and then there are the Best
Updated: Apr 7, 2020
Heston Blumenthal has built up a worldwide reputation of creating the most beautiful food and surrounding it in a pazaz that raises its offering from mere food into delightful entertainment. The sheer pageantry of every aspect makes a visit unique and completely worthwhile. Spoiler Alert! But here is our apology. If you want an exact description of the food we ate and the wine we sampled I'm afraid you are going to be slightly disappointed... for although we love to do food critiques we actually felt that as it was a special occasion (It was Pook's birthday) and we should just relax and enjoy. So I'll be honest - there are dishes that we simply cannot recall exactly what they tasted like. Also... this is Heston's.. and that means lots and lots and lots of courses, so unless you really like reading about food look away, but...
We caught a taxi to The Fat Duck which is located in Bray and even the taxi driver was excited. He pulled up outside a fairly typical English countryside off-white 16th century building and our door was opened not by the driver but by a man dressed in formal day dress. He enquired as to who we were and welcomed us to the front door and helped us take some photographs of us at the entrance. Then, as if by magic the door opened and we were met with two other people who took our coats. As far as I can recall I'm sure they knew our names and just made reference to confirming the time we had booked. Then we were beckoned down a mirrored corridor whose LED lights made the walls look as if they we a black hole into infinity. The very large door at the end opened and inside were a number of immaculately laid tables for small groups.
On each table lay an ornate magnifying glass, an empty water glass on its side and what at first appeared to be a napkin. However, the napkin turned out to be a rolled up map of our "food journey". When you looked at it, upon close inspection with the magnifying glass, you could make out small messages. We were offered a glass of champagne and I often prefer to choose wine rather than opt for the wine pairing. I was aghast at the size of the voluminous book that was the wine list. The wine choice went into the thousands and I admitted defeat and we chose the pairing. Quite frankly I'm glad we did.
The first thing that happens is that a waiter (called a Storyteller) comes across and offers you a choice of cocktails. Once choices are made a squirted ball of mousse is lowered into a bubbling container of liquid nitrogen and by the magic of science out pops an alcoholic meringue. It is an artistic and wonderful way to start the evening... why have your cocktail in a glass when it can explode in your mouth as an insanely delicious one-bite wonder?
Once we had finished marvelling at this introduction, waiting staff brought over the first course....
This consisted of what we can only describe as being like a macaroon made out of an aerated beetroot served on a huge green plate. It was divine and just the right flavour to cleanse the palate for the evening. Next we were treated to Just the tonic!
Just the tonic is a play in a Gin and Tonic but we are talking Heston... so don't be tricked this is not a Gin and Tonic but a cold herbaceous and peppery consomme poured over a bed of petals, vegetables and a smoked cumin royale and jerusalem artichoke ice cream. The vibrant, green juice was a wacky combination of ingredients but one which tasted amazing.
This was a a "drink" prepared by our storyteller. I think i had a Pina Colada and Pook chose the Vodka Lime Soda. The storyteller then prepared in liquid form which was then frozen with liquid nitrogen into a meringue like ball. The "drink" was consumed in one mouthful and with cold smoke meant to be exhaled from your nose made us look like dragons!
The following dish wasn't food at all, it was a small glass of tea entitled "Excuse me, my tea seems to be cold... and hot." It arrived and the waiting staff urged you to drink it without turning it around and to do so quite quickly so as not to spoil the sensation. The title of this dish was very accurate as once the tip of the small glass hit your lips, one side of your mouth got a completely different sensation to the other. On the left was warm tea, a little sweet and definitely hot. On the right, at the same time was the sensation and taste of some iced tea. It was the most unusual thing I've tasted in a long time.
The Fat Duck experience is designed very purposefully to take you on a journey. So far we had had what effectively were some palate cleansers reminiscent of the hair of the dog and a cup of tea. Now, it was breakfast time and the meal was called "Morning: Rise and shine, it's breakfast time.... Why do I have to choose between a variety pack and a full English?" Well you don’t with Heston, the variety pack arrived looking every bit like you'd find made by a well-known cereal maker but upon close inspection they had strange names like Crispy Quackers with pictures of ducks on it, or brick bites, pillow puffs and Serious Cereal. I suspect that the contents were the same whatever you chose. On the side of the box was a strange coat of arms and
"By appointment to HM The Queen of Hearts purveyors of Fine Cereals.
Customer Care Should you end up without the particular cereal box you had set your heart on, please do not contact the management, but endeavour to swap your box withe a fellow guest's - possibly when they are not looking!"
Inside each box was a puzzle that once constructed made a small coin box with the words "Sweet Money. Place your coin in here. Keep it safe. You will need it later". The packets contained a number of different coloured cereal pieces and you added them to what looked like milk in a bowl. Of course though, this is The Fat Duck and the milk turned out to be tasting of egg and each crunchy item in the variety pack tasted of beans, sausage, bacon and black pudding.. it was a full English in a bowl!
With breakfast over, it was
"Mid-Morning: First one to see the sea..." This is a Fat Duck classic but as we are writing this from memory you will have to bear with any mistakes. it was a beautiful display of what we think consisted of pickled seaweed, scallop, razor clam and a fabulous crumb base with what we think was a glorious oyster foam.
To help you get in the mood, each guest at this point is given a sea shell out from which are earphone wires. The shell plays sounds that are reminiscent of the sea. Waves melodically lap against the shore whilst children laugh in the wind and seagulls swark above. It is a sensory experience no other restaurant we've been to offers.
Now as we all know, an almost traditional event when one goes to the seaside is having an ice cream and the next course is "Can I have some money for the ice cream van?"
Here Heston offers you some miniature offerings from a sandy beach and the ice cream van. They consist of a “Zoom Rocket Lolly” and Twister Lolly.
The Zoom Rocket Lolly was done as a Waldorf salad with three very distinct flavours - Walnut, Celery and Apple. The Twister Lolly was a stunning Salmon, Avocado and Horse Radish tower on a delicate little wooden lollipop stick. The combination of these ingredients were working well for me. Yummmmy! To finish off this ensemble we were handed on a tiny wooden serving tray a Crab and Passion fruit 99 it is actually an icy cold ice cream (the size of my nose) and the unexpected bite flavour made it wondrous, the texture of crunch from the cone and the soft serve crab ice cream is delicious.
Then we went Rockpooling, this dish was cornish crab with smoked caviar in a white chocolate sauce... It sounds strange but was presented in a rock plate and i could have eaten many more.
After spending the morning by the seaside, the afternoon Heston takes you inland and into the woods.. Afternoon: If you go down to the woods today... is presented in a glass cabinet and as the waiter adds water the dry ice in the base grabs the flavours and covets the table with the most delightful of wild mushroom smells that leave your mouth tingling with anticipation. I won't spoil the golden touch on this dish other than to say I want to sail around the world and cycle round the places to see what they have to offer... and the Fat Duck knew this!
Damping through the borough-groves was the next leg of our journey and was mushroom beet and blackberry, scented with fig leaf, meadowsweet, oakmoss and black truffle. We explored the flavour of the woods with this dish which resembled a scene much like the one you could imagine in the woods. The dish came scattered with tiny real crispy worms to give it a level of authenticity. The worms were, of course dead and fried and tasted like fire crackers!
Course after course arrives for your delight and the next on our journey was the Mock Turtle Picnic. A card arrived with the dish almost like a bookmark and told how in the past mock turtle soup was made with a broth from calves. The IS the Fat Duck and soup is never just soup.... sorry to add another video to this page but... well words fail me. What turns up on the plate is a gold leaf tea bag presented in its own little box, with it are a glass teapot with some water in it and a joining cup with what looks like a fried egg, small pieces of ham, vegetable cubes and some leaves in and cup. When you dip the tea bag into the hot water and begin to stir it, the gold leaf drops away and the tea bag disintegrates into a visual nasal experience that is an Oxtail soup sensation on your tongue.... oh and it comes with a miniature sandwich.
Are you ready for Dinner?
Yes! after all this time we are now embarking upon our "meal" and the chef decided to serve Pook a treat or transition dish of some delicately cooked prawns on skewers (just because she'd said she likes them).
The Starter was "Prawn cocktail" which was in fact lobster. The black sesame drops and super thin seaweed crisps gave a very oriental taste... very Japanese influenced arrangement on top of a precise line of onion gel. Very good. Heath is useless and had green soup called snail Porridge (shown below) but now has no idea what is was..... USELESS!
After this was the main course but this was in two parts as well. One of the main courses was Duck a l 'Orange. The duck was stunning, cooked beautifully and with a shallot stack that had many textures and worked well with the duck. The orange was strong and then fresh, the puree was sweet and sticky with a crispy texture of the slow cooked duck spring roll and duck skin over a beautiful sous-vide duck breast. Fish main course was a work of art on the plate. Each drizzle of sauce was beautiful and individual with strong flavours complimenting the fish wonderfully. Yummmmy!
DESSERT : We saw this dish on TV when Australian Masterchef 2015 "Billie" recreated it during the grand finale. She spent 4 hours making this complicated and oh so difficult to make dish. There are a lot of technical elements in this dish also a variety of deconstructed elements to this dessert that represent the different sort of grapes. - molecular gastronomy!
A Citrus sorbet, white chocolate with pear caramel, peach wine gum. The most difficult one is the blown up golden sugar glass like grape in the middle.... and more. They are all sits on a bed of crusted biscuits, crystallized chocolate, parmesan powder= the soil. Mind blowing dessert.
If that wasn't enough, Heston offered us an Aperitif.... but it was a Digestif (serious enough for the kids, fun enough for the adults) was a presentation of whisky wine gums. Each gum had an explanation of its origin and you could easily taste the difference, where one was sharper another would be more peaty. They were highly satisfying.
Bedtime: Off to the land of Nod, here comes the floating in the air cushion! Above the white large pebble stone. Very intriguing indeed!! Counting sheep: is served on a levitating pillow with a furry, scented camomile spoon. Very light and subtle flavours. Tasted as light as it looked.
And then to dream
Like a kid in a sweetshop
We have eaten at our fair share of top tables in the world but this final show was a joy to watch.... remember back to one of the first dishes that was the cereal boxes and the making of a money box? Well now you get the chance to use it. One of the famulous waitresses wheels over a rather unassuming sweet trolley and unwinds a handle on the side to open the DOLLS HOUSE SWEET SHOP. She takes your coin from its money box and puts it in the slot at the front and the magic starts. Randomly tiny drawers begin to pop out and back again until finally one stays open. This pull out tray holds sweets for you to take home after you've had a cup of coffee and paid the bill. We are told that the items in the sweet shop ARE sweets and not just models. I find this hard to believe as the scale of this microscopic offering would need medical equipment to make...... thank you for reading this extra long blog of this amazing place to eat. We began trying to offer restaurants a scale of "How far would we be willing to travel to eat here again (in miles). So every time you read reviews from now on we will add this score at the bottom. It is not a star rating of quality but more of an appreciation for the food, ambience and how much it costs. Hestons is a place we would travel the world to eat at again... and probably will at some point.
Despite the obviously crazy investment into not just the food and the amount of time it must take to prepare, the crazy price you have to pay to eat here means we cannot in all justification give it good value for money. That said we would (if we had the money) return here in a heartbeat.
We have awarded the Fat Duck our highest score.. meaning we would happily drive 100 Miles just to eat here again.... but boy would it have to be a special occasion.