I am not sure I know enough superlatives to write a review of the Fat Duck. Can you just assume that unless I say anything to the contrary each course was a stunning, mind-expanding, roller-coaster ride of super-orgiastic delight.
After copious quantities of their brilliantly tasty bread and raw butters we began the night with a palate-cleanser: liquid nitrogen-frozen green tea and lime mousse. The liquid that will become the mousse is dipped into a bath of liquid nitrogen (at your table). When it is taken out it is dusted with green tea powder and you eat it in one. It has the most amazing texture and, whilst it was a bit cold, the effect is remarkably mouth-watering. It served its purpose exactly as it should.
As each person was served, a small amount of lime-grove scent was misted into the air. This was to set a pattern for the rest of the meal. The dishes tended to be of a quirky, elaborately-presented nature, but it is testament to the sheer, mind-buggering brilliance of the food that it wasn’t ever over-shadowed by the theatrics of the dish construction, stunning table-ware and outlandish decanters.
A gazpacho of red cabbage with pommery grain mustard ice cream followed. After Daniel tried this he announced, “Red cabbage finally has a point!” It was such a little dish and was presented so elegantly. Good job it was so tasty so we didn’t mind destroying it.
The next course clearly demonstrated that the quality of food took precedence over even the most flashy of presentational fireworks. It was supposed to be a treat for the senses. Firstly we were brought a bed of moss on which were little Fat Duck-branded packets each containing a tiny sheet of film. The idea was you let this film dissolve on your tongue and it released a strong flavour of oak. Now this wasn’t the silliest bit. The waiter then poured a jug of water onto the moss causing cascades of thick mist to roll down the table, releasing a powerful smell of forest floor in the process. Finally, we got the food part of this affair and it blew my mind; this was the point in the meal where I started groaning and writhing with pleasure. It shouldn’t have worked, but jelly of quail with langoustine cream and chicken liver parfait was a stunning combination of ever-changing flavours and textures as you worked your way through the different layers of food. A comedically enjoyable course that delivered pleasure from its elegant presentation to when you swallowed the last spoonful. Almost as an after-thought there was a tiny piece of truffled toast at the side; quite lovely.
Now, foie gras is a marvellous thing that we all want to horse down as much as possible, but I’d wager few people have had it as good as we did at the Corpulent Canard. It was roast and based on how awful roast foie gras was when I had it at the Connaught I really was not expecting it to be so delicious. The texture was amazing, served in three bite-sized, amazingly flavourful pieces with a few drips of gooseberry coulis and a crab biscuit. If the last course was top-shelf food porn (and it was) then this was food porn from a shop with blacked-out windows and garish flashing signs on it.
More silliness for the next course called mock turtle soup – mad hatter tea. We were presented with a little cup containing a gold-leaf gilded ‘watch’, with a teabag string and label attached. When the waiter poured water into the cup the watch disintegrated, leaving bits of gold foil floating around and giving out a powerfully stocky flavour. We then had to pour this ‘tea’ into a bowl which contained a ‘mock turtle egg’ (studded with impossibly tiny mushrooms) and a little stack of gelatinous, slow-cooked mystery meat. This dish could have been over-worked and less enjoyable, but as with all the food it had been designed to be eaten first and foremost. I chortled with mirth as I ate my soup.
Next was a Blumenthal classic, “Sound of the sea”. The sound part was provided by conch shells with iPods inside them. We were supposed to be listening to the recording of the sea these played as we ate our tapioca and eel ‘sand’ on which there was edible seaweed and pieces of raw fish. I thought the iPod angle was un-necessary, but the fish was amazing. Served at a perfect temperature the yellowfin, mackerel and halibut pieces had great character; tasty with an appealing texture. Even the sand was rather good.
The next course proved they could cook fish as well as serve it raw, salmon poached in liquorice with artichokes, vanilla mayonnaise, golden trout roe and Manni olive oil. This totally compelled me, I could go on for an age about the construction of the dish, the interplay of flavours and textures, the amazing skill in (hardly) cooking the salmon and many other wonderful rants, but shall we keep it short? OK, this was an inventively prepared, but ultimately really satisfying piece of fish.
Three-star chefs have a bit of a thing for pigeon, it seems; we often have it at l’Arnsbourg and it showed up on the menu here. In what sense the powdered Anjou pigeon was powdered I don’t know, but it was quite staggeringly well-cooked, totally tender and soft. This was pigeon better than I’ve experienced it before. Along with it came some blood pudding, which was in the form of an impossibly rich sauce, and some confit of innards, which is always the kind of thing that amuses. They were actually very tasty, too.
We then moved onto taffaty tart with caramelized apple, fennel, rose and candied lemon. This is a seventeenth century recipe which had been imaginatively reconstructed. It was strongly scented with rose and fennel and served with a spoonful of intensely fruity blackcurrant sorbet. Very refreshing.
A ‘not-so-full English breakfast’ was served next. Again this was a multi-part affair and once again the main idea that was followed was that it should be an enjoyable experience. We laughed when we were given a little box containing dried parsnip flakes much in appearance like cornflakes. We dutifully poured these into our little cereal bowls and were offered some parsnip ‘milk’ to put on them. I’m not sure I know any parsnips well enough to milk them but it was entertaining and tasty. More nitro-action followed. The waiter broke a couple of eggs into a vat of the freezing liquid and pulled them out when they had much the texture of ice cream. We ate this and, as the waiter had promised, in addition to the egg flavours they also tasted of bacon. The final offering in this course was hot and iced tea. The tea had somehow been stabilised into a hot and a cold layer and as you drank this you could feel the two different temperature zones.
One course, alas, was differently edible. If you’ve got this far you’ll probably want some colourful expletives here, but I will limit my outburst to saying that I don’t give an epworth how historically accurate the recipe is, if it tastes like filth don’t serve it. This culinary monstrosity was chocolate wine slush. It was worse than it sounds, red wine with bitter chocolate and icy slush? EEERGH! We were told that such concoctions were thought medicinal in the seventeenth century, with promises of it ‘increasing seed’, but if that is what it takes to increase seed I’d rather be a jaffa*.
For the final course we were each presented with a framed map showing historic wine trade routes to Britain with five wine bottle shaped jellies stuck to it. These ‘wine gums’ were very strongly flavoured of the wines from the appropriate countries. I thought this was not only quite tasty, but also a real hoot. In addition to this we were given a bag of sweets (‘Like a kid in a sweet shop’) to take home with us; these were quite delicious but probably un-necessary.
The Fat Duck provided obscenely exciting, pulsatingly interesting and god-damned delicious food. Some things, like the wine mark-ups and the lack of space between tables, were less than perfect, but the paradigm-shattering quality of everything else completely dwarfed these concerns.
Perhaps this sounds an odd thing to say, but we found ourselves thinking that the cost of the tasting menu was a screaming bargain, given the ideas, ingredients and hard work that have gone into giving us this florid pleasure. We are strongly of the opinion that fine dining is one of the great under-valued experiences of modern life and this meal only affirmed that view. We shall return (as soon as we can get another booking).
Contact details: The Fat Duck, High Street, Bray SL6 2AQ Tel: 01628 580 333. Call two months to the day before you need your reservation.