When I booked our lunch at The Fat Duck back in March I was sitting at my computer in my lounge room waiting for the clock to roll over to 12 noon UK time. After I missed out on the ballot for The Fat Duck when they came to Melbourne I figured I had to at least try and get into the original one in the UK. As the clock rolled over and I watched spaces fill up before my eyes I managed to snavel a 1pm lunch time booking. I thought lunch time would be the best option because it was going to be a 3 hour return trip from where we were staying in Stoke Newington to Bray, plus you’re told to allow 4 hours for your dining ‘experience’ so taking all that into account I didn’t want to be getting back home after midnight.
To make the booking I had to pay the cost of the degustation in advance via credit card (just over AUD$990 for two people) whereas the drinks and a 12.5% service charge (as if the cost of the meal wasn’t enough) would be tacked onto the bill post meal. Yes I know it’s not a cheap meal and many people will most likely scoff at the cost but food and food blogging is my life and I don’t really have any other vices that I spend my money on. I don’t drink (except maybe a couple of glasses of wine when out at dinner), I don’t gamble (other than an Oz Lotto ticket once a week) and I don’t have a shoe addiction (although I do like my Nike’s). Our meal at The Fat Duck is by far the most expensive meal we have ever had, only comparable to a degustation at Shannon Bennett’s restaurant Vue De Monde in Melbourne back in 2013.
Alright, now the housekeeping is out of the way I’ll move onto our afternoon at The Fat Duck. We caught the train from Paddington to Maidenhead Station, which is the closest train station to Bray. We arrived far too early but I’ll be damned if I was late for this important lunch. In the meantime we had coffee at Britain’s answer to Coffee Club, Costa Coffee and used their free wifi. When the time came we caught the cab a short distance (maybe 10 minutes) to the small town of Bray. The cab driver dropped us off at the given address and despite seeing signage for the Fat Duck deliveries and parking we couldn’t see a sign for the actual restaurant. That was until I spied a smartly dressed woman with a clip board standing out the front of a two story white house with heavy blinds covering the windows.
She showed us in and we stood in a small dark room with a hologram while we waited to be shown to our table by our French server Julien. Behind the door is not quite what I was expecting… A small relaxed room with timber posts and low ceilings, about 20 or so round tables decked out in white tablecloths.
There must have been about 20 servers that we counted in total, most of which delivered one thing or another to our table over the duration of our meal. Firstly we were greeted by the lovely female Sommelier who gave us a small tour through of the wine menu. There was wine by the glass, wine by the bottle and of course wine tasting menus. I had a look at the tasting menus – one for 155 pounds per person, one for 250 pounds and one for 595 pounds per person. We decided to stick with wine by the glass and chose a glass of Santorini Pure (white wine) to start for about 25 pounds a glass (and that was one of the cheapest). Lovely wine and if I happen to find it somewhere I would definitely like to buy a bottle or two.
Now onto the 15 course degustation. I did miss photographing a couple of them, mostly because the server bought it out and told us we were to eat it straight away. And also because I didn’t want to be a massive wanker and ask to take a pic first – though I’m sure many people do. But firstly a word of warning, if do you plan on going to The Fat Duck yourself stop reading now so you don’t ruin the surprise for yourself. Part of the fun is not knowing what dish is about to make it’s merry little way to your table.
- Aerated Beetroot Macaron. – Just one tiny mouthful but so much flavour. This was one ‘dish’ we both thoroughly enjoyed. I just wish we could have eaten a few more. Perfect way to start the meal.
2. Paloma, Campari Soda, Pina Colada, Vodka Lime Sour – The next dish, or should I say beverage I wasn’t able to get a photo of, again because I didn’t want to interrupt the server to ask for a pic. No doubt they do get a bit sick of people pulling out their phones and for me manners comes before all else. This nitro poached cocktail had six flavours to choose from. I chose the one with Campari whilst MS chose the tequila based one. The waiter pulled out a spoon and then squeezed a creamy concoction onto it. He then put it in a bowl of liquid nitrogen where it hardened to a meringue type texture, put it on a plate and handed it to each of us to be eaten in one mouthful. Delicious!
3. Smoked Cumin Royale with Celery Sorbet. Yeah I really have no idea what that means but that’s what the menu says. Our server said that this dish was meant to represent a Gin and Tonic, hence the reason it arrived with a small glass of gin. I am myself a gin drinker but this one was pretty smooth and what do you know I even ate the celery sorbet.
4. Hot and Cold Tea – Funnily enough this dish was exactly as the server suggested. Somehow it was hot in some parts (or luke warm) and strangely cold in others however it didn’t really taste anything like tea.
5. Truffled Egg Mousse, Jellied Tomato Consommé, Bacon and Toasted Bread Cream and Cereals – For our ‘breakfast’ we were brought a selection of miniature packaged cereals. The server told us to choose one each and open it to reveal a wooden puzzle with the first to assemble it winning a prize.
I had already been observing the people next to us working on their own puzzles so I guess I had a head start and finished mine in lightning fast time to which the server presented me with a coin to hold onto for later. The server then bought us out a small bowl containing ‘milk’ to which our cereal was to be poured into. What looked like milk in a bowl was actually Truffled Egg Mousse with Jellied Tomato Consomme, Bacon and Toasted Cream while the cereal which we gently mixed in was made of tomato cornflakes, sausage pillows and mushroom crisps. This dish was one of my absolute favourites although strangely MS didn’t really like it. He must have rocks in his head. So many flavours in that tiny little bowl, I just loved it!
6. Sound of the Sea – Next up two large shells arrived (yes real ones) each with a small iPod shuffle inside and earphones.
We were instructed to put the earphones in and not to remove them until after we had finished the dish when the server would return and tell us what we had just eaten. With sounds of the ocean and seagulls flying overhead we were presented with a glass box filled with sand, on top sat malty tapioca ‘sand’, raw kingfish, bonito with abalone, seaweeds and tidal succulents plus sea ‘foam’. The fish was unbelievably fresh. Outstanding!
7.Waldorf salad rocket with walnut, celery and apple ice (left). Urgh more celery?! Salmon/Avocado/Horseradish twister (right). I wasn’t particularly fussed by this dish but kudos for the super cool presentation. I did ask the server if we could eat the rocks to which she replied ‘I wouldn’t recommend it’.
8. Mr Whippy Crab and Passionfruit – Basically a crab flavoured soft serve with chocolate at the bottom like a Drumstick. I wasn’t a fan of this one either. I love crab but this was a weird crab flavour.
9. Cornish Crab, Smoked Caviar and Golden Trout Roe, Veloute of White Chocolate and Sea Vegetables – Prior to me taking the photo of this dish the server came out and poured the veloute over what appeared to be a crab on my plate. The crab then disappeared (dissolved) to reveal the smoked caviar and golden trout roe. This dish was so bloody good that even the non-seafood lover next to me loved it. White chocolate in a savoury dish you ask? Why the hell not?! Just divine.
10. Mushroom, Beet and Blackberry, Scented with Fig Leaf, Meadowsweet, Melilot, Oak Moss and Black Truffle – This dish so aptly titled ‘If You Go Down to the Woods Today’ was one of the highlights for me. It tasted nothing like what I thought it was going to taste like, mind you, it does look like a plate of moss and worms so I’m not quite sure what I was expecting. Oh and the mealworms weren’t real!
11. Toast Sandwich – What is a toast sandwich you say? Well it’s a chicken and truffle sandwich on fresh bread with a layer of toast in the middle layer. It was a revelation.
12. Mock Turtle Soup – Two servers arrived in unison at our table, one holding a glass box. Using tongs the other server gently removed a gold ‘watch’ and placed it in each of our glass tea pots. The golden watch is actually a stock that has been set into jelly which literally disappears before your eyes leaving flecks of gold in your tea pot. I didn’t get a photo of this one so here’s a photo of our delicious house made bread and house churned butter. Seconds please!
13. Three Course Dinner – As part of our ‘journey’ a three course dinner with digestif awaits…. Starter: Scallop Anna – what’s not to love about slices of scallop and truffle? I cringe to think about how much this dish would cost to order on it’s own.
Appertizer: Sweetbreads. I actually thought that Sweetbreads were kidney when they arrived at our table (it’s pancreas) and not one to turn anything down I popped it straight in my gob. I have to say it was the most horrible thing I have ever put in my mouth. The fatty, bulbous texture of it still makes me feel sick. I get that it’s a delicacy but you can keep it.
Main: Lamb Shoulder with Onion Puree, Garlic and Coffee – Easily the most tender and delicious roast I’ve had in my life.
Dessert: Botrylis Cinerea. I had to Google this one just to find out exactly what the hell it was. According to an article by The Daily Mail Botrylis Cinerea has 80 ingredients, 23 elements and 55 stages. Also it’s claimed to be the hardest dessert ever attempted on Masterchef Australia. The flavour basically comes from rotting grapes with other elements of the dish including compressed red grade dipped in nitrogen, citrus sorbet, aerated saffron, a chocolate sphere filled with pear caramel, a sugar ball filled with citrus infused yogurt and a churro stalk. Wow who would have thought all those things were in this one dish? It was something else that’s for sure!
Digestif : Whiskey Gums – A glass box with whiskey gums from around the world including one from our own whiskey distillery in Hobart, Lark Distillery, which was perhaps my favourite one of all. The people next to us didn’t like theirs so we happily helped them.
14. By this time we had in fact somehow managed to take the lead on the degustation from the people sitting next to us so it was us that ruined the surprise for them when our floating pillow arrived with two small meringue like sweets placed ever so gently on top. The pillow literally floats off the table and MS found it so intriguing that he decided to put his hand underneath to see how it worked (magnets) causing the entire thing to fall on the floor, sweets and all. Judging by the reactions of the servers nearby he wasn’t the first to do it and no doubt won’t be the last. Feeling a little red faced we luckily received two new sweets to replace the now soiled ones. (Note: I only took a video of this and WordPress won’t let me upload it unless I pay for a premium account. If you want to check it out it’s on my instagram: food_vixen)
15. Second last sweet for the afternoon was the Malt, orange blossom, tonka, milk meringue, crystallised white chocolate and pistachio.
Our take home treat arrived in the form of a mechanical ‘sweetshop’. I placed the coin that I had earned in my puzzle challenge in the slot and out popped a whole bunch of sweet treats that Julien put into a little takeaway bag for us.
Other sweets included Oxchoc – layers of nougat and caramel infused in a Wagyu Beef Consomme (different but delicious), Caramel in Edible Wrapper, Queen of Harts Jam Tart and a Mandarin Scented Aerated Chocolate.
So that’s that! I realise this has been an epic review and if you have managed to hang on until the very end then I commend you! So here’s my conclusion… I had read a few reviews about The Fat Duck prior to going and although I didn’t read too much, in case I spoiled the day for myself, I did read that being seated next to diners that were ‘ahead’ of you in their degustation did spoil the experience slightly because you were able to see what was coming next. The Tasmanian couple seated directly next to us were literally one course ahead of us and despite the best of intentions not to look I couldn’t really help myself especially since they were less than a metre from our table. So here’s a little tip: If you do end up going to The Fat Duck try and make your booking at the very start of the lunch or dinner service so it’s your meals that are the ones spoiling it for everyone else.
Look, I have to admit I wasn’t completely blown away by the whole experience. Possibly due to social media, the internet, I don’t know, but I guess I already had a fair idea of what to expect and how it was all going to pan out. As I have said previously I’m not too big on fancy pants restaurants and would must prefer to sit on a street corner in South East Asia with a 20c mystery meat skewer in my hand and soak up the atmosphere. Despite the fact that I wasn’t overwhelmed lunch at The Fat Duck was a truly memorable experience and something I would certainly recommend to anyone should they have the opportunity. Another thing that I think is pretty important to mention is that the staff weren’t at all pretentious like they can be at some ‘fancy’ restaurants but they were down to earth and friendly (although I did have a few smile and nod moments attempting to understand our waiters thick French accent). Would I go again? No probably not but the service, food, atmosphere and overall experience were truly fantastic and something we will both remember for years to come!
PS: I know some of you are curious as to what the bill ended up being after all that and if you made it this far then I’m happy to divulge. It came in at just under AU$1300.