From a dinner in 2005
The Fat Duck was a must on our list. We had great fears that this might be a weird science experience with a lot of emphasis on gimmick and little or no food.
Thanks to a friend who had given me a copy of an article from Restaurant, I had a detailed explanation of the tasting menu with each course listed, the theory behind it and how it was made. (Note that comments as to technique are based on the article.)
The Fat Duck is a UK restaurant in the small town of Bray, near Windsor. The Chef is Heston Blumenthal. The restaurant is simple and unassuming. From the outside it looks like just another squat row house. Inside, the furnishing is somewhat contemporary with hues of yellow, turquoise and modern artwork. There are a lot of wooden low beams that you are immediately warned about as you are led to your table.
Jay who greeted us at the door was quite taken with my Katherine Bauman frog purse and borrowed it to show the kitchen staff.
With champagne in hand, we said just do the full tasting menu with wine pairing.
1. Nitro-Green Tea and Lime Mousse
Soon afterward, Jay appeared with a pressurized canister filled with sugar stock syrup fused with green tea, a small amount of vodka, egg white and lime juice. A bucket of “smoking” liquid nitrogen is set on a small table next to the canister. Jay took the stuff from the canister which resembled shaving cream and spooned it into the nitrogen so that it ended up being similar to a meringue. We were instructed to handle it carefully and eat it in one bite. I messed up the first time as my meringue ball shattered before I bit into it. Jay made me another and this is when you see what was suppose to happen. The first time the flavor didn’t explode in my mouth, the second time it definitely did. This is suppose to function as a palate cleanser and it did. Also, it was just plain fun.
2. Double Jelly
Next came two small squares of gelee: an orange one and a purple one. The instructions were to eat the orange first. I found the orange one very bland, but the purple one was delicious. Now for the trick: the orange one was actually beet root and the purple citrus. I didn’t detect any citrus in the orange jelly because their wasn’t any; Heston had swapped the flavors.
3. Oyster and Passion Fruit Jelly, Lavender
Heston has abandoned the spray of lavender before eating this. In the bottom of an oyster shell is a small amount of horseradish cream with the oyster laid on top. Then a mixture of oyster juice, sugar and passion fruit, set with gelatin is poured on top. Finally a tiny shard of tuile is put on top. This was absolutely delicious and real food. I didn’t detect much lavender, but the combination of the bite from the horseradish, the slightly sweet fruit and the brininess of the oyster was wonderful.
4. Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream, Red Cabbage Gazpacho
The gazpacho is the juice of the red cabbage thickened with bread and mayonnaise. The ice cream was pommery mustard. Visually this is beautiful, the vivid purple soup with the small ice cream quenelle in the middle. This was good, although not as exciting as Arpege’s savory ice cream dish.
5. Quail jelly, Pea Puree, Cream of Langoustine
In a JL Croquet Cup that is on a little stand that tilts toward the diner, the jelly of the quail consommé is layered with pea puree in the middle and the langoustine cream above and topped with a foie gras parfait. I saw diners at another table sniffing something before eating this dish and overheard the word oak. I later learned that the toast we were served was spread with oak-flavored truffle butter. As I hadn’t received the pre-smell strip, I didn’t taste any oak in the bread. To be honest, it didn’t make a difference. I really loved this dish; it was definitely one of my favorites loving the way the flavors and textures blended.
6. Snail Porridge, Jabugo Ham
The porridge is served in a bowl like a risotto with garlic, mushrooms, almonds, the snails and ham finely chopped. The porridge is porridge oats mixed with parsley and garlic butter mix. On top were slices of marinated fennel. This had no porridge taste at all, it actually tasted much like risotto and was again delicious. However, I did find the fennel to be somewhat unnecessary. But, we were delighted that we were eating real food and although the techniques were different and the flavor pairings unusual, there wasn’t any semblance of science experiments.
7. Roast Foie Gras, Almond Puree, Cherry, Chamomile Powder
There were 2 vertical lines of cherry sauce, green almond halves Amaretto jelly and white almond puree on the plate. The foie was topped with balsamic vinegar and chamomile powder. The foie is bought frozen and cooked frozen. First the foie is seared and then put in the oven and turned every 2 minutes, each time sprayed with liquid nitrogen so that the outside doesn’t get too hot but the heat continues to go through it. The sweet cherry, the nutty almond puree, even the chamomile which I at first couldn’t identify, added up to another tasty dish.
8. Sardine on Toast Sorbet, Ballotine of Mackeral
On a small plate the mackeral is laid alongside the sorbet which is topped with salmon eggs. The mackeral was the freshest tasting, almost sashimi, in quality. We weren’t expecting to like the sardine sorbet, but we did, particularly the addition of the salmon eggs. According to Heston, it is made by toasting and buttering Mother’s Pride bread then squashing the sardines on top and putting the whole thing in the PacoJet.
9. Salmon poached with Licorice, Asparagus, Manni Olive Oil.
The plate looked like a Miro painting. The server then grated licorice over the salmon at the table. The salmon had that sashimi, fresh as fresh taste. John is not a great lover of licorice and ended up scraping his off the top. The licorice is actually dehydrated licorice juice crushed to a powder and then water and gelangum is added. The gelangum is used as the gelling agent so that the finished product is a thin jelly on the top of the salmon.
10. Sweetbread cooked in a salt crust with hay, crusted with Pollen, Cockles a la Plancha and Parsnip Puree
This was my least favorite dish. I just didn’t find it had enough zip or wow. The other dishes had been surprises, some I liked better than others, but all were interesting. This was just boring in comparison. As for the cooking procedure, the sweetbread is crusted and sprinkled with bee pollen. It is then sealed with lemon thyme and burnt hay that has been singed with a blow torch in a Vacpac. It is slow cooked for 2 hours.
11. White Chocolate and Caviar
A small disk of white chocolate topped with caviar. We really had our doubts about this but it was better than we expected. Maybe we just like caviar with anything.
12. “Mrs. Marshall’s Margaret Cornet.”
You are given a little card explaining that Mrs. Agnes B. Marshall was an ice cream pioneer who is thought to have invented the cream cone, was the first to suggest using liquid gas in making ice cream and also designed one of the best ice cream freezers ever made. The ice cream and cone are made with Mrs. Marshall’s original recipe. The ice cream is apple with a ginger orange gratinee. Nice.
13. Sherbet Dib Dab
A glass is filled with pine-flavored sherbet and vanilla pods are stuck in for dipping. This was suppose to prepare you for the next dessert, but we found it silly.
14. Mango and Douglas Fir Puree, Bavarois of Lychee and Mango, Black Currant Sorbet, Black Currant and Green Peppercorn Jelly
The bavarois of lychee and mango is rectangular, the blackcurrant jelly is set on top and cubes of the jelly on top of that. The sorbet is to the side as well as the puree. We didn’t expect to like this at all, but the fir did evoke images of Xmas and the bavarois was delicious.
15. A carrot and orange lollypop, orange and beetroot gelee and a basil bavarois. Oh well.
16. Parsnip cereal
A silver paper box that looks like a Kellogg’s Variety Pack is filled with parsnip crisps and set in a bowl. You are then presented with a jug of milk and a spoon. We don’t like parsnips so ……….
17. Smoked bacon and egg Ice Cream, Tomato Jam and Tea jelly
The custard for the ice cream is made with double the amount of eggs so that you get an intense egg flavor. It is served with pain perdu for the toast, tomato jam for the ketchup (we never use ketchup with eggs so we avoided that) and a very sweet caramel sauce which was just too cloyingly sweet. A cup of clear tea jelly finished the dish. The actual ice cream was delicious as was the pain perdu but the additional elements didn’t work as well.
18. Coffee and Chocolates
We had the coffee, but passed on the chocolates. From what I understand they are paired with unusual flavors i.e. pine, oak, tobacco, mint. As we didn’t taste any, there is no comment on whether it worked.
The sommelier was terrific. This is one of the best wine pairing presentation I have ever seen. Not cheap, but generous pours and excellent wines, very well matched to the impressive tasting menu.
1. Fino Puerto Lustau, Sherry, Spain
2. 2001 Gruner Veltliner Alte Reben Brundlmeyer, Austria
3. 2002 Chateauneuf du Pape Domaine de la Janasse, Rhone Valley
4. 2002 Soave Classico Pieropan, Italy
5. 2001 Collioure Coume Pascole Domaine de la Rectorie, Roussilon
6. 2001 Santenay 1er Cru Comme R. Belland, Burgundy
7. 2001 Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling, Australia
8. Oloroso Solera India Osborne, Sherry, Spain
The most perfect match was # 4, the Soave. I haven’t had a Soave in years and would not think of having one…Italian plonk in my mind…well, this was an absolutely super wine that stimulated the palate and fit together with the food.
The Collioure was excellent also.