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.
Anyone that regularly reads my blog – or at least ‘likes’ my Facebook page (that’s all of you right?) might recall that I have a bucketlist of food experiences that I keep in my phone consisting mostly of restaurants that I want to dine at around the world. Some of the restaurants listed are fine dining (Tetsuya’s, Las Bravas and Ultraviolet), some aren’t (Tim Ho Wan, The Salt Lick, Pimenti’s) and some are simply food experiences that I want to tick off (eating oysters at Coffin Bay, fish and chips on Bronte Beach, lobster rolls in Maine). There are only a few restaurants within Australia that I have listed and the first one that I was able to tick off last month was Vue De Monde in Melbourne.
Late last year MS tried desperately to get us a reservation whilst down in Melbourne for our birthday weekend in December but to no avail. VDM is so popular that it can be booked out months in advance. It just so happened that we planned another Melbourne trip for the Fitness Expo in March and lucky enough this time around MS was able to secure a booking on a Friday night for the two of us. MS knows the way to my heart – through food. The guy on the other end of the phone at VDM took a deposit after asking MS “You do know how much this restaurant costs right?” – ahem yes thank you very much! Yes it wasn’t going to be a cheap night out that’s for sure but not something we do very often (if ever).
Now I’m not going to go into logistics or fancy words in my ‘review’ of VDM because this restaurant has been reviewed countless times by much more qualified and ‘in the know’ people than this Vixen however I thought I would give my take on the whole experience…
After setting off from our holiday apartment in St Kilda with ample time to arrive at our destination – the Rialto only 6km away – we ended up getting stuck in crazy afternoon traffic on St Kilda Rd and arrived 20 minutes late for our 6pm booking (we left at 5pm!!!) There is nothing that gets me more wild than being late for something and I managed to keep my cool for the entire time, only losing it in the last 10 minutes. So then of course ultra cool, calm and collective MS lost it totally as well. Great start to our romantic evening together. FML.
We finally arrived and leaving the car with the valet we made our way to reception where we were met by a friendly lady that took us to VDM personal elevator. Less than a minute later we were 55 storeys up and being greeted at the elevator door by a male host. He led us past the bar and to a large tinted glass door to which he opened to the restaurant.
As the door opened we were greeted with a breathtaking 180 degree view of Melbourne – hence the name Vue De Monde. The dining room with its 20 or so tables each with a candle flickering, polished black floors and enormous windows looking out onto the twilight was nearly equally as impressive. The host led us to our table for the evening where we were seated and left momentarily until we were again greeted by our host for the evening.
Since we were seated slightly back from the windows with an empty table directly in front of us he asked if we would like to move closer to the window to which we happily obliged. He then explained the course of the evening to us – basically they bring out 7 courses and then you decide if you want to continue (are you still hungry?) or if you have had enough. Directly behind us the busy kitchen was a hive of activity with no less than 20 chefs cooking up a storm at various cooking stations. It was actually quite theatrical to watch and as the sun went down the reflection of the kitchen behind us provided a beautiful backdrop for our prime position overlooking Melbourne. Damn I’m poetic.
The host left us momentarily whilst the sommelier came over and introduced himself. He handed the two of us the wine ‘bible’ which I reluctantly took drawing in a deep breath as I opened the first page. I mean I don’t want to sound cheap but I know how much the wines cost at these kind of restaurants. I’m happy to spend a few hundred dollars on dinner once in a blue moon (don’t think I’m a toff because I’m really not) but I sure as hell won’t spend $80 on a glass of wine.
The sommelier asked me what kind of wine I liked – I’m a white wine kind of girl – and directed me towards some ridiculously expensive wines. To an uneducated wine drinker like myself the difference in taste between a $200 bottle of wine and a $20 bottle is negligable (ha who am I kidding – I’ve never had a $200 bottle of wine). In the end I tastefully directed the guy towards a cheap(er) glass that he recommended (AU$38), although I did feel a bit of pressure to go more expensive, something that made me mildly uncomfortable and I did feel a little judged by Mr Sommelier. Pfft. He then moved onto MS who asked him what wine he preferred. MS is no wine drinker – this man barely drinks at all – so he ordered a cider and after getting the shock of his life when the sommelier recommended an AU$80 bottle of cider (for 330ml!!!!) he chose the cheapest one on the menu (AU$18). Although I can’t remember for the life of me what we ordered, both the wine and the cider tasted pretty darn good.
And so the meal began. First off we were given some salt and vinegar crisps with hazelnut cream pate to entice our taste buds. Someone must have secretly called ahead and told the kitchen about mine and MS massive penchant for anything Salt and Vinegar – my favourite flavour. It used to be Atomic Tomato until I got really drunk a few years ago, ate an entire large packet to myself and then threw it up again. Yeah, you know what? A post about Vue De Monde probably isn’t the right place to talk about that story. And so the meal progressed from there.
In the middle of our table was a collection of, well they can only be described as rocks, but nice smooth ones of all different shapes and sizes. Through the course of the evening our waitress overturned them to reveal various grooves for holding the ornate cutlery and hidden reserves of salt and pepper. It was quite cool as I initially thought they were just for decoration.
Following our salt and vinegar ‘chips’ a selection of grilled meats on skewers were brought out. We ate eel, oysters, rock wallaby, sea urchin, ducks tongue and lambs hearts. And although neither of us would normally eat some of the things (namely the lambs heart and duck tongue) that were laid out in front of us we both respected the prestigious restaurant that we (I) had chosen to dine in – and as they say ‘when in Rome…’
We even had some tea…
Each dish was presented by a different chef, sometimes in a very theatrical way that even sometimes required diner participation – we used a pestle to grind up our own mortar of wood sorrel that had been frozen with liquid nitrogen. After crushing the wood sorrel the waitress added a small scoop of refreshingly different cucumber sorbet. Unfortunately the photo below was post grinding and sorbet. The presentation of each dish, as one would expect, was flawless and each presented in its own creative way.
About 4 dishes in our waitress brought out a large basket of ‘butter’ with freshly baked sour dough bread. Both MS and I were in awe of the enormous amount of hand churned butter that she presented in front of us and I can honestly say this ‘bread and butter’ was one of the highlights of our meal. Yes, it’s true. We were dining at one of Australia’s premier restaurants and we were loving the bread and butter. To say that I slathered that butter on thick was an understatement. It was TO. DIE. FOR.
Later on our host for the evening came over for a chat and asked what our favourite dish had been so far. Old Cadbury ‘one glass of wine goes straight to my head’ me couldn’t for the life of me remember any of the dishes that had come out off the top of my head other than the bread and butter. I think he was a little taken a-back that that’s what I came up with but he did bring us another serve since we liked it so much. High fives all around!
Earlier I said that although MS and I don’t normally eat adventurous things like duck tongue and lambs hearts but we try to go with the flow at a place like VDM. MS was doing surprisingly well, that was until the duck yolk came out. He just has a thing about runny yolk and not even dining at VDM was going to make him eat it. I however thought the velvety duck yolk was absolutely delicious especially paired with the pear and truffle that it was served alongside. The egg was cooked sous vide at 64 degrees resulting in a rich, creamy and delightful egg yolk. Wow it was just so damn decadent that I ate MS’ as well. Yes I may have to change my name to fatvixen soon.
And yet there was more! (In no particular order – not that I could remember anyway).
The desserts followed not long after our parade of meals. First up was the Chocolate Souffle. Now I don’t know about you but I tend to get disappointed with souffles. They look so damn delicious and then you stick your spoon in and it’s mostly air. I’m a lover of dense and moist desserts but the souffle was sweet and decadent, nonetheless.
Our final dish for the evening was a selection of petit fours… (I forgot to take a photo of the Eucalyptus Ice Cream)
Lastly our host asked us if we would like anything else, to which MS replied that he would love some tea. Uh oh. Big mistake. The tea sommelier ensued with his book of teas from around the world. I think the cheapest tea in the book was AU$33, and that was for only one person. After receiving the rundown of all the teas that were available and where they had come from – some so damn expensive you would think they were grown in a hydroponic setup on Mars! MS was ever so forthcoming when he asked if he could just have ‘normal’ English Breakfast tea. The tea guy did his very best to hide his disgust but I saw it flit across his face ever so gently. In the end we got some whizz bang flash tea that was a little higher in price than we expected but still very reasonable compared to what was on offer.
When we finished up there was an awkward period of not knowing if all the meals were finished or still coming and how we actually paid the bill and left. Do you just raise your hand and click your fingers in a fancy restaurant or is that only in the movies? In the end we figured it out and upon leaving we were given a foodie gift bag filled with tasty sweets as well as all the ingredients for an impromptu Vue De Monde breakfast ‘for the morning after’. Inside the bag was cookies, tea, a freshly baked loaf of brioche, honey, muesli and a book of restaurants around the world. The cookies were gone before we even made it back to our apartment – MS didn’t want his so I ate them both (oops fatvixen strikes again). It was a lovely surprise to receive upon leaving and certainly not something I expected. It really topped off what was a fantastic and memorable evening for both MS and I.
In conclusion (my long drawn out one): I thought that the food was exemplary at Vue De Monde but it didn’t blow my mind. We tried some things but that we would never have eaten had we not have been at a very fancy restaurant. Still, the beef tongue, lambs hearts and duck tongues were actually kind of tasty. Hmmm, ok well you can have the duck tongues, the texture was just too weird for me.
The only drawback(s) from our fantastic dinner at Vue De Monde was, for both MS and I, the wine guy and the tea guy. Although we only saw the tea guy once, right at the end of our meal, unlike the wine guy who came to our table fairly regularly, they both made us feel uneasy. Maybe it was because I felt that the wine guy was (secretly) hell-bent on trying to sell us a $200 glass of wine and that made me feel pretty uncomfortable and almost obligated to buy expensive alcohol. It’s hard for me to convey in this post – without sounding like a complete twit or even worse ‘stingy’ – why I think that spending $200 on a glass of wine is unreasonable especially considering how much dinner had cost us.
Anyhow it was the experience of a once in a lifetime meal with the love of my life that really made it for me, as cliché as that sounds. It certainly wasn’t to sample the extensive wine list that was so carefully chosen by Vue De Monde’s team of sommelier’s over many months. And then again I don’t want to take away from the exemplary job that both the tea and wine sommelier were doing but I guess wine and tea isn’t really something that I have learnt to appreciate – certainly no where near as much as food anyway. Again I think I sound like an idiot attempting to explain myself and my amateur review but I guess that’s just it. I’m an amateur blogger that does restaurant reviews in her spare time as a hobby. My regular posts consist of things like ‘where does one find the best fish and chips in Cairns?’ and where I think the best Som Tum is. I don’t review restaurants like Vue De Monde on a regular basis but it’s nice to get all fancy and posh once in a while whilst taking in the views of the Melbourne skyline from the 55th floor of the Rialto and gushing about just how amazing their bread and butter is.
PS: And just for the record, the next day MS and I went to Nando’s for lunch.
PPS: The total bill at Vue De Monde for anyone that would like to know came to $579… That was for 2 degustations, a glass of wine and 2 ciders.
Vue De Monde
Level 55 Rialto 525 Collins St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Ph: (03) 9691 3888