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A Year Ago…The Fat Duck***, Bray [Restaurant Review]

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Reviewed by The Wild Boar

Firstly a disclaimer: we ate this meal over a year ago before I started writing reviews and the PigPig got her little hands on a DSLR, so the menu has changed (a bit) and it may not be entirely accurate (but I do try to make sure it’s as best as I remember it). After eating at the other 3* restaurant next door, we both thought it’ll be nice to follow up with this long overdue review.

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Anyway we went there when my parents came down for my graduation. If you’re reading a food blog, you’ll probably know all about the Fat Duck by now, so I won’t bore you with details about the restaurant or its chef. If you do want more information though, Laissez Fare has an excellent introduction in his review along with a thorough description of the travails in obtaining a reservation while Catty also makes for a good read.

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We opted for the degustation and individual little menus in wax stamped envelopes were given to us, which proved helpful later as we could continuously refer to them to figure out what we were eating.

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Moving straight onto the food then…

The mouthwash of “Nitro-poached green tea and lime mousse” was prepared at the table as he shook green tea powder over the little ball. Quite hard to explain what it "tastes" or "feels" like in the mouth, as it bursts in the mouth to give a very short lived sour burst with the fragrance of green tea. Overall, a good start to pique our interest and to wash our palates.

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Nitro-poached green tea and lime mousse

Next up was “Orange and beetroot jelly”. We didn’t like this too much and I found the orange tasted a lot like grass. (Pigpig: very earthy)

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Orange and beetroot jelly

The fun really begins with “Oyster, passion fruit jelly, lavender”; a dish that sounded pretty revolting to me initially as I’m not a big oyster fan. However, when I popped the whole thing in my mouth, it suddenly seemed like such a natural combination and the mixture of the brine from the oyster with the citrusy sweetness of passion fruit with the hint of lavender was just mind-blowing.

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Oyster, passion fruit jelly, lavender

I’m embarrassed to say that I honestly don’t remember much about the “Pommery grain mustard ice cream, red cabbage gazpacho”.

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Pommery grain mustard ice cream, red cabbage gazpacho

...especially since the next course was so brilliant. “Jelly of quail, langoustine cream, parfait of foie gras, oak moss and truffle toast”. The waiter served us all the dishes, placed a moss covered little tray in the center of the table and asked us to each take one of the packets on the tray. Inside each packet was a little film which we had to put on our tongues (I vaguely remember the taste of wood). He then poured some water over the moss and smoke poured out from it.

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Jelly of quail, langoustine cream, parfait of foie gras, oak moss and truffle toast

Only after were we allowed to eat the tempting little morsels. The truffle toast was very generously topped with truffles but the true gem was the bowl containing the utterly sinful creamy fattening combination mentioned above. If you can just imagine the richness of the foie gras mixed with the tastes of the langoustine and quail in a mixture that itself had several slightly different textural layers to it… absolutely amazing and I would have been happy if we had stopped there and then.

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We then started upon the first of the mains; “Snail porridge with Jabugo ham and shaved fennel”. This is one of the signature dishes and it did not disappoint despite the high expectations. The fennel provided a nice crunchy texture to the otherwise mushy porridge and rubbery snails while the ham gave the dish some additional flavour.

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Snail porridge with Jabugo ham and shaved fennel

It is always a pleasure to eat foie gras, so we were all quite eager to sample the twist Blumenthal applied to his “Roast foie gras ‘Benzaldehyde’ with almond fluid gel, cherry and chamomile”. This was quite possibly the best foie gras I have ever had, more like eating soft bubbly tasty fat than eating meat. The various creams and jellies provided some room for us to experiment by choosing our own personal favourites and the freshly diced chives added not only colour and texture but a nice fresh aroma.

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Roast foie gras ‘Benzaldehyde’ with almond fluid gel, cherry and chamomile

The next dish was simply a masterpiece in presentation: “Sound of the sea”. But before the dish came, we each were given a large cone shell, from which earphones were hanging out of and we were advised to listen to the track playing the gentle waves on a beach while eating the dish. I had seen Blumenthal’s television show whereby he explained the reasoning behind the iPod – essentially he heard somewhere that the sense of sound can also increase one’s eating pleasure.

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The main bits were a raw oyster, sliced razor clams and cockles while the supporting characters included seaweed and crunchy deep fried eel for the sand. The entire dish was edible (except the plate) and while the shellfish itself was nice, on its own it is completely ordinary (although admittedly very good quality and fresh). But as part of the entire plate they all suddenly became so wondrous and magical (cue proverb: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts).

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Sound of the sea

After that came “Salmon poached in liquorice gel with artichoke, vanilla mayonnaise, olive oil and grapefruit bits”. I suspect the fish was prepared sous-vide, especially since I’ve seen Blumenthal on television preparing other dishes with this technique. The meat was so incredibly soft and tender that you could feed it to your elderly grandmother who lost all her teeth years ago, just the tongue is enough to ‘chew’ this. It went pretty well with the mayonnaise and sweetish gel, but it just wasn’t “wow” enough after the previous dishes. The best bit for me was the plate presentation – the grapefruit bits reminded me of sakura blossoms.

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Salmon poached in liquorice gel with artichoke, vanilla mayonnaise, olive oil and grapefruit bits

The last of the mains was “Ballotine of Anjou pigeon with black pudding, pickling brine and special juices”. It caused my parents some anxiety as the pigeon was so pink and tender, they thought it was raw (it wasn’t, well, not to me anyway). I tend to like my meat a bit bloody so this suited me quite well and the black pudding was deliciously meaty but not overpoweringly so (for the life of me I can’t remember what that crackling looking like thing is!).

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Ballotine of Anjou pigeon with black pudding, pickling brine and special juices

I was getting a little nervous by this point since I was starting to get full, and we were just about to start on the desserts. The “Hot and iced tea” managed to lift my appetites again though. Although it just looks like a single cup of tea, it actually contained two separate portions of tea, one hot and the other cold. It had quite a viscous quality, keeping the two temperatures separate. The waiter advised us not to dawdle drinking it, so I gulped mine down quickly. It was amazing how the different temperatures mixed in the mouth and the tea itself tasted pretty good too.

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Hot and iced tea

Mrs Marshall’s margaret cornet” was disappointingly small. We were given a leaflet explaining who Mrs Marshall was. Mrs Agnes B. Marshall, one of the greatest Victorian cooks was the first person to publish suggestion of making ice-cream using liquid gas. This ice-cream (which apparently was apple ice cream with orange and ginger granita) and cone were made using her original recipe.

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Mrs Marshall’s margaret cornet

The "Pine sherbet fountain” was really sour! We used a vanilla stick to dip into the little bottle of powdered pine sherbet. It worked quite well to sharpen up the palate again.

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The Pine sherbet fountain

Mango and douglas fir puree, bavarois of lychee and mango, blackcurrant sorbet” came and went quickly. I think they were generally pretty good but I don’t remember much of them now to be honest…

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Mango and douglas fir puree, bavarois of lychee and mango, blackcurrant sorbet

...mainly because we were more wowed by the next two desserts. The “Parsnip cereal” was given to us in a little box whereas parsnip flavoured milk was provided to eat the cereal with. I have to admit I was a little nonplussed with it at first. I’m not a great fan of parsnip so it was just okay for me; the PigPig however loved it and I’m sure she would have bought back cartons of the milk to eat with her own cereal at home given the chance.

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Parsnip cereal

Finally, another of Fat Duck’s signature dishes, the “Nitro-scrambled egg and bacon ice cream with pain perdu and tea jelly”. The dish was prepared by the table with the waiter cracking an ‘egg’ into the pot followed by liquid hydrogen to ‘cook’ it. After stirring the mixture for a bit, the waiter took out the cooked ‘egg’ and plopped it on top of a slice of French toast (= pain perdu) with jam and wafer thin caramelised bacon candy.

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For inquisitive minds, I’m guessing that the ‘egg’ was filled with prepared cream which was then frozen by the liquid hydrogen to form ice cream. Anyway, the taste of the egg and bacon was still prominent, but moulded and sweetened to make it a more than acceptable and delicious dessert treat.

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Nitro-scrambled egg and bacon ice cream with pain perdu and tea jelly

The tea jelly as well was amazing, combining the sharpness of the tea with the soft jelly.

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tea jelly

Lastly, the petit four comprising of carrot and orange lolly, mandarin aerated chocolate, violet tartlet and apple pie caramel with an edible wrapper. To be honest, I was still thinking about the egg and bacon ice cream while eating this and wasn’t paying much attention to my mouth (on eating autopilot).

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Altogether, the tasting menu for four including two bottles of still water and a glass of champagne all around came to nearly £150 each, still my most expensive meal in England (although this was paid by my parents).

Food – 9.9
Service – 8.0
Atmosphere – 6.0
Value – 7.0

What can I say? For most people, this is THE most sought after place to eat in the entire UK, the culinary Holy Grail for some. My expectations were high; I expected to be amazed, delighted, to be shown and fed the best food available by the second best restaurant in the world – I was delivered all that and more. The combinations, technique and inventiveness of the dishes are simply on a different level to the average Michelin starred restaurant.

If you are able to tolerate unorthodox cooking styles, looking for a simply outstanding dining experience and able to shell out a fair amount of money, then this is simply going to be the most amazing experience of your epicurean life (until you go to El Bulli?).

Would I eat here again? Yes please.

The Fat Duck
High Street
Tel: +44 (0) 1628 580 333
Official website

The Fat Duck on Urbanspoon

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