The Fat Duck, celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal’s 3-Michelin starred restaurant is one of the most exciting restaurants in the world. Frequently topping the ‘World’s best restaurant list’ you can understand my excitement when after 2 hours of re-dialling, I got through to make a reservation.
The occasion? Our first wedding anniversary, on this day back in 2011. Marrying in August is all well and good when you are hoping for good weather, but less economical when you’re attempting to plan a break away. So we decide to just go mad, rather like Heston and shoot for the culinary stars.
The entrance is discreet and we’re outside excitedly exclaiming and taking photos, when the Maitre’d comes outside, greets us by name and offers to take photos of us. Already I’m impressed.
Inside, the room is simply and elegantly decorated, I’m not sure what I was expecting but I admit, I was hoping for a touch of Heston’s Mad scientist personality to shine through a little. But perhaps it is a mere blank canvas for the food to shine through.
A hefty (and indiscriminating) book of wine comes round and as expected from an establishment of this quality, there are some hefty looking prices in there. But on closer inspection, there’s also a healthy smattering of options including the bubbly fizzy stuff that I’m so partial to that aren’t beyond the budget and so instead of partaking from the champagne trolley, we opt straight for a bottle of bubbles.
First course, a Beetroot meringue with Horseradish cream. I don’t particularly like beetroot but I think I could probably learn to love it if it tasted like this!
You’ll be relieved to know that I’m not going to bore you through a detailed description of each of the 14 courses, but I will talk about the ones that I think most personified what the Fat Duck is all about – tasting food with all your senses, the taste of course, but smell, texture and even sound.
Our palate cleansers aperitifs come to the table in a Heston classic method of poaching, dry ice. But you can’t just pop one in your mouth (I’ve gone for Campari & Soda), they actually spritz over a citrus perfume over you so you get the full hit of taste as well as smell. Minor eye roll at the table, but it’s working, we’re sitting up straighter, rolling the aperitifs on the tongue and it’s sharpening the senses.
Another course getting all your senses to work on full throttle is the Jelly of quail with crayfish, chicken liver parfait, pea with topnotes of Moss. The idea behind this is that you’re tasting rich flavours combined with truffle and therefore by inhaling in the smells of the earth through this smoking wooden box in front of you. The overall effect is one of being in a woody earthy moist forest.
The layers of the dish are rich creamy, but despite the rich earthiness flavours floating around, it’s not in any way overpowering.
One of the more theatrical elements of the day is the Mad Hatter’s afternoon tea – the Mad Hatter comes along, gives us a gold coin to dip into our bowl and it dissolves into a clear broth in a bed of pickled cucumber, veal and truffle. The bit where it dissolves before your very eyes is truly a fantastic bit of theatre, although I liked it more for the drama than I did the taste. It’s just a warm nourishing broth, executed in a spectacular way.
Another one that hits the drama jackpot is the Sounds of the Seashore – presented ingeniously on a perspex plate over a bed of sand, sea froth, tapioca sand and a layer of sashimi grade fish. At first thought, I’m tempted to dismiss it all as a bit of hokey – but maybe I am drinking in a bit of the Fat Duck Kool-Aid (In my case, fizz) and I can see his point. You put the headphones in (discreetly hidden in your conch) and you’re transported to summers by the sea, the tang of fish and salt in the air and suddenly what you’re eating is intertwined with memories of childhoods gone by, by the sea.
Onto the desserts – and amongst them comes a whiskey wine gums picture frame. I love the smell of whiskey, but not a big fan of the taste, so it’s with some trepidation that I approach this. You start off with the mildest whiskey gum, let it settle on your tongue and away it melts. Quite powerful for such a little gum and you taste from mildest flavour to strongest flavour and by the final gum, I’ve decided I quite like whiskey after all.
The last of the fourteen courses is not a course you eat right there, its for you to take away – perhaps realising that after 13 courses, you’re probably quite full! It’s a bag called “Like a kid in a sweet shop” and how true it is as we start tearing into it about 2 minutes after declaring that we were going to be quite adult about this. The name says it all.
So what sets the Fat Duck apart from all the rest? For me, it’s not just the craziness of the food, the assault on your senses, but the immense amount of attention that is put into every single detail of your visit. Literally every single detail is covered, in the food of course, because if there’s one thing you learn about Heston through his TV appearances or just by dining here, it’s that this man is a perfectionist.
But also it shows in the service, when husband went to the bathroom, someone came to chat to me so I wasn’t sitting in a restaurant on my own. We were eating the whiskey gums too slowly since we were concentrating on the wine so they volunteered to bring them out later so we didn’t feel pressured. It was that and so much more, for a restaurant boasting this sort of quality (and price tag) there was no trace of snobbishness, just a genuine interest in helping us celebrate our first anniversary.
You go to the Fat Duck for a touch of genius, but you come out experiencing a whole lot more.