We are lovers of food. Cooking it (Blake), looking at photos of it (me) and eating it (both of us!). So, for Part I of Blake’s 30th birthday extravaganza, I thought it only fitting to try to nab reservations to Heston Blumenthal’s molecular gastronomy restaurant ‘The Fat Duck’ in Bray. Cheers to my sisters for the suggestion, and cheers also to Blake for casually mentioning it a few times over the last year so that I knew it was going to be a good investment.
Famous for being both delicious and stupidly hard to book, I tried on three separate occasions to get a booking around the time of Blake’s actual birthday. I even commissioned my sister in Australia to log on and try it on her end as well, but no luck… On the third morning, whilst frantically running from the tube station to my desk for the 10am reservations opening, I got it!!! And, it happened to be on the same day that we were heading off to a surprise country as part II of his birthday. Fate? I think so.
I had originally planned to keep it a surprise, but then negotiated with Blake that I would be able to tell him about one out of two parts of his birthday gift. I chose to keep our mystery trip a secret and miraculously managed to do so until we were at the airport, but couldn’t hold it in re: The Fat Duck… So I spilled! We studied the menu together, looked at reviews and we generally just spent a lot of time talking about how great it was going to be.
And it was!
So, on a sunny Thursday morning we got on the train to Bray and wandered around the local area for awhile via this little church before heading into the restaurant.Bray itself is a lovely little place. It seems strange that this three Michelin starred restaurant is based there but at the same time the setting really complements the experience somehow. Heston knows what he is doing.
There are about fifty billion amazing blogs reviewing The Fat Duck and I don’t claim to be a food blogger by any means but I’ll do my best to recap our Fat Duck experience in layman’s terms! Upon walking in you can tell immediately that it is an impressive place. There were more staff than there were people eating when we arrived, but it didn’t feel crowded at all. We knew we had to leave at a certain time in order to get to the airport and they were totally accommodating about it. Ten points already.
Aerated Beetroot and Horeradish macaroon
Look at those colours… Argh! We were told to put it in our mouths at once, and upon doing so it somehow popped and completely overpowered us with the flavours. It actually shocked me a little that such a tiny thing could be packed with so much of a taste. What an introduction… I knew immediately that we were in for a treat. It. Was. So. Good.
Nitro Poached Aperitif
The waitress brought over a trolley carrying a vat of liquid nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen food? Okay, sure. She squirted a dollop of egg white onto a large spoon, dipped it into the dry ice and poured the alcohol of our choices over the top of it, quick freezing it into some kind of a buzzey, snap-frozen meringue of sorts. Again we were instructed to put the whole thing into our mouths and let it sit on our tongues for a moment, and before we knew it the whole thing had again exploded and totally enveloped the senses (both taste and smell). It was such a bizarre sensation. I had tequila, Blake had the Campari. Delish.
Red Cabbage Gazpacho with pommery grain mustard ice cream
Next came a dish that I really enjoyed but Blake was more dubious about. Gazpacho can be an interesting one to throw on two unsuspecting Aussies at a fancy, fancy restaurant. I really liked it, but Blake, not so much. It was kind of bizarre eating a completely savoury ice-cream. Normally ‘savoury’ flavours are not so savoury at all, ie salted caramel, of which I am a huge fan. But this was literally like eating a really subtle and delicious mustard that happened to have been frozen. I also love red cabbage courtesy of my friend Flora whose mum made it one time, so I enjoyed the whole thing. But, I did have to finish off Blake’s on his behalf. Any gazpacho haters out there, you probably won’t like this portion so much. Good thing there were another 13 (?!) to go…
Jelly of quail with Crayfish cream, feat. Chicken Liver parfait, oak moss and truffle toast
This guy was cool. We were presented with two little plastic cases that looked like SD card holders, emblazoned with Heston’s iconic Fat Duck design. Inside was a tiny, speckley, paper film that we were instructed to put on our tongues and let dissolve… suddenly it literally tasted like we were eating a forest, but in a very delicious way. Then we ate the truffle toast (delicious) also somehow resembling oak and moss and forests, followed by the parfait which was smooth, creamy and really pleasant to eat.
And did I mention that we were presented with a block of fresh moss on our table, over which was poured dry ice which ignited the scent of forests and trees and general outdoors. Fascinating.
Snail Porridge with Iberico bellota ham and shaved fennel
Blake loooooves to cook/eat snails. A couple of Christmases ago he even cooked snails for Christmas. He unfortunately didn’t cook them quite to everyone’s liking and wound up eating about 30 snails by himself because no one else would touch them, but that’s a story for another day…
This famous dish is famous for a reason. It was filled with flavours, yet had a really comforting, creamy texture that was beyond satisfying to eat. You even forgot that you were eating snails because it was so lovely to eat.
Roast Foie Gras with Rhubarb sauce, Confit Kombu and Crab Biscuit
This may have been my favourite dish, which I am hesitant to admit because I am completely against foie gras in general, but I had to leave my moral high horse behind when eating this dish and hope that Heston treats his animals humanely (surely?!). It wasn’t greasy at all but rather soft and clean to eat. The barberry sauce provided the perfect compliment to the warm, roasted flavour. It was really, really good.
Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (Mock Turtle soup, pocket watch and toast sandwich)
This was Blake’s favourite meal of the day…. Another true spectacle. The dish was a recreation of Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter Tea Party and achieved that goal ten million percent. We were presented with beautiful glass teacups filled with a broth, and had a gold pocket watch dipped into our teacups. We were told to swish them around, watch it dissolve and bring the broth to life – it was really amazing. Also, as we found out when we hesitantly took a sip, we were drinking gold leaf. Never have I felt so fancy as the time that I drank gold leaf. It was playful and fun, great to look at, and delicious. The ‘egg yolk’ was actually some kind of gelatine that tasted something like a cross between mushroom and egg. I truly don’t have the words for this one – it’s one that you need to experience.
The toast sandwiches were also great – one of the filling was toast! Surprisingly delicious.
“Sound of the Sea”
Another signature Heston moment. I had high hopes for this one, but unfortunately didn’t enjoy it very much. Which is crazy because I crave sashimi/sushi all the time. This dish was designed to look like a scoop of the ocean right in front of you. You were even given a sea shell with an iPod inside it and instructed to listen to the sounds of the ocean whilst eating. It was incredibly impressive to look at, it truly looked like the ocean, but perhaps that was the downfall for me – I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that I was literally eating the ocean. Not such a pleasant idea for me. I think we were the odd ones out because everyone there seemed to be devouring every single bit of this meal – sand (tapioca), sea-froth (some kind of stock) and all!
Salmon poached in a Liquorice gel with Asparagus, Vanilla Mayonnaise and Golden Trout Roe
Another hit. This was superb. It was perfectly cooked, with a thin film of very mild liquorice encasing it. The vanilla mayonnaise was delicious, I could have eaten this one three times over.
Powdered Duck, Blood Pudding, Umbles and Apache potato puree
Yet another total standout meal. I think about this one all the time. It was the best duck I have ever had. It was the best mashed potatoes I have ever had. It was the best… umbles I have ever had? Confession, I didn’t eat them. They are hearts. I can’t remember which animal but I don’t want to eat any hearts. No thanks. Blake did though, and he said they were great, so there you go.
The highlight for me was the ‘cigar’ of duck meat. It was soft and tender with a plum sauce, spectacular eating.
Hot and Iced Tea
Another Heston spectacle… This was delicious, but that’s not what was spectacular about it… If you can possibly imagine such a thing, imagine drinking a cup of tea, and as you sip, the left hand side of your mouth is icy and the right hand side of your mouth is hot. Through some scientific trickery, Heston has figured out how to literally split a cup of tea down the middle, with no physical barrier separating… Somehow the two liquids coexist and it’s bizarre and exciting to try! Definitely a highlight of the meal.
Eggs in Verjus, Verjus in Egg
Argh… No… maybe THIS was my favourite. This was insane. It looked like a normal chicken’s egg, sitting on a bed of straw. When you cracked it open, it was filled with a tangy lemon icecream, with the eggshell being a super delicious white chocolate. This meal was nuts. I couldn’t shake how much like a real egg it looked…
This was a deconstructed set of grapes ‘infected’ with something… Sounds gross, but it really, really wasn’t. Each grape was completely different, different flavours, textures, scents and sizes. I couldn’t quite tell what each one was but some were fruity, some creamy, some chocolatey, one had popping candy in it, some were sour, some very sweet, it was a true mixup of flavours yet everything worked in tandem.
Whisk(e)y Wine Gums
This was a cool one – we were each given a little map in a frame, which had wine gums representing different whiskeys… Glenlivet, Oban, Highland Park, Laphroaig and Jack Daniels. If you let it rest on your tongue and heat up slightly it began to melt and completely overpower your mouth not only with the taste but the subtle burning of whiskey. It was genuinely a good indication of the real flavours of the different whiskeys, and fun to follow it around the map.
“Like a kid in a sweet shop”
As we were in a bit of a rush, we had to take this one to go… but not before Blake received a birthday card signed by Heston himself. Cheers H-B! We were given these beautiful pink and white candy-striped bags (gorgeous huh!) with three take-away chocolates – one white chocolate queen of hearts card, a caramel with an edible wrapper, and an aerated mandarin chocolate.
All in all, our 4-hour lunch at The Fat Duck was brilliant. It was very cool to experience a three Michelin starred restaurant and only fitting to do so for Blake’s 30th. It will be a long time before we do anything as fancy as this again, partly to appreciate it more, but mostly because it was really not cheap… Think of the most expensive meal you’ve ever had it and multiply it by lots. But, it was definitely a great experience that we will remember and talk about for many, many years to come. Also, they somehow figured out that Blake was left-handed at some stage during the meal because they began to serve everything to his left and swapped his knife and fork around…. That’s pretty cool. That alone was worth it 😉