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Grounded rice, formed into meticulous, tiny balls by rubbing the flour through the fingers and rolling the crumbed mixture repeatedly in a wooden bowl, adding a drop of water at a time. Patience is a must. This is then cooked with lemon, water and sugar to create an utterly delicious pudding.

Dessert. West African style. Serve with searingly hot banana dumplings.

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And off we went on the train down to Maidenhead, the 6 of us, in search of a rather unusual supper at The Fat Duck. We’ve all heard about it, recognise the bespectacled visage of the one and only Mr. Heston Blumenthal, seen him perform culinary feats of magic on the telly and wondered what those complex things cooked in liquid nitrogen would taste like. So with healthy appetites and nervous wallets we chugged along, safe in the knowledge that within 24hrs we would know exactly what those nitrogen-poached bits and bobs taste like and, if not quite breadline-ready, just that bit poorer.

<<<What to Wear?!!?>>>

some friends fiercing it up…

The taxi driver posed a question as we arrived at Bray, the little village just outside of Maidenhead where The Fat Duck is actually situated: “Can you tell where it is yet?”

It wasn’t until I spotted the signature fork, knife and spoon logo, carved out of metal, sprouting from the side of a little cottage-like  terrace that I realised that we had arrived.

Unassuming, low-key and very English. This is the crux of The Fat Duck: surprise. You wouldn’t have thought that one of the most directional, highly rated restaurants in the world, with its three Michelin stars, was nestled in quaint surroundings worthy of a Miss Marple romp but here it was, in sleepy Bray.

This isn’t really a restaurant review. I make no claims to being a food critic. But I’m passionate about food and quite enjoy cooking. The one question I kept asking myself was: Would it taste delicious?

Taste is fundamental to food and despite all the theatrical, mad-cap flourishes that Mr. Blumenthal is infamous for if the food didn’t taste good, strike that, AMAZING!!!, then he would have failed. We were probably amongst the youngest of diners and quite possibly the most fabulously attired. The  smart casual dress code is quite refreshing. Again, that idea of contrast and surprise. I like this relaxed approach to such a refined dining experience and that’s exactly what it was – REFINED.

Every last ounce of flavour had been extracted from each ingredient. Each mouthful was the ultimate expression of flavour. From the first of the 14 course tasting menu I can quite honestly say I have never tasted food like that before. We started off with the nitrogen-poached egg whites with green tea powder – a palette cleanser. Each meringue was individually “cooked” at the table, dusted off with the very potent green tea powder and as you bit into it a lime scented fragrance was sprayed over your head, intensifying the experience. The meringue was unbelivably, tooth-achingly cold and it left the mouth feeling like you’d just left the dentist. Not a very appealing sensation in the context of dinner but it did what it said on the tin – cleaned out the palette, and primed your tastebuds for the sensory overload that was about to follow.

I’m not going to go into a detailed description of each dish even though I remember avery mouthful. Refined versions of all the signature dishes were clear and present. Snail Porridge [delish], Mock Turtle Soup [a lot nicer than it sounds], Hot and Cold Tea [a real headf*ck], Sound of The Sea, served with iPod Nanos playing the sound of crashing waves and seagulls tucked into a massive sea shell [perhaps the most challenging of them all]… It was an absolutely extraordinary experience and I can’t recommend it enough. Tables are easy to get if you book in advance. We booked two months before and of course it isn’t cheap but worth every last penny of the £150 the tasting menu cost. After all, The Fat Duck is one of the most highly regarded restaurants in the world and once you witness the absolute precision, the intricacy, the wonderful service and above all, the TASTE you wont begrudge parting with the cash. Just go easy on wine, like we did. We went for the food after all. However, if you’re a wine aficionado the mighty tome that is modestly referred to as the wine list will give you plenty to get all JILLY GOOLDEN about. I’ll put it like this: the restaurant was fully-booked at its maximum capacity of 45 diners. Compare that with around 75 members of staff, from front of house, through to the kitchen and across the road to the “Research Lab” who had worked so incredibly hard. Nuff said.

Oh, you also get a bag of sweets to take home: LIKE A SWEET SHOP. Only these aren’t your ordinary sweets…

PS Mr. Blumenthal is set to open his first London restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental this October. It will headed by Ashley Palmer-Watts who worked alongside him for 11 years at The Fat Duck. Can’t bloody wait!

THE FAT DUCK RESTAURANT

One that never quite made it.

This is  from a few months back when I was going through my Silent Period. But I kind of like the images so I thought I’d post it. I’d been reading in Fantasic Man magazine that dining alone was all the rage. And there I found myself in my usual Italian haunt doing just that. Incredible as I’d stayed at that hotel more times than I can remember and never ventured into the restaurant.


A revelation. Simple, traditional food alla Cucina Reggiano but done well. Tortelli di Zucca, tortelli verdi, erbazone, vedure alla griglia. The classics. And just the sort of trouble free, comfort food you want to eat when you’re away from home and had a long day at work. The whole process sort of felt strange at first. Not having to make conversation, not having to decide between fizzy or still water, feeling like you stuck out like a sore thumb… Billy No Mates. But that only lasted moments, until the glass of Prosecco kicked in. Nobody cared – the restaurant was almost empty anyway. And I was fussed over a lot more than if I’d been with company. Being a Leo we like our egos massaged. Purrrrrr. Fuss all you like, darlings!

I read the entire contents of ID magazine (the issue that profiled Nicholas Ghesquire – I can’t remember which exact one it was) from cover to cover. I haven’t done that in years. Oh, Nicholas, you so pretty. And you make a lovely dinner companion. TTFN. LFN

EARTHLY delights


for he’s a jolly good carver

Miguel de Almeida encapsulates the modern designer. An accomplished graphic designer with quite an elegant eye, Mr. de Almeida also loves to cook. And cook he can! We’ve known each other for years now – he is the other half of one of my dearest friends. An invitation to a “light supper” at their elegantly – this word applies quite a lot to Mr. de Almeida – appointed flat is a good-hearted ruse that transpires to be more of a culinary tour de force. Portugal-born, London-based Miguel has also written a book on cooking inspired by the multicultural influences of food in the capital from the perspective of an outsider. He is currently working on his second book, a coronary-inducing, finger-licking ode to the dessert. The tasting sessions chez Miguel are legendary. Forget calorie-counting and just give in to the great big waves of sugar rush. What marks Miguel out is that not only is he an accomplished cook and talented designer he is also a brilliantly sensitive photographer. Mr. de Almeida also happens to be one of the loveliest people I know.

I recently sent him some questions by email. Here are his responses, unabridged.

What inspires you to cook?

My passion for eating and sharing my dishes with the ones whom I love the most. I also strive to share the Portuguese cuisine, which is often overlooked, to a new audience.

What informs your cooking style?

Firstly, my own culinary heritage. All the meals that I watched my grandmother cook became engraved in my mind. Secondly, the incredible daily produce and varied cultural references I find and use in the city in which I live, London. These are the main factors that contribute to my style which is relaxed and homely but embraces global influences.

Pastéis de Feijão – Traditional red kidney bean cakes

Do you look to other sources for inspiration apart from the culinary-related? Could you list them if so?

I enjoy looking at the work of food photographers Jonathan Lovekin and Con Poulos which influence the way I like to photograph my dishes. As a graphic designer I draw influences from an array of designers and artists like Glaser, David Hillman and Bill Viola to name a few.

Your main profession is graphic design. What similarities do you find between graphic design and cooking?

I believe the cooking process is extremely similar to that of the design process and vice-versa. For instance, following a recipe is like following a design brief as in both processes there is an end product that is achieved by going through a series of steps, which involve research, experimentation, creation, finessing, presentation.

What stylistic tricks, if any, do you use to enhance the look of a dish before photographing it?

I believe when photographing a dish, we should focus primarily on the food, therefore I place my food into very simple crockery pieces, mainly in white, so that we can see clearly the colours and textures of the food. No photographic tricks, gels, colourings are used. I photograph my dishes with a Canon 500D equipped with a 50mm macro lens, which are all lit with natural light.

If you could compare yourself to a fashion designer who would it be?

I have always loved the work of Jil Sander and Alves/Gonçalves who are a brilliant Portuguese duo.

Octopus Rice and slices from Tomar

What food trends do you predict?

I predict that we are going to see a continuation on the present notions of artisan, hand-made, local, home-made food due to the ongoing economic crisis, a time when we go back to our basic values. I think more and more people are going to start growing their own produce, home-cooked meals instead of splashing out on restaurants, sharing their knowledge between friends and family. With all “doom and gloom” people will always find reassurance at home.

What are your opinions on current trends and could you list them?

Global “tapas/mezze” style sharing – We have seen attention on this type of serving, simpler, humbler approach, bringing people together which I think is fantastic.

Cocowater – Nutritious drink for summer although too hyped by celebrities

Nordic cuisine – Unfussy, fresh and balanced cuisine packed with oily fish, and berries – it is great to see herring become popular again.

Tea is cool – Drinking tea/hosting tea parties where we show-off our baking abilities on a tight budget – maybe it is time to move on from the cupcakes brigade.

Do you see any similarities/ disparities between food and fashion?

I believe trends are set by creative masters, whether they are renowned chefs or Couture designers. The general population regard food very differently from fashion but increasingly both are marketing led. I think in both fields, we can find products that serve a mass market or a very specialized and prestigious audience. Although food has a intrinsic survival quality about it, both share sensorial stimulation through shapes, colour, texture. Both fashion and food have a capacity to influence how people experience their lives through materiality or sustination.

Mig xxxx

Baked pears in Port, mixed spices and quince

visit

westcoastcooking.wordpress.com

all images subject to copyright. Miguel de Almeida

Just had a lovely supper with an old friend in a restaurant in the Emilia Romagna region in Italy. A novel way of presenting a menu – literature classics. I got Tolstoi and she got Shakespeare. The grilled scamorza cheese with honey was very good. As was the swordfish. V. delicate. I also liked the way the wine glasses were placed on the table, lying atop a napkin.

Post dinner we bumped into La Boda, a local transvestite of a certain age. She’s friends with Grace Jones from way back. She bought us some beers whilst she knocked back the camomile! Something to do with Shiva. When I asked what La Boda meant she regaled that it was Spanish or Catalan for “bride” or “wedding”. Quite a character, she is. Wants me to bring her some Stilton the next time I’m around. Her Stilton Macaroni is apparently legendary. Oh, La Boda also means bream, the fish, in another language that I can’t remember. Hilarious!  OK. Tipsy. Knackered. Bed. Early flight. LFN