Fat Duck cereal box; mock turtle soup; roast foie gras; tafferty tart

Monday July 6, 2009. The single most painful and least productive morning of my life. Don’t tell my boss. And get comfortable, this is a fat post (and I don’t mean phat).

10.00am. I pick up the phone and dial 01628-580-333. I’m trying to get a booking at The Fat Duck, the second best restaurant in the worldEngaged. End call. Re-dial. Engaged. End call. Re-dial. It’s ok, I’m gonna keep trying for a good 30 minutes. All good.

10.30am. Engaged. I need to do some work. I gotta stop, I mean who ever gets through anyway? But. What if I’m next, what if I hang up now and I miss my chance? I’ll do this for another 15 minutes. End call. Re-dial. Engaged. End call. Re-dial.

10.45am. Engaged. My neck hurts from cradling this awkwardly shaped Cisco IP Phone *ahem* in the nook between my shoulder and right ear. I’m getting RSI in my left wrist from repetitively pressing End Call and Re-dial. Ok 11am, I’ll go til 11am. End call. Re-dial. Engaged. End call. Re-dial.

11.00am. Engaged. The engaged tone is giving me a headache. But I can’t stop now. Surely, I’m close? Surely? Please? Can anyone hear me? End call. Re-dial. Engaged. End call. Re-dial.

Ok so you get the idea. If there is something I am, it’s s.t.u.b.b.o.r.n. I was born with it, and I have refined my stubbornness to within an inch of its life and by god, it is not something you want to mess with. I want to go to The Fat Duck. I want to go for my 30th birthday (ok so we went a day earlier). And I don’t want any-thing else. You see the shite my poor bf has to put up with? Thank goodness I’m endearing 🙂

11.45am. It’s wearing me down. My head hurts, my neck hurts, my wrist hurts, even my heart is starting to hurt a little. I’m giving up, I spill my resignation onto twitterverse “how stupid of me to think I could actually get through to The Fat Duck” and holy mother of Murphy’s Law! Literally the instant I am about to hang up for good, the phone rings! It rings!

And then I am on hold. But God I Love On Hold Music After Hearing The Engaged Tone For One Hour And 45 Minutes. I’m on hold, listening to a rendition of Alice in Wonderland for another 15 minutes and finally finally, someone picks up the phone. I want to curse and spit and dance with joy all at the same time. But I do nothing and give them my name. My date. My time. and hope to f**king god that after all my effort, they are not booked out.

And they are not. Friday September 4, 2009. 12.30pm. We are going to The Fat Duck!

The Big Day

The two month anticipation was painful to say the least and after much ogling at other blog posts and various outfit attempts, the big day arrived. I woke up early because yes, this is what I do when I’m excited to eat. Our strategy was to catch a train down to Bray for lunch, spend five odd hours degustating and head home. Not a bad plan and perfectly do-able, unless you are more inclined to spend the night in the countryside. After spending this much on lunch though, we would have had to sleep on the street, so wise choice catty, wise choice.

As we arrived and were seated, the sommelier endowed upon us stories of their crazy fat (and this time, I mean phat als0) wine list. Panu had a rose apéritif, I had sparkling water ~ cadbury kid that I am, it really would not have been cool to be a drunkskunk at The Fat Duck.

Palate cleanser and first course ~ Lime Grove and Red Cabbage Gazpacho with Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream

lime grove (nitro poached green tea and lime mousse); red cabbage gazpacho with pommery grain mustard ice cream

Reknowned for Heston Blumenthal’s work with liquid nitrogen, the palate cleanser was an ideal show opener. A perfect dollop of egg white laced with lime is dropped into a pot of nitro and stirred, producing an icy-cold white ball, dusted with matcha, served and advised to be eaten whole and immediately. But I took a photo first, I mean, c’mon.

My tastebuds were momentarily frozen solid on contact, but as the ball (because I can’t think of a better word) dissolved, the contents evaporated across my tongue and the roof of my mouth so delicately, like a feather that you’re touching, but you don’t feel. The fresh sensation is crazy cool, and I’m ready for the ride.

The first course was hands down the simplest of the entire menu. But surprisingly, one of my favourites. Red cabbage gazpacho with pommery grain mustard ice cream, an intense flavour with an even more intense colour. The strong cabbage taste complemented nicely by the subtle mustard ice cream.

The second course ~ Jelly of Quail, Crayfish Cream with Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast

jelly of quail, crayfish cream with chicken liver parfait, oak moss and truffle toast

This course gave us a sneak peak of the eccentricity to come. We were advised that to enjoy this course in its entirety, we had to first explore the aromas and flavours of oak. Yes, the tree. We were each given a small snap open box, much like these Listerine mint strips. We placed the strip on our tongues, it dissolved and ooooh oaky! Like I took a bite out of yee olde oak tree!

As we indulged in the food (jelly of quail, crayfish cream with chicken liver parfait, oak moss and truffle toast), the waiter placed what looked like a pot of oak moss on our table and poured water across its lush surface. The moss oozed that mesmerizing nitro-smoke and the aroma – oak! I’m not sure if it made the course better (the chicken liver parfait was ricidulously amazing anyway), but brownie points for interesting. And look at the teeny tiny radish bits on the truffle toast! Cute!

The third course ~ Roast Foie Gras with Gooseberry, Braised Konbu and Crab Biscuit

roast foie gras with gooseberry, braised konbu and crab biscuit

The star of this course was not the roast foie gras but the braised konbu. Every-one talks about umami, konbu is umami, baby. A source of glutamic acid, which is a type of acid responsible for umami, the taste sensation produced by the konbu is actually indescribable (because my unsophisticated palate only knows bitter, salty, sour and sweet). The flavour is apparently best described as meaty, in the most awesomeness sense of the word, but you get the idea. It was yum.

The roast foie gras also held its own. Rich, smooth and velvety, I preferred it without the sweet slather of  gooseberry sauce, and the crab biscuit, I mean it tasted great but crab? I wasn’t feeling crab.

The fourth course ~ Mock Turtle Soup with Mad Hatter Tea

mock turtle soup with mad hatter tea

My favourite! My absolute favourite! I want to do this course over and over and over again. It’s a work of art, it’s amazing, it’s hypnotic, it’s really yummy.

The waiter first brings to the table a plate filled with various (edible?) bits. One looks suspiciously like an egg with three tiny mushrooms sprouting from atop its golden crown. There’s also something that looks like meat, some herbs and bits. We’re told not to touch this, dammit. He then sets down a tea cup, with a tea bag inside. Except instead of a tea bag, it’s actually a golden watch. The label of the teabag reads Mad Hatter’s Tea. Ah, we’re now at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

As the waiter pours hot water into the tea cup, we’re instructed to stir ~ and as we stir the golden watch dissolves into a brilliant concoction of gold flakes, spinning, drifting, dancing around the tea cup. The tea, we learn, is actually a broth to be poured over the mock turtle soup, resulting in honestly one of the most beautiful dishes I have ever laid eyes on. The colours of this dish are bold, the flavours are subtle and full all at the same time, and like I said, I wanted to do it all over again.

The fifth course ~ Sounds of the Sea

"sound of the sea" with yellow tail, halibut & mackarel, tapioca and fried baby eels, japanese seaweed and vegetable stock

Winner of the weirdest course for the day. We’re each handed a giant shell, which houses a little ipod shuffle (question: wonder how many identical shells they have?) and are told to listen to the sounds of the sea. I plug the buds in my little ears and hope to god that for £130, they refresh the ear bud liners after each use. Anyway. The sounds are definitely of the sea ~ waves breaking against the coast, the influx of the ocean, and the retreat. Seagulls are squawking, birds are chirping, we’re definitely at the beach.

They bring out our meal, which basically looks like they’ve plastic-toy-shovelled a portion of the local beach onto a plate and served it as a michelin starred meal. There’s sand, there’s frothy remnants of the last wave, there’s seaweed, grass, and oh thank god instead of whole fish, we get slices of raw fish (yellow tail, halibut and mackarel).

Instructed to eat the meal while listening to the sounds of the sea, we proceeded to dig in and I cannot even describe to you how infinitely weird this course was. The sand actually tasted like sand. If I’d given you a handful, you’d be stupid not to bet that it was sand. The texture is bona fide to the nth degree and the sea! It tasted like sea! I know I’m not doing a great job at describing here, but just believe me. It was like I’d stuck my head into the beach and chomped. But it wasn’t bad. It was actually quite… appetising.

After we’d finished the course the waiter explains that the sand is made from tapioca and fried baby eels, and the sea from Japanese seaweed and vegetable stock. It’s actually just insane. Insane.

The sixth course and first main ~ Salmon Poached in Licorice with Artichokes, Vanilla Mayonnaise, Golden Trout Roe and Manni Olive Oil

salmon poached in licorice with artichokes, vanilla mayonaise, golden trout roe and manni olive oil

The sixth course was probably my least favourite in that it wasn’t different. See how pretentious I’ve become just like that? It was salmon, cooked to a perfect medium rare, wearing an outer skin of licorice. The accompaniments were good, and what to me appeared like little pomelo flesh toned down the otherwise very powerful combination of flavours ~ artichoke, vanilla, licorice and whole peppers.

The seventh course and second main ~ Powdered Anjou Pigeons with Blood Pudding and Confit of Umbles

powdered anjou pigeons with blood pudding and confit of umbles

What are umbles you ask? Offal. Just another nice way of saying offal. This was a hearty dish, something I can totally imagine having in an English pub, except about 15 times the size of this dish. The quail was tender, the blood pudding tasted like a deliciously rich condiment, and the umbles were actually very nice. The accompaniments of baby onions and that thing that looks a little like a dried pork crackle both neutralised the heavy meatiness of this dish, and those two little bits of froth, I have no recollection of eating that! Maybe they vaporised in all my slowness.

The eighth course and first dessert ~ Tafferty Tart with Caramelised Apple, Fennel, Rose and Candied Lemon

tafferty tart with caramelised apple, fennel, rose and candied lemon

The Tafferty Tart was a little package of flavour explosions. Caramelised apple, tucked between fine sugared crisps, dabs of cream and a nutty finish. The sweetness is complemented exquisitely by the tart (don’t mind the pun) rose sorbet, fennel and candied lemon. Oh and the candied rose petal? What a novelty! *chomp*

The ninth course and second dessert ~ The Not-So-Full English Breakfast with Parsnip Cereal, Bacon & Egg Ice Cream and Hot/Cold Tea

the not-so-full english breakfast: parsnip cereal, nitro-scrambled egg and bacon ice cream, hot & ice tea

Another course designed to bamboozle this little brain ‘o mine. Well the first part of the course was ordinary, as far as ordinary goes in The Fat Duck. We are given a little Fat Duck branded cereal box, which contains a Fat Duck branded bag of what looks like cornflakes but are in reality parsnip flakes. The bag probably contains about 20 flakes, a perfect anorexic’s breakfast. Luckily we have bacon & eggs on order as well!

The bacon & eggs are another Heston nitro-creation. The waitress wheels out her nitro-cart and removes two eggs from a very normal looking albeit Fat Duck branded (everything is Fat Duck branded) egg carton. She explains that this is no ordinary egg, the bacon is already inside the egg. Woah. She cracks the egg and releases a yellow custard-like mixture into the pot. She adds the nitro, stirs and voila! We have scrambled eggs! At this stage I’m still confused about how the bacon is in the egg, because, dude, it is clearly on my plate sitting on top of my adorable little mushroom shaped french toast.

Ah-ha. The taste tells a different story. The scrambled eggs actually taste like eggs and bacon all in one. It’s flavoursome and salty, honestly just like a mouthful of well, bacon & eggs! The sugary bacon strip and french toast counter these tastes and the chill of the ice cream actually does make this a dessert, not quite your average English breakfast.

Now the tea. Who knew you could have so much fun with a teeny tiny cup of tea? We’re advised to drink this tea immediately, and it is both hot and cold at the same time. Que? There are two types of tea in the cup, different consistencies and separated by physics, one warm (lower), one cool (upper). It seems a simple notion but I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever sipped on a beverage that is both hot and cold (and quite separately so) at the same time! Very weird, very cool.

The tenth course and third dessert ~ Chocolate Wine “Slush” with Millionaire Shortbread

chocolate wine "slush" with millionaire shortbread

I don’t know if you can read that ‘info sheet’ that we received – click on the photo, make it ginormous. This is an easy one – think wine, chocolate, ice cubes, blender. OMG OMG OMG right? Why don’t they serve this in bars??? If they did I would totally volunteer to be in a perpetual choco-wine-slush-stupor because this was so divine, but not even in the michelin star way. Just in the my-taste-buds-did-a-dance way.

Oh and the millionaire shortbread was also very good, but I was unfairly blind-sided by the slushie.

The eleventh course and fourth dessert ~ Wine Gums

wine gums

This one’s kinda cute, although again thinking for £130 they better damn well wipe that frame clean each time. These tiny little wine gums, each with a different flavour (mead, cognac, madeira, sherry and rum) are stuck on a framed map showing the trade routes of olde England. You’re supposed to follow the numbers, 1 through 5. But I’m a little retarded, I did 1, 2, 4, 3, 5… but I don’t think (I hope!) I damaged the experience. Each little wine gum had its own unique flavour, my favourites were cognac and sherry. Yum!

The twelfth course and final dessert ~ Like a Kid in a Sweet Shop

"like a kid in a sweet shop": aerated chocolate, coconut baccy, apple pie caramel and queen of hearts

Mr Blumenthal is kind enough to send us off home with a take home lollie bag, filled with delights to nurture my weeping because-we’re-finished-at-Fat-Duck heart. The pack contains a little aerated chocolate (think aero, yummm), an apple pie caramel which you eat with the wrapping (white rabbit style) and the two more impressive treats:

Coconut baccy ~ dried coconut strips infused with tabacco flavours and presented much like a pack of loose tobacco ready to be rolled. And Queen of Hearts ~ a stupendously detailed piece of white chocolate which looks like, well, the Queen of Hearts. The ‘card’ is about 2mm thick and somehow, they’ve squeezed a layer of fruit compote in between. Ridiculously cool. I didn’t wanna eat it. But I did.

The  Damage, The Verdict, The Aftermath

The damage. At £130 per head for the tasting menu (and there is only the tasting menu), I would say this meal is worth every penny. The design, the detail, the packaging, the presentation, the actual food ~ it is once-in-a-life-time brilliant. Wines start at around £20/glass, we only had two but wow the table next to us paired wines with each meal, I think their bill is about £800.  Ours totalled a very reasonable £360 including the pristine service.

The verdict. GO. It’s incredible. Taste-wise sure you might get better tasting food for a quarter the price but it’s not about the taste, it’s about the experience, the science, the show, and guys, it’s just fucking cool, there’s no other way to put it.

The aftermath. There wasn’t really one. I think I slept all the way home, although surprisingly (in a good way), we weren’t super stuffed like we normally are after a degustation. I came home and sifted through my photos straight away longing to go back. Realistically though, I probably won’t. Not while there is the same menu anyway and honestly, I am not going through that booking process again. EVER.

The Fat Duck
High Street
Bray, Berkshire SL62AQ
01628 580 333

The Fat Duck on Urbanspoon

27 Thoughts on “The Fat Duck. A Fat Post. A Very Fat Catty.

  1. I’m commenting on my own post because OMG I’ve never had to scroll this far. I didn’t think it was ever going to end!

  2. Sounds heavenly and I was drooling all over the screen at this. Where’s the towel?

  3. OMG, what a fabulous post of a fabulous meal! I’m quite tickled by that Sounds of the Sea course…like a foodie tone poem! I just might try booking for next year…

  4. Wow. I love reading your posts in your own inimitable style. Looks like you guys had a wonderful time and Heston and co certainly put on a show.

    Bit scared about the price and the queueing (I hate queueing, be it on the phone or real life) but I am sure I will make the effort some day.

  5. envious, so envious…

  6. Good thing I had the morning off! 8-D It was well worth all the scrolling – what an experience. This really is more about edible performance art than simply a multi-course dinner; it’s great how interactive it is. As for your descriptions, I understood them perfectly (“It was like I’d stuck my head into the beach and chomped” made me want to do the same – I think that was my favorite part of your dinner based on sheer uniqueness!)

    Now you have this blog post to remind you of a great evening and to ‘tide’ you over – sorry, couldn’t resist – until your next reservation at Fat Duck!

  7. Mita: oh don’t worry there was a napkin to wipe up the drool ~ it was also Fat Duck branded!

    Su-Lin: I do highly highly recommend going. Here’s wishing you luck with the reservation process!

    tehbus: I think queueing in the phone is marginally worse because after two hours, there is no guarantee you’ll even get a booking! At least in person you know you’ll get a feed. Unless they close 🙁

    mc: you shoulda….. 😉

    Tangled Noodle: haha I’m glad you thought it was worth scrolling! My descriptions are awful! But I’m glad it made sense to you 🙂

  8. OMG what a fabulous treat for you 30th!!! Everything looks brilliant! I will make it there, one of these days…

  9. Oh man, i think the phone call bit and trying to get through will KILL me already. I almost considered eating there. But gave up because they don’t take email and fax requests!

  10. It must have been of the best and craziest culinary experience ever.. One line after the other, my mouth started watering and my stomach was craving for what looks like amazing and gorgeous food. I guess it is very hard to describe how you feel during these moments but your post is definitety worthwhile reading. Very nice piece!

  11. Super review and I love the wonky photo look (didn’t tell you last time!). So glad you enjoyed it! Tafferty Tart sounds incredible, and I like the name too…

  12. valisa: you definitely should. brave the bitch of a reservation process and it will all be worth it, I promise!

    imp: It did almost kill me but alas, I am alive. And fat.

    Mathilde: thank you, and I’m glad you managed to read all of it 🙂

    Helen: thanks re the wonky photos! At first I didn’t like them, but it grew on me. Kind of like a collage and I get to fit more photos in 🙂

  13. I’m saving this one for friday, only up to Konbu, it’s already a smashing blogpost so far and i will use it as an appetiser for my friday lunch 😀

  14. I went before last year, and it’s still the most amazing meal I ever had. Sounds like most of the courses remained the same but with minor tweaks from my experience. I don’t know how you feel having just had it, but I want to make another trip there again!

  15. kang: are you still reading?? 😉

    Wild Boar: I would definitely go again, but not on the same menu. Every single course is so detailed and amazing that while I wouldn’t mind re-living the experience, I would love to see a whole new set of 12 courses and see what Heston comes up with! 🙂 Plus it ain’t cheap!

  16. We went for dinner precisely a week after you, for my other half’s fourtieth. I agree with you on just about everything (particularly the phone wait; it’s really hard to work while someone’s reading Alice in Wonderland in your ear!)

    I think you missed out passing up the wine though. We had the £90 per head pairings, some of which were as mindblowingly awesome as the meals, and all of which worked fantastically with the food.

    Our total bill came out at about £560, and it seems bonkers to say it was worth every penny, but you’re right: it was!

  17. Jimbo: I’m so glad you enjoyed the meal and thought £560 was worth it 🙂 Haha I dont think I could have drunk a glass of wine per course ~ one glass knocks me over!

  18. Um, couldn’t you just have pressed 5 on your phone to get the Fat Duck to auto-call you back? 🙂

    Great blog and photos. I’ve got dry eyeballs from reading it lol.

  19. Ok Paul, you try pressing 5 and Have Fat Duck call you back 🙂

  20. Can I say I’m jealous?? This is the 2nd Fat Duck summary I’ve read and it’s definitely a restaurant I want to try, along with El Bulli in Spain. Hopefully I’ll make it here one day! 🙂

  21. Kugn Food Panda: i would LOVE to see you here in London but just make sure you get through the reservation process without committing suicide first! 🙂

  22. Not that bloody place. I wouldn’t go again. When I went the single loo was permanently occupied (just before the venue closed down).

  23. Hello thumbs up for this cool entry.

  24. Oh my god, one needs to be insistant when booking there. In the end, it worthed the sacrifice from what I can read. Great write up!

  25. Actually the hot and cold tea layers are side by side, they stay separate because they are not actual liquid, they are liquid gels. Gels made with gellan that are then liquidised, so the mouthfeel is that of a liquid.


  26. Hi!

    stumbled across ur blog, TOTALLY LuV IT!!!

    luv listening to all ur experiences and all thts food haha, makes me only wish i lived on that side of the world..

    i hpe u dont mind me posting a link to ur blog from my blog, but ur sites too cool not to share haha : )

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