Category Archives: Europe
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.
Our last day in Rome we decided that we hadn’t quite had enough of the Burrata and Pesto pizza at Antico Forno Roscioli so we met our friends there that were also staying nearby and yeah, well, let’s just say we had pizza for breakfast. Afterwards we all made our way to the airport to catch an afternoon flight. Not sure if I have mentioned it already but we are all actually in Europe for a good friends wedding. Many of us have flown over from Australia to attend the wedding which is in London next weekend, so obviously we decided to make a bit of a holiday out of it.
We were meeting more friends in Polignano A Mare, a small seaside town in the city of Bari in Puglia for a bit of pre-wedding drinking, eating and relaxing. Puglia is well known for a few things, most importantly Taralli – a savoury biscuit shaped a bit like mini donut that I nicknamed the Italian Jatz because of their addictive nature. Secondly, Puglia is known for its Burrata. Some of the best Burrata in the world comes from Puglia and in both Rome and Florence I found menus with Burrata from Puglia on it. And thirdly the small little round pasta known as Orecchiette is also famously from Puglia.
When we arrived at Bari airport the five of us collected our two rental cars with MS and I upgrading from our Toyota Yaris to a Renault Clio. It was cheap to upgrade and the Clio had built in Navman. Funnily enough our friends upgraded from their Alfa Romeo Giuletta to a Ford Mondeo wagon which proved to be an extremely bad idea when we arrived in Polignano to find the narrowest streets in existence. Thankfully both cars got away from the trip unscathed but only because of some absolute standout driving from both MS and the Ford Mondeo driver, PS.
The town of Polignano A Mare is one of the prettiest little places that I have ever had the opportunity to visit. It is a quaint little town with a labyrinth of laneways filled with restaurants, cafes, shops and breathtaking lookouts over the Adriatic Sea. Unbeknown to us before we arrived Polignano was also gearing up for their second ever hosting of the Red Bull Cliff Jumping competition. Had we known that we probably would have stayed a couple more days but we had flights booked to leave the day before the competition began. I don’t want to ramble on too much about Polignano because to be honest, it’s all a bit of a blur of drinking and repetitive pasta and pizza eating so I am going to try and condense it into one (or two posts).
On the first night in Polignano we checked into our Airbnb (La Casetta Nel Vico) and reunited with our friends at their Airbnb which wasn’t far from ours. We made our way to a popular little cocktail bar called La Casa Del Mojito down one of the laneways. There wasn’t much to it… a few metal stools to outside to sit on and some nearby steps but man did they do good, cheap cocktails! 7 Euros for a huge selection of cocktails that were certainly not stingy on the pours. I started on the Aperol Spritz and moved onto the Negroni’s which wasn’t the smartest move since I hadn’t eaten since my breakfast pizza. Over the next four days we visited a couple more times. La Casa Del Mojito was a definite highlight of our time in Polignano.
During our stay in Polignano we dined at so many places that it really is just a blur for me now but I do have a few highlights. Fresh seafood is the name of the game in Puglia and there is a tonne of seafood places to eat. Il Pescato was on my radar after it was recommended to me by our Airbnb host Francesco however since much of the group (there was 9 of us) weren’t the biggest seafood eaters so 5 of us made a booking for lunch while the rest fended for themselves. The Grilled Swordfish on the menu was only 9 Euros (an absolute steal) so most of the table ordered that as a starter. It was freshly caught, perfectly grilled and with a squeeze of lemon over the top… Bliss!
I had the Tagniollini with Clams, Red Prawns, Squid and Fava Bean Puree. Fava bean puree with pasta is a first for me but hopefully not the last!
I sampled my fair share of pastas over the week with plenty of memorable ones and some not so memorable ones however the best one for me was at a restaurant called La Locanda Porta Picc. The Spaghetti with Seafood or as they say in Italy ‘Spaghettoni ai Frutti di Mare’, which sounds far better than the English version was a standout for me and the others at the table that ordered it. You can’t beat the simple flavours of top quality olive oil and garlic with freshly made pasta and seafood caught that very day!
I did really want to go to the Grotto Palazzese (a restaurant built inside a cave) but after reading some reviews about it and looking at the price of the menu I decided that it wasn’t really worth it at all. It seem you’re really just paying for the view and no doubt it’s amazing but I don’t need to spend 40 Euro per dish just to look at a view like that. I mean I work on a ship so that kind of thing isn’t all that foreign to me. Plus according to many a review the food wasn’t spectacular and the service was woeful so yeah, nah.
Polignano is a popular spot for Italian’s that want a seaside holiday where they can lie on the beach in the sun and work on their golden tans. The actual beach at Polignano absolutely tiny. There are so many people crammed into one little spot, it’s quite a contrast to what we are used to in Australia. Not to mention that but the beach is also mostly rock. The ones in the know have special plastic slip on shoes that they wear to walk on the beach and swim in the water – kind of like a cross between a Croc and a reef walking boot. We missed the memo on that one so ended up painstakingly making our way in and out of the water. I also found the beach to be quite dirty. The Italians love a good cigarette and there is no shortage of cigarette butts littering the tiny beach. We even found a sanitary napkin right where we decided to lay our towels which just grossed me out and made me wonder what else was hiding amongst the rocks.
Earlier that day we took the car north to find a sandier type beach about 7km away at the town of Monopoli. What we found didn’t really qualify as my idea of a beach and the large red graffiti on the seawall that said ‘Die Bitch’ was also slightly disconcerting so we had lunch and headed back to Polignano. Other friends had also been scouting for a good swimming spot and found somewhere just north of the main beach in Polignano where we spent a bit more time. I think we are pretty spoilt in Australia in terms of beaches and space as it sure is a premium over here.
We had a fabulous 4 days in Polignano A Mare. In fact it makes me kind of sad that it’s all now just a memory – a much treasured one at that. Afternoons on the terrace with Aperol Spritz’s, cheese and white anchovies and good friends is certainly something I could get used to but sadly all good things must come to an end. Next up Florence….
Today we woke up early because we had an earlyish tour of the Vatican City, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica.
When we arrived at the gates to the Vatican Museum to meet our tour group I was so glad that I had booked the Skip the Line tickets because the line just to get in was absolutely enormous. Not just that but inside was mayhem. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many crammed into such small spaces before. Anyhow I am glad that we made the time to do the tour – it was three hours but our guide was incredibly knowledgeable even if she did talk for the entire three hours without taking a breath. Sadly I wasn’t able to get any pictures of the Sistine Chapel. The place is under strict copyright from a Japanese Film Company that apparently paid to have the place cleaned some 20 years ago. That didn’t stop plenty of idiots sneakily taking photos and having the guards yell at them. It annoys me that people are too wrapped up in their phones that they can’t stop to appreciate something anymore.
After the tour we had time to go up to the dome of the Vatican and see the view but we decided three hours of statues and marble was enough and it was clearly time for lunch. We made our way back to Trastevere near our hotel and to a bakery that I had been dying to get to that was literally about 30 metres from the restaurant we had dined at the night before.
Upon arriving we were greeted with slabs of the most beautiful fresh pizzas I have ever laid my eyes on. The brash lady behind the counter pointed to the most popular which was the Burrata and Pesto Pizza. Without a doubt we were getting that one plus a few slices of the Burrata with Tomato and of course something with meat on it for the meat eater that I live with.
It was beautiful. In fact I have to say it was the best pizza I have even eaten. Beautiful thick, crunchy bread, unbelievable fresh toppings and generous serves for the price. After finishing the first lot we decided we could definitely fit in another couple of slices of the Burrata and Pesto. I mean we had been walking all morning so technically we deserved it right?
After a short siesta we met some friends that were also in Rome for some afternoon drinks on the rooftop terrace of our hotel. 15 Euros for an Aperol Spritz (that’s AUD$22) almost made me choke on my complimentary chips but it was such a nice spot to sit we figured we would have one. To put it in perspective in the SE of Italy where I am now they are only 5 Euro.
For dinner we took our friends to the pizzeria that we visited on the first night, Dar Poeta. Since it was still technically early in terms of Roman time for eating (7pm) we walked straight in and got a table for four. I probably didn’t need the two pieces of Gorgonzola and Honey Bruschetta before eating a whole pizza but hey I’m not going to feel bad about it anymore.
Dinner for me was the Super Bufala with tomato sauce, artichokes, buffalo mozzarella, olives and pecorino cheese. The olives were a bit of a let down but the rest of the pizza was tip top. We overstayed our welcome a little bit catching up with our friends that we hadn’t seen in 6 months until I finally understood what the waitress was glaring at me about and we cleared out. Turns out there was a tonne of people outside waiting for a table.
We wandered down to a touristy area with marquees set up alongside the Tiber River and realised it was way too touristy for us. Heineken signs and stuffed toys was the name of the game in this area so we didn’t stay very long. As we were leaving we saw what MS swore was a cat swimming in the Tiber. Upon further Googling it turns out it was a Nutria (a type of rodent but a bloody huge one)… Stay tuned for my next post!
We woke bright and early on our first full day in Rome, partly because my pillow was like sleeping on a bag of cement and partly because I can’t go to bed without an alarm set regardless if I’m on holiday. We had a light breakfast in the hotel, well I did. Espresso coffee and some fruit was plenty for me whereas old Fatty McFat Fat aka my other half stuffed himself with danishes, croissants filled with cream cheese, ham, fruit and more cheese.
We had a Skip the Line Tour booked at the Colosseum booked for later that afternoon but figured we would go and see a few of the other sights before then. Campo Dei Fiori where there was so many delicious things I wanted to buy but figured I am going to be in Florence later next week, then the Pantheon which we literally stumbled upon. It’s a pretty awe inspiring place especially when you just stumble around the corner not expecting to see it. Next up the Trevi Fountain. We threw a couple of Euro over our shoulder – apparently there is more than 3000 Euro thrown into it a day. God knows where it all goes but a good friend of mine said that last time she was there she saw a homeless lady fishing some of it out with a pole with a magnet on the end. I must say I’m impressed with her ingenuity and DGAF attitude.
By this time it was about lunchtime so after a toilet stop – and by toilet stop I mean having a coffee at a café with the ingenious disguise of wanting to use their restroom we found ourselves near the Colosseum at Angelino ai Fori – a restaurant within close proximity to the start of our tour. It did look like a bit of a tourist trap and considering how close it was to the Colosseum it most likely was but it was the best looking restaurant in the area so we gave it a go anyway. Are expectations were extremely low but we actually really enjoyed it and even went back a second time a couple of days later. Go figure.
Three and a bit hours later we finished our epic Colosseum tour and headed back towards our hotel with a short stop at a restaurant that I well and truly had my sights set on, hoping to get a seat. The waitress told us that the place was completely booked for the evening much to my despair but said we could come back in 45 minutes and try our luck. 45 minutes later and boy was I lucky. Straight in and straight to an upstairs table at the highly regarded Roscioli.
My sister gave me a book called “Where Chef’s Eat” a couple of years ago (there’s a new edition every year) and I finally decided that I would have a look through it before this holiday. I earmarked a heap of restaurants, cafes and patisseries in the places we were visiting and Roscioli was one them. After doing some Googling there isn’t a blogger that comes to Rome that doesn’t go to Roscioli so as they say, when in Rome.
The menu is literally mouthwatering! There were so many things on the menu that I wanted to eat and still now I am kicking myself for not getting the burrata (some of the best in Rome) but our entrée of Zucchini Flowers Stuffed with Roman Oxtail Stew and Peppered with White Cheese Fondue washed down with a glass of Italian Pinot Noir was a decadent and tear inducing hot start to our dinner.
Main for me was the Big Spaghetti with Albacore Tuna Marrow, Wild Fennel, Minced Tomatoes and Olives (19 Euro).
MS had La Carbonara with Crispy Cheek Pork, Malaisian Black Pepper, Paolo Parisi Eggs and Roman Pecorino Cheese Dop.
In the menu it states that all pasta dishes are cooked ‘al dente’ which is a little hard for my liking but again ‘when in Rome’. Plus I don’t believe in changing dishes at restaurants. You eat them how they are meant to be cooked and served. So far this is our one and only pasta meal in Rome so we really have nothing to compare it to however my tastebuds know a good meal when they taste it and they were beyond content.
I am glad that I did some research of places that I wanted to dine at before we visited Rome because to me it seems like there are more tourist traps that great places to dine. It does take a little bit of time to research but it’s so much more rewarding finding the hidden gems. Plus it saves aimlessly walking in circles trying to decide which place to go to. As for Roscioli, some reviews have said that the restaurant is too squishy inside but I actually really enjoyed the atmosphere and layout of the place plus being that close to the table next to us admittedly allowed me to eavesdrop on the miserable American couple next to us that clearly weren’t having a great holiday together. The pasta was excellent, the service I found to be exemplary. Whether this trip or another Roscioli is somewhere that I without a doubt want to go back to!