Ever since reading this Foodie Review from my friend Sam at I am into This I have desperately wanted to pay a visit to The Fat Duck. But with the then 90 day waiting list and the very high price I just didn’t think it was possible. But last week we were lucky enough to pay a visit to Heston Blumenthal’s famous restaurant with some colleagues (and friends). It was truly amazing. It was indescribable. It was everything I expected but so much more. It was pure food theatre and oh so magical.
We arrived an hour and a half early as we had allowed loads of extra time just in case the traffic was bad, so we were able to relax in the pub next door, The Hind’s Head, which is also one of Heston’s. They were serving mulled cider by a log fire, at this point I knew this was going to be the start of one of the best days of my life. I was in heaven and we’d not even set foot into THE restaurant yet.
And that’s just the thing, I am talking about a restaurant that in years gone by has been voted THE BEST RESTAURANT IN THE WORLD! Just look at this list to see what other awards Heston claims for this place. Yet it is totally unassuming, in fact you could walk straight past it and not know what dwelled within, in fact the couple we were meeting there did exactly that. It is a plain brick building painted grey with the smallest sign by the door. Inside it is small, but not at all pokey, and modern. You can see from the two photos to the right above (the other being my mulled cider in The Hind’s Head) that it is bright and light. There is, what I would call “simple” artwork (it’s probably really complex and expensive) adorning the walls and fabulous glass dividers hiding the front door from the rest of the restaurant. But there is nothing special about the restaurant itself. It is comfortable, informal and relaxed. There is also no dress code, which surprised me, but also pleased me as the restaurant was comfortable and so were we.
That’s where normality ends though. I assume it is so unassuming so the real focus is the theatre that is THE FOOD.
Before anything else the champagne trolley was brought to us. We couldn’t resist, but should have probably asked for the price list first. Mine was the most expensive at £39.00 for the glass! Really?! It was lovely. I couldn’t tell you what it was, I wasn’t that bothered. It was pink and bubbly and tasted good but it’s a good job the company was footing the bill.
Then came a tiny purpley red ball in the middle of a plate. We were told to pop this into our mouths in one go and not leave it too long before doing so. I didn’t manage to capture a picture of it but you can see them here if you’re really interested. Except ours were served to us as a singular tiny ball on a plate. They were aerated beetroot macaroons filled with a horseradish cream that just exploded in my mouth. I’m not one for horseradish at all but I actually really enjoyed it as the horseradish flavour was very subtle. This taste explosion was like something I’ve never experienced before, but it wasn’t to be the last this trip.
Next came the Nitro Poached Aperitifs, the official first course of the fourteen we were about to experience. We were given the choice of Vodka and Lime Sour, Gin and Tonic, Campari Soda. I chose the Campari Soda and well, just wow.
Think frozen alcoholic meringue and you may be able to start to imagine what this was like. Again the instruction was to put the whole thing in in one go, but they were rather large so this wasn’t easy. As soon as I cracked the outer shell it disintegrated in my mouth into a creamy, icy cold, very alcoholic liquid. This was designed as a palate cleanser and alongside it some citrusy smelling liquid was spritzed into the air above us. I have to say my palate did feel cleansed afterwards and I was suddenly very hungry.
Next came Red Cabbage Gazpacho with Pommery Grain Mustard Ice-cream. I had asked for them to leave the ice-cream as if there is one thing in the world that I really dislike the taste of it’s mustard. It just makes me feel ill. I thought they would just serve me the gazpacho without the ice-cream but instead I got a Waldorf Salad Rocket Lolly. The top layer was walnut flavour, the second layer celery and the bottom layer apple. It really did taste like a frozen Waldorf salad. It was weird, but so nice.
After the lolly a moss covered box was brought out and placed in the middle of our table. On it laid 4 little plastic cases. If any of you remember those breath freshening gel strips, it was exactly like one of those. Inside was a strip that we were told to place straight onto our tongue. As we did this a liquid was poured into the “moss box” and it started oozing “smoke” all over our table. The “breath mint” was actually a strong oak moss flavour. We could smell moss and forest and we could taste moss and forest. It was truly amazing. It was like we were being transported to a misty woodland right there in the restaurant.
We were then laid with the Jelly of Quail, Crayfish Cream, Chicken Liver Parfait and Truffle Toast on the side.
The chicken liver parfait was melt in the mouth delicious, the crayfish cream subtle and smooth, the jelly of quail very potent and at times a little too strong but the truffle toast. Oh goodness the truffle toast. Incredibly thin toast topped with truffle. It was DIVINE!
Next came one I’d been really looking forward to. The famous (or infamous) Snail Porridge with Iberico Bellota Ham and Shaved Fennel. I expected the porridge to be snaily but in fact it tasted of grass. I don’t know what was in there but it really was like I was just eating grass porridge with very, very salty ham. A snail’s habitat maybe? The snails themselves were on the top. I love snails so really enjoyed them, and the shaved fennel was tangy and added another dimension. Now I love my salt, but for me this was a little too salty. I did really enjoy it, but it wasn’t my favourite.
At some point we’d also been brought some delicious white sour dough and wholemeal home made bread with unpasteurised butter. They just kept on topping this up every time our plates were clear so I have no idea how much of it we ate. A lot though. It was truly the nicest bread I’ve ever had. It had just the right amount of chewiness, moistness and nice big air bubbles. I think it would have passed the Paul Hollywood bread test. Yummy!
After the snail porridge came Roast Foie Gras with a Rhubarb Fluid Gel, Braised Kombu and Crab Biscuit. I enjoyed all of the elements of this bar the Foie Gras. The rhubarb fluid gel was more rhubarby than rhubarb. How is that even possible? Foie Gras is something I’ve never tried before, never wanted to, mainly for the welfare reasons, but also because I’ve never liked the idea of the taste of it. I was right. It was creamy, sweet and fatty and the whole time I was eating it I was just thinking about the videos I’d seen when I worked for the RSPCA of the poor birds being force fed. It spoilt it for me and suffice to say I won’t ever eat it again. I’ve tried it once though, and I am a try everything once kind of girl so…
The sixth course was the one I had most anticipated. The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. It was everything I expected then a hundred things more. First we were presented with a bookmark with quotes from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland that set the scene. We were then each given a glass teapot sitting atop a tea cup. In the tea cup sat what looked like an egg but was actually a custardy puree of turnip and swede with tiny wee mushrooms sticking out, I think they represented antennae so that the egg doubles as the head of the caterpillar, that’s certainly what it made me think of though I guess it could also conjure an image of the toadstool on which he sat, smoking his hookah… whatever it was supposed to represent it definitely conjured the madness of Alice. Surrounding this were various tiny squares of “mock turtle” and what I can only describe as pickles. I’ve no idea what they were, maybe pickled cucumber?
In Victorian times turtle soup became the rage. It was prepared from turtle meat, unaffordable by all but the very wealthy. Less well-to-do households had to resort to a cheats version made from the head, hooves, tail and other bits and bobs of a calf in place of the turtle meat and called, appropriately enough, Mock Turtle Soup.
Lewis Carroll took advantage of this cheats version in the book, creating a creature called the Mock Turtle.
Then the Queen left off, quite out of breath, and said to Alice, “Have you seen the Mock Turtle yet?”
“No,” said Alice. “I don’t even know what a Mock Turtle is.”
“It’s the thing Mock Turtle Soup is made from, ” said the Queen.
The genius of Heston has developed version of Mock Turtle Soup adding another twist from the book. During the Mad Hatter’s tea party the March Hare dips the Hatter’s pocket watch into his tea. So we were presented by a waitress with a box of gold “pocket watches”. One was placed in each teapot, hot water added and we were encouraged to swirl it around until it dissolved. We ended up with a beefy consomme with gold leaf floating in it. We then poured this over the “egg” and other bits and bobs.
Meanwhile a top hatted cake stand bearing tiny little sandwiches had been placed on the table. These were to be consumed with the “tea”. The whole flavour combination was awesome. The sandwiches had a layer of toast in the middle that just made them so tasty it was untrue. I think they also contained other typical “afternoon tea” type fillings like cucumber and egg and cress. Whatever they had in them, they were lush.
After that extravaganza came the “Sound of the Sea”. This is the famous dish where you are served a seashell that contains an iPod, on which are the sounds of the sea. You are instructed to listen to this as you eat the stunning dish that is served up on what can only be described as a glass picture. Everything on top of the glass is edible including the sand, the foam, the seaweed, the things that are referred to as sea jelly beans… everything! I do love fish so I knew I would love this dish, quite how much I was going to love it though I didn’t expect. I could eat this again and again and again! The sand was divine. I didn’t catch what it was made of but it was so moreish. The whole effect of listening to the sea, seeing what looked just like the seaside and devouring the lot was truly astonishing and really did amuse the senses.
The next, and eighth course, was more fish. Though in a completely different form. Salmon Poached in a Liquorice Gel with Artichokes, Vanilla Mayonnaise and Golden Trout Roe.
The salmon was a texture I had never tasted before. I’m guessing it was cooked in one of Heston’s water baths because although it tasted cooked it was glassy like raw fish. It was really smooth and melt in the mouth. The vanilla mayonnaise was savoury but with all the flavour of the vanilla and the golden trout roe popped in my mouth.
The ninth and final savoury course was The Duck, served with Blood Pudding and Umbles (or the innards – heart, liver, lungs or kidneys). This was also served with the smoothest mashed potato I have ever eaten and a duck cigar that tasted like the best ever Chinese duck pancake I’ve ever had. Thus the appetisers and main courses, all eight of them ended and we were already 3 and a half hours in!
This post is fast becoming my longest ever and I’ve not even started on the dessert courses, which were so amazing they deserve their own post, so that’s what they shall get. But before I sign off for today I absolutely must tell you about the staff. The food is beautiful, stunning, unusual and surprising. For all the wonder that the food creates the staff of The Fat Duck bring the magic. There were so many of them. It felt like we had our own Maître d constantly ensuring we were all happy, our own Sommelier (wine waiter), our own water waiter – seriously my glass never got less than an inch full before he was there topping me up, mostly without me even noticing, our own bread waiter – same as the water, and that’s before the individual staff who served each course, each with an explanation of what it was, how to eat it and answering any questions we had.
Their attention to detail was EPIC. There was no cutlery laid down until after the aperitifs (the beetroot macaroon and the nitro poached cocktail) yet the hubs cutlery was laid for him left handed. They had noticed him pick up his foods with his left hand and laid him as such. But even more astonishing, even though he favours his left hand when using a spoon or eating with his hand, he does eat “normally” when he eats with a knife and fork. They got this right too. How? I mean, COME ON!
So… come back tomorrow if you want to hear about Heston’s desserts. Trust me, you WANT to hear about Heston’s desserts!