inn was very quiet, and we looked out along the river and back into the formal and old fashioned looking dining room. As we were heading back to the car, we spotted a rather dapper looking elderly gentleman heading toward the hotel. He was wearing bright spring colors and looked like he could have just stepped off the streets of Paris. It was none other than Michel Roux Sr. himself, probably going to check on the kitchen before dinner service. He said “Good evening” and Mrs. LF replied with a pleasant “Bonsoir” to subtly acknowledge we knew who he was. We thought there couldn’t have been a better ending to our afternoon Bray.
After getting back home, we thought back again on our meal, and tried to identify any faults (I know, what are we like?!). At first, we wished that the portion sizes of some of the dishes we liked best had been a bit bigger – for instance, why couldn’t there have been two cubes of head cheese in the Mock Turtle Soup, or why couldn’t the Sound of the Sea have been just a tiny bit bigger? But in the end we realized that had any individual course been more substantial than it was, we probably would have become full and felt heavy too early on in the meal. The portion sizes had really been perfect.
The only other thing (besides the booking process!) that I could find fault with was that after you had been sitting there for a while, you began to hear the waiters giving the same explanations and anecdotes (which they did professionally and without fault, with a good measure of humor thrown in) about the courses you had just had, or were about to consume. This got a tad repetitive, but in all honesty I don’t know what else they could have done as the set tasting menu is the same for everyone, so this is bound to happen.
The fact that there is only one menu in itself could be another potential criticism, and over time the menu hasn’t evolved tremendously according to many journalists and food bloggers. I guess for me, it just means that I wouldn’t go back to The Fat Duck very soon, either at such a time that I really fancy some of those dishes again or at such a time as the menu changes significantly…which would mean I must return.
But with these very minor shortcomings aside, I would be very surprised if this was not one of the very few, if not the, best dining experiences to be had in Britain this decade.
Wine List: 9/10 (amazing breadth and depth, though the mark-up seemed quite high)
Wine Selected: 9/10
For more about my rating scale, click here.
*Note: I have dined at The Fat Duck once for lunch, although by the time we left it was nearly dinner time.*