Last weekend, we ventured to Bray for lunch at the Fat Duck.
We had woken up early many Sunday mornings in November and December, trying to make a booking and failing miserably, until at last.. success! Two months later we were excitedly on our way to Bray for what we anticipated would be the food adventure of a lifetime.
After ordering drinks, we were straight into it with the arrival of our amuse bouche. This was a ridiculously light aerated beetroot sphere with a creamy horseradish centre; it disappeared into nothingness, leaving a slightly sharp earthy aftertaste. Next up, the nitro poached aperitifs – the first of 14 courses. The waitress came over with a little table displaying some fruit, a candle, a bowl of liquid nitrogen and three cream canisters for the different aperitifs. I picked the vodka and lime sour, which the waitress expertly squirted onto a spoon, plopped into the liquid nitrogen and tossed around for a few seconds, before scooping it out to reveal a small meringue-like creation which we were instructed to put in our mouth straight away. Biting through the crisp exterior revealed a cold liquid centre which left a refreshingly tangy taste in my mouth and cleansed my palate.
The next course, and my least favourite, was the mustard ice cream in red cabbage gazpacho. To be fair, I don’t particularly like mustard or red cabbage so it was never going to be a winner in my eyes, but I could still appreciate the technique and contrast of flavours. The following course, however, was utterly delicious. A piece of oak moss was placed in the centre of the table with a little ‘Fat Duck Film’ dispenser. We were instructed to place the film (like a Listerine strip) on our tongue and let it melt and disperse the oaky, moss flavours. A teapot filled with liquid nitrogen was slowly poured onto the moss, releasing the scent and covering the table in sea of fog. The dish was quail jelly with crayfish cream and chicken liver parfait, and a little truffle toast with sliced radish on the side. Each mouthful was a rich, creamy, crispy heaven, and a complete sensory experience.
Next up was Heston’s famous snail porridge. The vivid green bowl was a mix of textures and tastes… It took us straight back to the first time we tried snails in Paris a few years ago. It was a familiar mix, but the parsley and garlic, combined with the shaved fennel on top, complemented the snails perfectly. The fifth course was perfection on a plate; roast foie gras with rhubarb, confit kombu (a type of kelp) and crab biscuit. If I could have any of the dishes again, it would probably be this one. The fatty richness of the foie gras, acidity of the rhubarb puree and umami of the Kombu stayed in my mind and left me wanting more (out of pure gluttony)!
The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, from Alice in Wonderland, was yet another exciting, interactive dish. The waiter arrived holding a ticking wooden box with two gold pocket watches resting inside. Placing the watch into our teapot of water, we watched it slowly dissolve and transform into a golden consommé. We delicately poured the liquid into the teacup below which was holding our next course – the Mock Turtle soup – and came accompanied by some finger sandwiches presented on a ‘mad hatter’ cake stand. These were not your usual afternoon tea sandwiches; they had a layer of toast in the middle to provide extra crunch. Novel and delicious.
Next we were given a seashell with headphones peering from the top which were playing relaxing ocean noises. This helped to set the mood for the next course, the “Sound of the Sea”, and heighten the experience. For me, this dish really was the taste of the ocean on a plate. It brought back a flood of childhood memories from my adventures exploring the beaches around Aldinga and Kangaroo Island in Australia. Salty and fresh.
The next two courses – salmon poached in a liquorice gel and ‘The Duck’ – were both beautifully presented and almost too pretty to eat. The salmon course was quite light and refreshing. The pink grapefruit, vanilla mayonnaise and artichokes helped to balance the saltiness of the trout roe and complement the soft, flakiness of the salmon. The duck course was a complete contrast to this. It was bold, rich and meaty. Served with a velvety smooth potato mash and a crispy duck cigar, this was another standout dish.
To cleanse our palates before the dessert courses, we were presented with a hot and iced tea. This was an amazing (and delicious) trick to the senses. It was so odd to drink something that was hot on one side and cold on the other with nothing to stop the two sides from mixing. Very refreshing!
The first of the desserts was rhubarb with sheep’s milk yoghurt and bergamot. This pretty pink dessert was light, fragrant and flavoursome, however, it was the Botrytis cinerea that really captured my taste buds. The dessert had been crafted to look like a bunch of grapes complete with a green sugar vine and biscuit stalk. The waiter explained that botrytis cinerea is a fungus that affects wine grapes and can result in distinctive tasting dessert wines. This dish captured the different tastes found in such a dessert wine. Each ‘grape’ was a different taste and texture sensation; one a gel, one made of chocolate, and my favourite was one filled with popping candy. The base of the dessert was a light layer of Roquefort cheese which gave the dish a rich creaminess, and brought a savoury element that complemented the apricot flavours perfectly. It was an amazing dessert – one that I would very much like to try again so that I can relive the skill and attention to detail that went into creating such a masterpiece.
With dessert (sadly) over, we were on the home stretch. The final two courses played on the idea of a sweet shop. The first was a map with 5 whisk(e)y gums placed over the region they are from. I am not a fan of whiskey but it was still pretty amazing to experience how Heston had captured the essence of each whiskey and translated it in these sweets. The last course was “Like a kid in sweet shop” which came in a cute pink and white striped paper bag with a musk scented menu. The bag of goodies included an aerated mandarin jelly chocolate, coconut baccy (complete with a Fat Duck tobacco pouch), apple pie caramel with an edible wrapper, and a Queen of Hearts playing card made from white chocolate with a thin layer of raspberry inside. What a great ending to an unbelievable lunch!
Having watched all of his shows, it was amazing to finally be able to taste (and experience) Heston’s unique style of cooking. We truly were led down the rabbit hole and taken on a multi-sensory adventure, which is something that I will not be forgetting anytime soon.
© 2014 Fiona Tregeagle.