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!