I went to The Fat Duck more than three months ago, on 12 May 2012 to be precise. It was, without question, the best eating experience of my life. I enjoyed every second of it. We arrived at 7:30pm and when the meal finished at around 11pm I was thoroughly disappointed, I just didn’t want it to end. It was like a party where the lights come on and you are still dancing away having the time of your life (which incidentally happened to me on Saturday night but that’s another story). Everything about the evening had been perfection; the food, the wine, the service, the company and most of all the theatre.
So why, I hear you ask, has it taken me more than three months to blog about it? Because it was so good. I love doing my blog and I wanted the experience of writing to be as perfect as the meal itself. Not squeezed in between real life, an hour here and an hour there. Not lying in bed on a Saturday morning, with the cats jumping up and down on me vying for attention or sitting on the sofa after work with the stresses of my working day still buzzing round my head. That couldn’t possibly do it justice. I pictured myself in a tranquil setting, surrounded by blissful peace and quiet and without a care in the world. As you can probably imagine, those moments don’t come round very often and as it turns out, they sadly come round a lot less often than I had anticipated. I have taken my little menu, with all my scribblings, on more trips than I can remember, in the vain hope that the perfect opportunity would present itself but so far it has always returned with me, untouched.
When I woke up at 6am this morning I knew the time had come. It’s the last day of my trip to Las Vegas and we fly back at 4pm, arriving in London at 10am. Sleeping on the plane would therefore be an excellent result and so, instead of rolling over and going back to sleep, I slipped on my bikini, shorts and t-shirt in the dark, grabbed my iPad and scribbled-on-menu, gave Mr E a quick kiss and headed down to the pool.
And here I am, lounging on a daybed in the glorious morning heat, the sound of waterfalls in the background (that’s Vegas for you!) and the smell of eucalyptus filling my senses. Not a sole to be seen, it’s just me, my latte and the memories of a sunny evening in May.
I’d always wanted to go to The Fat Duck but each time I tried to make a reservation, for one special occasion or another, I missed out (apparently they get 30,000 people trying to make reservations each day). Then in April I got a new job, which meant a pretty good pay rise and so I decided to have another go. I went onto the website and clicked on a few dates using the online booking service, they were all full. Then I noticed an advert for a wine event on 12 May, with a note that all reservations must be made by telephone. I didn’t expect for a moment that they would have a table as it was only a couple of weeks away but I happened to be free on 12 May as a friend had just rearranged a weekend visit and so I thought I would give them a call.
“how many people?”
“two but if you only have tables for four then I can probably find another two people.”
As if! I had absolutely no idea who these people were but I’d heard that it was easier to get a table for four than a table for two and I was very overexcited at the fact that she wasn’t immediately telling me they were full.
“yes we can fit in another table for two”
Oh my god, what are the chances??
“the cost is [an obscenely large amount of money]“
S**t, that is more than I was expecting. Might explain why they have a table! Not sure I will get this one past Mr E.
“you will need to pay in full over the phone and it is non refundable”
Non refundable!! It’s all or nothing. I can’t do this without checking first. What if he has plans ….
“would it be ok for me to check that my husband is free and give you a call back later today?”
“of course, I will pencil you in and just give us a call back”.
That was the start of the fabulous service which we received throughout our fat duck experience. I checked Mr E was free, told him to keep it free as I had a ‘surprise’ (he had always wanted to go and I would tackle the money issue later) and called back to confirm. They could not have been more lovely, asking about allergies, any food we didn’t like, any special occasion?
It turned out to be perfect timing to celebrate my new job. I finished the old one on the Friday and off we went to Bray on the Saturday, all dressed up and full of excitement.
As it was a wine dinner everyone was seated at the same time. We arrived a little early and there was a huddle of excited looking people waiting outside in the sunshine for the restaurant to open. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Perhaps if I had done a bit of research I would have known in advance but basically, it’s a restaurant in a house. Well in a cottage to be more precise. Low ceilings, just one room and only about 15 tables. I could immediately see why it’s easier to get a booking for four, as the tables for two would seat four and therefore by taking a reservation for two they are effectively missing out on two paying customers.
The wine for the evening was provided by Lucien Le Moine, a two person operation which started in 1999 and produces only Grands and Premiers Crus from Côte d’Or. The winemaker, Mounir, and his wife came along to the dinner and we started off with an explanation from Mounir about the vineyard and the wines we were about to drink. He was thoroughly engaging and passionate and it got the evening off to a great start. Throughout the meal (and in between eating his own) he then came round the tables to talk to us individually about the wines and what we were enjoying.
I will list the wines that came with the various dishes below. Suffice to say that they were all fabulous and there was certainly plenty of them! I have recently realised that, for me, good wine takes a great meal to a different level and this was an excellent example of one of those meals.
We started off with a generous amount of rose Champagne, chosen by the resident sommelier at The Fat Duck, to accompany the first few courses.
First up was frogs legs with a red wine mayonnaise. It was exquisite. One of my favourite things from the entire menu. The frogs legs were quite fish like, beautifully soft on the inside and crisp on the outside and oh my lord the red wine mayonnaise was good. I didn’t know it was possible for mayonnaise to be so good in fact. I can still taste it now if I close my eyes. Blueberry, citrus, garlic, sweetness. Heavenly.
Then we were presented with a choice of nitro poached aperitifs made at the table. Vodka and Lime Sour, Gin and Tonic or Campari Soda. I went for the vodka. It was a mixture of egg white, vodka and lime, poached in liquid nitrogen, dusted with powdered green tea and then eaten in one go with a spray of citrus in the air to increase the acidity. The entire thing was a wonderful piece of theatre and it tasted like a cleansing ice lolly.
The difference between The Fat Duck and other creative meals that I have had is that in other places there might be one or two spectacles or pieces of theatre but then the rest of the meal is just great cooking. At The Fat Duck the theatre just kept on coming. Just as you felt like nothing could be more impressive, something better appeared. This was certainly the case with the next course. Savoury lollies. A waldorf rocket, salmon twister and foie gras feast. They looked just like the traditional rocket, twister and feast lollies that I ate as a child and when I started on the rocket it was that familiar cold frozen feel but the flavours were completely different. A layer of walnut, a layer of raisin and a layer of apple. All the flavours of a waldorf salad – amazing.
The salmon was then a real surprise to the senses. It wasn’t frozen at all. It was delicious cold smoked salmon with avocado and horseradish cream piped around it. Smokey, salty and delicious.
Then for the foie gras feast. Again not frozen, but I wasn’t expecting it to be this time. It was my favourite. So deliciously rich, a deep pate covered in fruity blackcurrent jelly and nuts. Closely rivalling the frogs legs, this was certainly in the top five taste sensations of the meal.
Next was a brand new dish, never served before. One of the things that I’ve noticed people complain about when dining at The Fat Duck is that the menu doesn’t change much and therefore, there is no point going back. My answer to them would be, if you want to go back, go to a wine dinner. Six of our twelve dishes weren’t on the usual menu and the wine pairing itself will make the evening different.
This was “Oeuf En Meurette”. Quails egg, bacon and mushroom purée with a delicious crisp mushroom toast on the side. It was served with the first of the wines, a 2006 Corton-Vergennes Grand Cru. The flavours of the dish were deep and smokey and the wine was full bodied, musty and damp with plenty of oak.
My number one, favourite dish of the night, was the snail porridge. I didn’t really know what to expect. Of course I’d heard of it, many years ago when I was as likely to eat a snail as I was to eat my own arm. These days I’m far more adventurous but I certainly didn’t expect it to be my favourite dish. Oh me, oh my, it was out of this world amazing. A rich combination of smokey, cheesy, buttery, soft, sweet amazing wow. The wine was a 2004 Corton-Charlemange Grand Cru, which was sharp and light and went perfectly.
Next was a scallop with birch syrup, bergamot and coral royale served with a 2007 Batard Montrachet Grand Cru, which was described to us as an ugly red as it had all the qualities of a white wine. I found it full of gooseberry and very drinkable. The scallop was huge and delicious.
The coral royal, which to the untrained eye looks like a second scallop, was very creative. It was actually the scallop roe stuffed into a daikon cylinder.
Next was another of Heston’s infamous dishes. The Mad Hatters Tea Party. It was wonderfully fun and creative.
First we were presented with a bookmark explaining the story behind the dish
and that we were about to re-enact.
Then we were presented with a glass case to choose our gold pocket watch
which we placed inside an empty glass teapot.
The pocket watch is actually dried consommé covered in gold leaf and once hot water is poured onto it, it dissolves into a clear soup.
You then pour this into a teacup filled with the mock turtle egg and other interesting nuggets
and voila, mock turtle soup.
Of course no tea party would be complete without sandwiches. A huge hat was presented with toast sandwiches. They were absolutely delicious, which is no surprise given truffle shavings made up one of the layers.
This was served with one of our favourite wines, a 2005 Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru.
For the next two courses we had a small break from the magical and surprising and were served some solid, delicious meat dishes.
First, melt in the mouth pork belly, braised and served with black truffle and hispi cabbage. This came with two wines, a 2005 Echezeaux Grand Cru and a 2004 Clos De Vougeot Grand Cru. The grapes for these wines came from different parts of the vineyard. One was spicy and the other mellow.
Then another trip back to the 1800’s for powdered duck with blood pudding, humbles and apache potato purée again served with two wines. A 2005 Bonnes Mares Grand Cru and a 2003 Chambertin Clos De Beze Grand Cru.
This was probably my least favourite course (although still delicious) but the crispy duck filled cigar and the potato served on the side were to die for.
Now back to the weird and the wonderful. Hot and cold iced tea. This was very alcoholic and reminded me a little of lemsip. The sensation was amazing. You drink it in one go and the first mouthful is hot then the next ice cold. Surreal! I liked the hot better.
Just two more dishes to go. I was pretty full by now but was having such a wonderful time that I really didn’t want us to be onto pudding already.
The macerated strawberries were a real work of art. First we were served a jelly and ice-cream cornet.
Then a picnic on a plate. The white chocolate picnic blanket was beautiful and covered a delicious array of strawberry treats. The Fat Duck sommelier chose a lovely desert wine to accompany this.
Then last but not least, the final desert was entitled “like a kid in a sweet shop”. Served in a handy bag so you could take it home.
The menu below tells it all.
An inventive selection of sweets including coconut tobacco, apple pie toffee, and aerated chocolate and most impressive of all ….
a queen of hearts playing card made from white chocolate and filled with biscuit and jam. An outstanding end to a wonderful wonderful evening.
The Fat Duck gets an easy 10/10 for me. A place that every food lover should get to experience. At £180 a head for the normal tasting menu it’s steep to say the least but I felt so strongly on the night that everyone should be able to go that I worked out if you saved £5 a week then after a year of saving you would have enough to pay for a meal, service and transport from most places in the UK. So, if you love food and can spare £5 a week, get saving. I promise you it will be money well spent! I’m certainly saving my £5 a week to go back.