[REVIEW] The Fat Duck London (UK) Restaurant Review
-Owned by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal and currently under the stewardship of Canadian chef Jonny Lake.
-3 Michelin stars.
-Apparently before the days of online booking, they would get up to 30,000 calls per day for a reservation.
-Likely Britain’s most internationally famous restaurant.
-You can get there from London by taking a short (30 min) train ride to Maidenhead station and a 5 minute cab from there – but just be aware of your timing – the last train back to London on a Saturday night was at 12:18 AM. Our meal lasted a total of about 4 hours and 15 minutes just so you know how to time things if you’re hoping to avoid a costly cab ride back.
-Immediately after we were sat down, we were brought a trolley of champagne to start the meal. Following that, however, we found it strange that we sat for nearly 25 minutes without even being offered a menu. Had they forgotten about us? Was I supposed to ask? After the fact, I read about similar experiences online, so as strange as it seemed at the time, I can only assume this was an intentional routine. But thankfully, it wasn’t long before the magic show began and I forgot all about my impatience at the start.
-Each food runner, sommelier and server had plenty of invaluable information to share about the wines, the history of the dishes, and about food, in general. Any time we had even a small question the staff were incredibly thorough yet direct in answering without any hesitation. For likely the first time ever in a restaurant, I felt like I not only got an incredible meal but also a remarkable culinary education!
-Like most of the country homes in England, the Fat Duck’s dining room is tight and quaint. The ceilings are probably less than 7 feet tall, which in 4 ½ inch stilettos meant even I had to crank my neck a bit.
-The décor is clean, bright and simple- calming light blue walls with little else to divert attention from what was going on at diners’ tables.
-The restaurant seats about 40 people at only one seating per night, which is assumedly why it’s an absolute nightmare to get a reservation!
-There was no music in the room, which I’m sure was a very deliberate choice. Anything other than the sounds of absolute splendor and awe from the guests would have been distracting.
-Once we had made our way through our Champagne, we were introduced to the massive bible of wines. My partner had a good thorough look at the range of bottles from ₤ 50 - 8500, but we both knew we were interested in the wine pairings.
-They offer 3 versions of wine pairings, all at different price points- one was somewhere around ₤195, the next step up was around ₤295 and the last was a big jump to ₤495. The difference between the second and third option was only two wines, but a little math told us that the value of those wines exceeding the upgrade charge.
-Knowing fair well that we had to get up very early for our train and that if I went for a full tasting flight I’d be a wreck, I kindly requested that they pour me half sizes for each course. Graciously, they agreed, so I opted for ½ portions of the first wine pairing option, while my partner went all out with the show-stopping pricey flight.
-We both were remarkably happy with every single wine that came out, the favourite being the 1989 Chateau Lafite Rothschild. My partner suggested that if he had never tasted red wine before but had built up certain expectations of what it should taste like- the Lafite Rothschild would fit that bill to a T. Perfectly balanced, complex, yet remarkably drinkable.
-Heston Blumenthal is a self-taught chef and has been inventing ground breaking experimental dishes for many years. His cuisine aims to stimulate all of the senses and draw on our past nostalgic associations and memories in building experience. He also has a reputation of taking inspiration from historical significant dishes and blending them with modern molecular techniques.
-When we arrived, all that was on the table was a little card describing how we all have certain nostalgic flavours that personally excite us. The restaurant then invited us to write out some of our personal nostalgic dishes and so I did just that– Beans and wieners, apple crisp, burnt toast with lots of butter like grandma made us before bed, and lick-a-stick candy were among some of my picks.
-The tasting menu is the only available menu and it is priced at ₤195 per person. As I daydreamed of my childhood memories and meals, I wiggled with anticipation for our first bite.
Nitro Poached Apertif : Gin & Tonic
The cocktail in the making
Lighting the citrus
The finished product
All great meals in England begin with an aperitif, and this was no exception. The only difference with this particular service was that it was served as a single bite using liquid nitrogen. The server arrived with a full bar set up and three drinks available- a Gin & Tonic, a Vodka and Lime Sour and a Tequila and Grapefruit. The candlestick was used to light the corresponding citrus rind on fire to coax out its aromas into the “drink”, and then the liquid was flash frozen. It exploded with boozy intensity- how absolutely splendid.
Beetroot Meringue and Horseradish Cream
In a word- Passover. Anyone who has enjoyed a maror sandwich (with beet juice stained prepared horseradish) knows this flavour well.
Red Cabbage Gazpacho: Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream
Another European inspired bite. The gazpacho was sweet and sulfurous, complemented nicely by a fabulous kick of heat from the mustard ice cream.
Savoury Lollies: Waldorf Salad (Frozen Apple, Celery and Grape, Walnut), Salmon Twister (Smoked Salmon with Avocado and Horseradish), Foie Gras Feast (with Almond and Cocoa Nibs)
An off-the-menu addition, this was one of my favourite plates. We were told that these lollies are an absolute nightmare to prepare on a large scale because each comes with incredible detail. The favourite of the three by far was the foie gras, which was like the ultimate Magnum bar on the gluttony-scale.
Jelly of Quail, Crayfish Cream : Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss, Truffle Toast (Homage to Alain Chapel)
Toast & Parfait
Just let it melt on your tongue...
1) 2010 Sancerre, Les Culs de Beaujeau, Francois Cotat, Loire Valley France
2) 2011 Sevillen 900, Fume Blanc, Guney, Denizli Turkey
This dish began with a little leaf of mildly mossy flavoured paper from a plastic packet that we placed on our tongue to begin the sensory experience. Next, a server poured dry ice over the bed of moss, which roused up a very delicate aroma that spilled onto our plates. The first pot contained a dreamy mildly fishy crayfish cream, below which there was a fowl scented jelly and a luscious ball of liver. We alternated bites of this unctuous dish with the umami-rich crispy toast.
Snail Porridge : Iberico Bellota Ham, Shaved Fennel
1) 2008 Heritage, Jean Lotus Chave Selections, Rhone Valley France
2) 2011 Chateauneuf du Pape, Clos La Roquete, Rhone Valley France
This dish featured parsley stained porridge with fabulously salty ham and sweet fennel draped on top. I was very impressed with the texture of the snails, which were not at all chewy or unpleasant. I think this would have been better as a smaller bite (perhaps just a spoonful sized course) but ultimately I can’t complain about having too much escargot.
Scallop : Birch Syrup, Bergamot, Coral Royal
An off the menu dish that they had only a few of to try. The “scallop” in the back was actually a Daikon cut and dressed like a scallop and filled with the scallop roe inside. I loved the crunchy fresh flavour of the daikon against the creamy richness of the Coral Royal, while the real scallop was perfectly cooked and seasoned.
Roast Foie Gras : Gooseberry, Confit Kombu and Crab Biscuit
1) 2008 Alba Antiqua, Matosevic, Istria Croatia
2) 2012 Pinot Gris, Signature, Rene Mure, Alsace France
Probably the largest bit of foie gras that I have ever eaten at one time but I certainly wouldn’t complain. The gooseberry brought a much needed element of acidity, while the kombu and crab offered a nice hit of savoury umami to balance everything out.
Mad Hatter’s Tea Party C.1850 – Mock Turtle Soup, Pocket Watch, Toast Sandwich
Pour in the broth
Tea sandwiches with burnt bread - curiouser and curiouser.
What is Mock Turtle soup you ask? Well, any die-hard Alice fan like myself knows that Mock Turtle soup gained popularity in the 19th C because turtle meat was very pricy so instead they would use calves head and feet. This would explain why in Alice in Wonderland the Mock Turtle is portrayed as a turtle body with a calf’s head and hooves. At the restaurant, two servers popped by with two-layered glass teapots (with quail egg, calf’s head and other bits in the bottom and hot water in the top). There was also a “watch box” with gold-lined pocket watches. They call me by my other name, Alice, and let my partner (the dormouse, obviously) listen to the ticking watches (the box actually ticked!) The gold watch was then dropped into the hot water in the teapot and it began to dissolve into gold flakes and bouillon. Once dissolved, we were told to pour it over the soup components and drink it up. Serves on the side, were classic Victorian tea sandwiches- the filling of which included buttered burnt toast, bone marrow, cucumber, and homemade condiments. The fascinating history behind this was that less-affluent British families used to burn an extra piece of bread to add flavour and textural contrast to sandwiches in place of a pricey piece of meat. To me, however, the dish reminded me of my grandmother who used to deliberately make us almost-burnt bread with copious amounts of melted butter. Nostalgia at its best.
Sound of the Sea
A conch with an MP3 player inside
1 & 2) Jummai Daiginjo Masumi Nanago, Mitasaka Brewery, Nagano Prefecture Japan
This next dish began with an auditory sensation as we popped the ear buds in and listened to the sounds of the crashing ocean and seagulls. Next, the dish arrived- a beautiful selection of mackerel, Abelone and Yellow Tail on a bed of tapioca, fried sardine and panko soil, served alongside a seaweed vegetable foam and a variety of fresh seaweeds. If I closed my eyes, I completely forgot that I was sitting in a tiny 7 foot tall room in the countryside and instead could have sworn I was by the sea. This dish was a well-appreciated reminder of the intimate relationship between all of our senses.
Salmon Poached in a Licorice Gel: Black Truffle, Artichoke, Vanilla Mayonnaise and Golden Trout Roe
1) 2009 Veronese, La Grola, Allegrini, Veneto Italy
2) NV Velvet, Weingut Pittnauer, Burgenland Austria
From a flavour perspective, this was probably my favourite dish. The licorice flavour was not at all intrusive, but rather delicate, sweet and floral, pairing absolutely beautifully with the acidic pop of the grapefruit and the aromatic vanilla mayo. I fear I will be dreaming about this one for a while.
Wagyu Beef : Picalilli
An off the menu bite, the beef had been cooked for hours and hours to help yield a melt in your mouth consistency on the tongue.
Lamb with Cucumber C. 1805 : Green Pepper and Caviar
Lamb with green pepper cucumber
1) 1989 Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Pauillac, Bordeaux France
2) 2009 Cakebread Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley USA
The lamb was served a variety of ways here. On the plate, it was tender and succulent, quite luxurious with the pile of caviar, generous smear of seafood nage (a seafood broth thickened with cream) and a green pepper scented cucumber to help cut the fat. On the neighbouring plate we had lamb three ways- heart, tongue (my favourite), and the back of the neck, alongside an almost gelatinous intensively flavoured consommé.
Hot & Iced Tea
We were instructed not to shift the glass but rather to simply lift it up and drink. One side of my mouth was warmed by the tea, the other side was refreshed and chilled. Crazy is all I can say.
Clove Caramelized Blackberries : Hojicha Tea Ice Cream Cornet
Blackberries and white chocolate
1) 1989 Chateau Climens, Barsac, Bourdeaux France
2) 2006 Leonardo, Marjan Simcic, Goriska Brda, Primorje Slovenia
The delicate tea flavour was immensely refreshing with a little bit of blackberry jelly in the bottom of the cone. These were served alongside sweet and aromatic blackberries with a white chocolate and pistachio topped olive oil biscuit for alternating bites. Apparently this dish took them a whole year to develop and would be served for only two weeks during blackberry season. Lucky us.
We got a sneak peak of the dish that will soon replace the aforementioned blackberry delight. Shaped appropriately for its flavour profile, this was essentially all of the components of wine with varying textures, temperatures and colours. As stunning as it looked on the plate, I can assure you it was even nicer on the palate.
Eggs in Verjus C. 1726, Verjus in Egg C 2013
A perfect chocolate egg.
1) 2011 Riesling Auslese, Niederhauser Hermannshohle, H. Donnhoff, Nahe Germany
2) 2011 Joseph Phelps, Eisrebe, Saint Helena, Napa Valley USA
Another favourite dish of ours. Verjus is a juice made from semi-ripe and unfermented grapes so it has a slightly vegetal and tangy flavour that helped cut the richness of the chocolate and custards. Delicate and quickly set by liquid nitrogen, the chocolate shell shattered when tapped with a spoon. Inside a creamy panna cotta “white” was revealed, alongside a bright yellow Campari and verjus “yolk”. Below that was a mixture of spun sugar and phyllo pastry and a bit of sweet tangy kabuso jelly to balanced everything out. Inventive, interactive and an absolute pleasure to eat.
Whisk(e)y Wine Gums
This dish was a little map of some of the world’s popular whiskey regions with wobbly jelly whisky bottles that allowed one to eat their nightcap. It was absolutely incredible how different each bottle tasted and how unmistakable they were from the liquid version.
“Like a Kid in a Candy Shop” : Aerated Chocolate with Mandarin Jelly, Coconut Baccy with the Aroma of Black Cavendish Tobacco, Apple Pie Caramel with Edible Wrapper, Queen of Hearts (She Made Some Tarts)
A very cute and whimsical last few bites- every candy was unique and well thought out. Being a caramel fiend, my favourite was of course the apple pie caramel, but the beautifully painted Queen of Tarts jam filled cookie (kind of like a pop-tart keeping in line with the Alice story theme) was a very fun idea as well.
-You can probably guess that it was not a cheap meal. For the two tasting menus, ½ pours of the first level wines and full pours of the premium pairings, as well as 2 glasses of champagne and 2 teas, the bill came to (ready for it?) ₤ 1125. That is $1815 hard earned Canadian dollars. Was it worth it? Ab-so-lute-ly.
-Heston’s magical style, creativity, and his appreciation for the power of memory and full-bodied sensation made this the best meal of my life. I was blown away both by the flavours and innovation in every dish, and I would have no problem suggesting to anyone to save their pennies for as long as they have to so that they may experience this. I look forward to the day- year- decade – whatever – that I can one day return.