As you may have guessed, I am a foodie.
What gave it away? The Tweets of where I am and what I’m eating? The Instagrams of my soon to be devoured treat? Or, was it the fact I have an entire website that although pretends to be a Lifestyle Blog, ultimately reverts back to all things food.
Whichever of these hinted that this was the case, bravo, you’ve figured out what makes me tick: food.
I spend most of my days in a food daze. If I’m not currently eating, I’m planning what I’ll eat, where I’ll eat, what I’d like to cook, looking at recipes, reading restaurant reviews, and more often than not, scrolling through food porn. So where does the food obsessed, inner fat kid, chef groupie dream of going?
The Fat Duck.
I’ve been a fan of Heston Blumenthal for years. He takes playing with food to a different extreme. Although my adoration for rustic, simple food goes far, the element of surprise incorporated into a dish with full flavor is more than I could ever dream of. I think that every Chef’s goal with each dish should be to make the consumer utter, “Wow.” Better yet, to render them speechless, consumed by their mouthful, dissecting the different flavors, wondering to themselves, “How did they do that?” The real genius of Blumenthal is his ability to take the element of surprise and the intensity of flavors and combine them into a dining experience. His dishes tell a story, cause confusion, wonder, surprise, even giddiness, and the consumer is not only left with a stomach full of gourmet science experiments, but with a complete sensory engaging experience.
This isn’t a review or a critique, this is a narration of the best meal ever.
So, we’re in the car on the longest journey ever.
The trip was actually only about an hour long, but the butterflies flapping around in my empty stomach and my head dizzy with excitement were all too much to handle for the longest hour car ride of my life. As we pulled into the quaint little town of Bray, our eyes were peeled, searching for any sign of the famous three words: The Fat Duck. Nothing. No big words plastered on the wall, no signs indicating that this door lead to the culinary experience of a lifetime, nothing. And then I saw it. Three silver utensils dangling, each having been partially morphed with the anatomy of a duck, the famous logo that represents The Fat Duck.
We parked at Blumenthal’s pub, Hind’s Head, and tottered over the cobblestones to the unmarked door. Tentative as to what would greet me in the world of Heston Blumenthal waiting on the other side, I slowly opened the door to a simple, modern piece of glass and a friendly faced maître d’. He greeted us politely and requested we have a drink in the Hind’s Head as we were ten minutes early. Staff worked like clockwork prepping behind him in the simple room with low ceilings and white walls.
We walked back to the Hind’s Head next door and chatted to the friendliest bartender as she meticulously polished the wine glasses. She tells us that the cozy pub has been standing in this very spot since the 15th century and that the crooked beams supporting the walls and ceilings have been taken from a ship. All the while her hands move robotically, steam, polish, clink, steam, polish, clink. As the counter filled with a sea of sparkling glasses, we finished our chat, more than ready for what we had come for.
A smiling host greeted us and walked us through the dining room to what can only be described as the best seat in the house. With my back to the curtained windows, I had a view of the entire dining room. The kitchen is tucked away to the back, right of the room, obviously hidden to increase the element of surprise. The room itself is intimate, broken up by wooden beams, light, and simple. Our napkins are perfectly rolled with the stitched words: The Fat Duck Heston Blumenthal perfectly on display. A tiny vase of wildflowers guards a small slab of black granite, sitting unassumingly in the center of the table. Stage laid, bring on the performance.
Beetroot and Horseradish Cream Savoury Macaron
A waiter appears at the table carrying a minute plate in his fingertips. Upon it are three red, round figures. The waiter explains our amuse bouche as an aerated beet shell with horseradish cream to prepare the palate for the dishes to come. Imagine the inside of a Malteaser(UK)/Malted Milk Ball(US). Now imagine that crunchy, aerated texture to not only taste like beets, but to be filled with a light, airy cream with the kick of horseradish. This is the Chef’s little way of saying, “Get ready.”
We watched as countless waiters danced around each other, serving the other guests their amuse bouche and preparing them for their adventure. The dishes served are staggered and seeing glimpses of performances on the other side of the room only heightened the anticipation. We were handed a leather bound menu detailing the dishes to come. When reaching the end of the menu, the page can be flipped to reveal the beginning again, like a magic wallet. Incredible detail for the easily amused. Although we were sad to see our leather bound books go, they were replaced with a small, paper version which sat in the center of the table as a guide to our adventure.
We began to hear coos of excitement across the room and could see the unmistakable hurried flow of smoke billowing from a bucket. The anticipation was building and I could hardly contain my excitement when trays holding canisters and different colored bundles were placed on the table. Our waiter began to prepare our Nitro Poached Aperitifs table side. As he poured the liquid nitrogen into a lined bucket, he described the ingredients and the science behind their cooking method. We had three options: Gin & Tonic, Campari Soda with Blood Orange and Proseco, and Green Tea with Vodka and Lime. I requested my Blood Orange Aperitif and watched as he squeezed the creamy mixture onto a tablespoon. This was then dropped into the liquid nitrogen to poach until crunchy. The frozen puff is then sprinkled with Blood Orange dust and served to be eaten as quickly as possible. The waiter sprayed a citrus oil over me and I placed my Nitro Poached Aperitif in my mouth. I squeezed it gently against the roof of my mouth and smoke shot out of my nose. It originally consisted of the temperature and texture of ice cream, but as I began to crush it, it disappeared. As I breathed in the citrus spray, the bitter taste Blood Orange flooded my taste buds.
An edible science experiment.
Red Cabbage Gazpacho with Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream
Next, a different waiter appeared with three oversized bowls. In the center, a Quenelle of Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream sitting on a bed of minute, perfectly diced onion. Another waiter appears and pours the magenta liquid of the Red Cabbage Gazpacho into the bowl. Each bite was a cold mixture of flavour with an added crunch of the onion. The Mustard Ice Cream cut the bitterness of the Red Cabbage Gazpacho leaving a sweet, tangy aftertaste. The combination was strange but worked well together.
With these fascinating displays and delicious tastes, we were ready for more.
Jelly of Quail, Crayfish Cream, Chicken Liver Parfait, with Oak Moss and Truffle Toast
I began to see smoke billowing over another diner’s table and was pleased to see more trays emerging from the kitchen. A waiter appeared and placed a bed of oak moss on the table. Upon it, were three tiny cases, similar to those of Listerine strips, containing what were described as Fat Duck Films. A dish containing the Jelly of Quail, Crayfish Cream, and Chicken Liver Parfait was then served to each of us with a block of wood displaying the Truffle Toast. Our waiter then prepped us for our journey through the forest. We each placed our Fat Duck Film on our tongues to taste “earth”. The waiter then poured water onto the bed of Oak Moss and scented smoke rushed over the table. The taste of the earth mixed with the smell of wet forest prepped our palates for the next dish. A spoonful of the creamy, flavourful mixture completely blew me away. Each element could be identified with the different consistencies of jelly, cream, and parfait. With the creamy mouthful, I took a bite of the Truffle Toast. A nice crunch packed with the flavour of truffle to cut the richness of the cream.
Definitely the most interesting walk through the forest I’ve ever taken.
Our next dish was presented in a tiny white pot. The dish title sounds like something out of a storybook that the evil character would try to feed its captive. The waiter removed the lid to reveal Snail Porridge. A pile of crunchy, shaved Fennel topped a bright green Porridge. The Porridge had oats, strips of Iberico Bellota Ham, and perfectly cooked, meaty Escargot. Although it wasn’t exactly your average breakfast bowl of porridge, the flavor combination was incredible. There were spicy notes of Green Curry which tied the different ingredients together beautifully.
My empty bowl was whisked away and left nothing but the scent of Green Curry in the air. Two waiters appeared soon after with a tray and a basket. There was never a lack of waiters nearby, but the service was attentive, not robotic. The waiter with the basket offered a choice of Brown or White Sourdough bread. I know you can’t believe that I’ve come all the way to The Fat Duck and am filling up on Bread, but this was freshly made, bubbly, Sourdough Bread! The waiter with the tray then revealed three yellow slabs of what appeared to be Cheddar Cheese. He then selected one with his silver tongs and placed it onto the black slab of granite that had been sitting unassumingly on the table up until now. Guess what it was?
Unpasteurized, Sea Salted, Butter. Now are you going to try and tell me not to fill up on the Bread? No, I think you’d grab your butter knife and slather the forbidden spread onto your fresh slice of Sourdough just like I did. Twice. I obviously had to sample both the Brown and White Sourdough for comparative reasons.
Roast Foie Gras
Where to begin. A massive portion of Roasted Foie Gras was served as a piece of art. It lay on top of pieces of braised Kombu, a type of kelp that gave each bite a sweet and salty note with a similar texture to seaweed. It was also served with Barberry sauce, a sauce with the tartness of tomato sauce, but the sweetness of a berry. Last but not least, wedged between each bite of Foie Gras, Crab Biscuits. That’s right, Crab Biscuits. Wafer thin flakes that literally contained the flavor of Sweet Crab. I could happily snack on these all day and would like to make a formal request to Chef Blumenthal, because you’re reading this of course, please make and sell these as your next snack available in Waitrose. Forget your Hot & Sour Nuts and your Smoked Salts, it’s all about the Crab Biscuits.
Mad Hatter’s Tea Party
The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party was quite possibly my favorite part of the feast. It’s really difficult to choose a favourite, and now I’m wrestling with my decision, but it truly was an amazing experience. A white and silver bookmark was placed on the table depicting the part in Alice in Wonderland where she is asked if she has seen the Mock Turtle yet. The back of the bookmark describes the Mock Turtle’s story and its popularity in the 19th century. Soon after reading our bookmarks and discussing what was to come, a two layered, clear teapot was placed before each of us. Before trying to guess what was in the teapot, another waiter appeared with gold Pocket Watches which we were to repair by dipping in our tea. We each dipped the Pocket Watch into the top tea pot of boiling water, and swirled it around until it dissolved, creating Gold Leaf and Mock Turtle soup. This was then poured into our teacup below containing Beef, Cucumber, and Turnip pieces surrounding a Mock Egg Yolk made from Mushroom. The soup was absolutely delicious with incredible flavor from the Beef Stock Pocket Watch and the crunchy textures of the Beef and Vegetables. To accompany our Mock Turtle Soup, a Mad Hatter Tea Stand was placed in the center of the table. Besides containing elements of other Tea Sandwiches such as Cucumber, and Egg & Cress, a slice of toast filled the sandwiches. Such a simple, unimpressive element gave such an incredible texture to the sandwich that I secretly wished this could be my lunch everyday.
“Sound of the Sea”
It can’t get much better than that, you’re thinking. Chef Blumenthal has pulled out all the stops, you’re mumbling to yourself. But then, a waiter appeared and a massive conch seashell with headphones was placed on the table. We were told to place the headphones in our ears and relax with the sounds of the seaside for our next course. Rolling waves and seagulls calling played and my setting was completely changed. I was still in the same dining room surrounded by the same diners, but I felt completely different, completely relaxed. The waiter then placed boxes of sand covered by a glass plate in front of us. On top of the glass plate was a beautiful arrangement of Edible Sand, Sea Foam, Various types of Seaweed from Europe and Asia, and Mackerel, Halibut, and Yellowtail Sashimi. The Edible Sand was made from Fried Anchovies and added such an interesting texture to each mouthful as it morphed into a flavourful powder when consumed. The different types of Seaweed popped with flavour, and added the perfect crunch to each bite of fresh Sashimi. The Sea Foam literally tasted like the ocean with a salty flavour enhanced by the sound of the rolling waves. This dish was not only beautiful, but engaged several senses creating another amazing dining experience.
Salmon Poached in a Liquorice Gel
The dish was followed by lots of chatter as our Seashell headphones were removed. We watched other diners deep in concentration around the room, enjoying their “Sound of the Sea.” Our next dish arrived in the centre of the most amazingly textured plate. A perfect piece of Salmon completely coated in a Liquorice Gel rendering its appearance to that of a brownie. Golden Trout Roe was perched in the centre of the Salmon which was on top of a bed of Grapefruit pieces. Two Roasted Baby Artichokes were placed at the other end all guarded by dollops of Vanilla Bean Mayonnaise. The Roasted Artichokes were beautiful with a strong flavour of both Artichoke and Lemon which paired nicely with the Grapefruit Pieces. The bite of perfectly cooked Salmon with its hint of Liquorice Gel, pop of Golden Roe Trout, tanginess of Grapefruit pieces, and sweetness of the Vanilla Mayonnaise was perfection. The combination of textures and flavours was phenomenal and innovative and I will never look at a salmon dish on a menu the same.
Lamb with Cucumber
Now for the main course. As if you haven’t had enough already, you may be thinking. But of course, you’re wrong. An elegant plate of tender looking Lamb was placed before us. Chunks of Grilled Cucumber and an Onion and Dill Fluid Gel garnished the plate. The presentation was beautiful and we were ready to try our dish, but that wasn’t all there was to it. A piece of wood was placed next to our Lamb with a glass bowl of Lamb and Mint Consommé and a spoon with Lamb Tongue, Fried Sweetbread, Quinoa Crisps and Onions Caramelised in Balsamic. The Lamb itself was the best I’ve ever tasted, perfectly cooked, tender, and full of flavour. The Onion and Dill Fluid Gel and Chunks of Grilled Cucumber paired perfectly with each meaty bite. The Consommé was rich in flavour adding an interesting element to contrast with the actual Lamb. The Quinoa Crisps, Fried Sweet Bread, Lamb Tongue, and Caramelised Onions were all phenomenal, each giving a different flavour and texture to the dish.
Are you full now? Because that’s all.
For the food, that is.
Now for the desserts!
Hot & Iced Tea
We chatted away happily, intoxicated by good food, watching the other diners munch away on Chef Blumenthal’s creations. A waitress appeared with a double walled glass cup for each of us. Inside was Hot & Iced Tea. With each sip of the syrupy concoction, I could feel both hot and cold liquid simultaneously. It was completely bizarre but tasted delicious. Besides the different temperatures, I could identify notes of lemon, honey and orange in the tea. It disappeared a little too quickly and I decided I would like to enjoy some Hot & Iced Tea along with some Mad Hatter Tea Sandwiches on a regular basis.
Macerated Strawberries with Olive Oil Biscuit, Chamomile and Coriander Jelly, and Ice Cream Cornet
A waiter appeared with a block of wood, filled with little metal beads. Propped up in the beads were three delicate Ice Cream Cornets. The cone had the texture of crispy Phyllo Dough and was covered in Strawberry Sugar. It was filled with an amazing Earl Grey Ice Cream with such an intense tea flavour, and at the bottom was Fresh Strawberry Jam. It was the perfect mini treat to start off our picnic. A long plate arrived with our mini, edible picnic. Underneath an edible White Chocolate Picnic Blanket was an Olive Oil Biscuit with Chamomile and Coriander Jelly. I absolutely loved the flavour combination and this was probably the best Tea Biscuit I’ve ever had. Sweet, macerated Strawberries surrounded the plate as well as a sprinkling of Edible Flowers and Crushed Pistachios. There were also Aerated Puffs that tasted like Strawberries and a delicious Strawberry Sauce. Definitely the best tasting Picnic I’ve ever had.
The edible picnic was a delightful pre-dessert.
If pre-dessert is not in your dining vocabulary, you’re not dining correctly. And you probably have a smaller waistline.
The waiter then brought a plank of wood displaying The “BFG.” To those of you that are expecting Chef Blumenthal to be serving up edible pieces of Roald Dahl’s Big Friendly Giant, I’m sorry to disappoint. The “BFG” in this case stands for Black Forest Gâteau. The Chef’s take on this classic German dessert was far from the boozy cake with sickeningly sweet preserved Maraschino cherries and globs of whipped cream. A perfect rectangular prism of BFG was positioned on top of a trail of Cherry Puree and Chocolate Crumbs leading to a Quenelle of Kirsch Ice Cream. The BFG had a crunchy Madeleine Biscuit Base, a centre of Aerated Chocolate and Flourless Chocolate Sponge, surrounded by Kirsch Cream, and a Chocolate Ganache with Sour Cherries. The outside appeared as if his Chocolate Paint Gun trick had been used with its perfectly flocked exterior, and it was topped with perfect, macerated Cherry. My plate arrived with a White Chocolate Calligraphy Congratulations as we were celebrating both my Birthday and Graduation. The waiter sprayed a Kirsch scented spray over us before telling us to dig in to the delicious, intricate dessert.
Whisk(e)y Wine Gums
As a wind down from our epic feast, we were brought a picture frame with a map of Scotland and Tennessee thrown into the corner. A Whisk(e)y Gum was stuck onto the map above each different Scotch-producing Region. They had a softer consistency to Gummy Bears and really packed a kick. They each had the exact smoky flavour of the named Whisk(e)ys and were strangely enjoyable.
“Like a Kid in a Sweet Shop”
The 14th course of The Fat Duck Feast was presented as a parting gift. A custom Fat Duck, pink striped Sweet Shop bag was given to us with a tiny menu inside that smelled like the sugary sweetness of a Sweet Shop itself. Also in my Sweet Shop bag was a signed birthday card from Heston Blumenthal himself, making my heart skip a beat. Inside was an Aerated Chocolate and Mandarin Jelly, Coconut Baccy, Apple Pie Caramel, and The Queen of Hearts. The Aerated Chocolate was lovely and strangely reminiscent to a Jaffa Cake. The Coconut Baccy was cleverly packaged as Tobacco with Coconut Infused with an Aroma of Black Cavendish Tobacco inside. The Apple Pie Caramel was wrapped in an edible wrapper and had a delicious flavour of real apple, versus the sweetened artificial flavouring. Lastly, an edible Queen of Hearts playing card made from White Chocolate with a Raspberry Centre.
I didn’t want it to be over. My foodie dream come true was a masterful five hour performance of the most innovative, delicious food I’ve ever had. It exceeded my expectations and I couldn’t have asked for more. (Except being invited to spend the day being official taste tester to Chef Blumenthal. A girl can dream.)
As we slowly walked out of The Fat Duck, graciously thanking the incredible staff, drinking in our last moments in this legendary room, I decided I wasn’t ready to leave. I knew Chef Blumenthal’s laboratory was just across the road, and I couldn’t fight my overwhelming desire to go knock on the door. I just wanted the chance to thank him for my experience and possibly offer him a drink at The Hind’s Head. As we wandered around the back of the lab, following the sign directing Fat Duck Deliveries, I found an open door. I popped my head in to see three Chefs, cleaning the kitchen and preparing for the dinner service. As I caught the eye of one of the Chefs, I casually asked if Chef Blumenthal happened to be in the building. Sadly, he wasn’t. But, they invited us in to their kitchen and we began to chat about all things culinary. We couldn’t praise them enough for their incredible cooking. Thank you again Marcus, Cornelius, and Marniya for chatting with us.
I hope you enjoyed my narration of the longest, most incredible dining experience, and if you have just flipped through the food porn because it looked a little too long to read, I hope you’re hungry.