The Fat Duck, Bray, UK

And we’re back! Alastair and I are home from our holiday – we arrived home on Wednesday afternoon (slightly delayed due to fog at Melbourne airport – but we got to visit Adelaide and sit on the plane for a couple of hours – awesome). I love travelling, but there’s always something nice about getting home and being in our house and sleeping in our bed. (Oh, and seeing the cats and Bro too, of course.)

When making plans for our visit to the UK, I managed to convince Alastair that we *had* to visit The Fat Duck. I’m sure The Fat Duck needs no introduction to fellow food obsessives: a three-star Michelin Guide restaurant owned by Heston Blumenthal that is considered to be the best in the UK, and one of the best in the world. That was the hype anyway – would it live up to it? I know that Alastair was worried that he would be underwhelmed, considering the quite significant cost. As for me, I am a huge fan of Heston Blumenthal, so I had very high expectations.

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We roped in my MIL Annette, and her husband Terry, and headed to Bray for a lunch time visit. We arrived in Bray a bit early, so had a chance to walk around the gorgeous village and then have a glass of champagne at the Hinds Head (a pub also owned by Heston Blumenthal).

And then – it was time for lunch! Before we start, let me just say – this is a long post. The tasting menu at The Fat Duck consists of 14 courses, and you bet I’m going to talk about every course. 🙂 If you want to skip to the summary: go here!

Fat Duck

The outside of the Fat Duck is nondescript, and aside from a small sign at the top it could be easily missed. Inside, the dining room is small and cozy, with low ceilings and exposed timber beams. It’s not a large restaurant – there wouldn’t have been more than 14 tables. It’s decorated in a very understated and neutral style, and the tables are decked out in heavy white linen and damask napkins.

After we were seated, a cart of champagne was wheeled around, and we decided to indulge into another glass before perusing the wine list. Well, I say list, but it’s more like a Bible – it was seriously massive. Matched wines were available with four options. The starting option was an additional £90 and going significantly higher, with the most expensive choice being a wallet smashing £550 (!). Our waiter explained that wine would be matched with 8 courses, and would equate to about a bottle and a bit of wine over ~4 hours. We decided that this would be too much wine for us, so ordered wine separately. I think a good option would be to share the matched wines between two people.

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1: Lime Grove: Nitro poached green tea and lime mousse

Kicking things off for our meal, a cart was wheeled over to our table, and the waiter started assembling the first course. First, she sprayed some lime essence in the air above our table, and then made us each a palate cleanser. A mixture of egg white, lime and vodka was “poached” in liquid nitrogen, and then the small meringue like ball was dusted with green tea powder.

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We were instructed to pick it up with our fingers and pop it into our mouths immediately. It instantly dissolved in the mouth, and gave a burst of citrusy, cold freshness, brightening up my palate. It doesn’t look like much, but it was very impressive – and had us eagerly anticipating what was to come!

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2: Red cabbage gazpacho: pommery grain mustard ice cream

Next up was a red cabbage gazpacho. Sitting on top was a spoon of pommery grain mustard ice cream. The soup was a deep ruby colour, and tasted wonderful too – sharp and vinegary and complemented by the savoury ice cream. Underneath the ice cream were tiny, perfectly diced, cubes of cucumber, which gave a bit of crunch and freshness.

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3: Jelly of Quail, Crayfish Cream: chicken liver parfait, oak moss and truffle toast

The third course required a bit of set up. A wooden box holding a layer of moss was placed in the middle of the table, and we were all given little containers holding a film (like those mouth wash strips you can buy). The waiter told us to put the film on our tongue and let it dissolve, giving us earthly, oaky notes.

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Then he proceeded to pour liquid onto the moss, which created a lot of dry ice smoke. As the smoke wafted over the table, so did the aroma of wood, oak, moss, and forest.

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And then, we were instructed to eat! I took a bite of the truffle toast, then a spoonful of the quail jelly and crayfish cream. At the bottom of the jelly and cream was pea puree, which was slightly sweet and helped cut through the very rich, salty jelly. The truffle toast was also gorgeous. It was just a shame it wasn’t larger!

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4: Snail Porridge: Jabugo ham, shaved fennel

Next up was snail porridge, a porridge made with parsley, garlic, butter, oats and Jabugo ham. It was topped with braised snails and shaved fennel. This was simply delicious! The snails were tender and meaty, and the startling bright green porridge was so moreish. It had a bit of heat – mustard?, plus I’m sure lots of butter and garlic. The fennel helped with a bit of crunch and lightness. Alastair, who isn’t really into snails, gobbled it right up. Annette did too – by thinking of the snails as mushrooms!

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5: Roast Foie Gras: gooseberry, braised kombu, and crab biscuit

Following the snail porridge, we received a little rectangle of roasted foie gras, sitting on top of braised kombu. Inserted into the foie gras were two thin biscuits made from crab, and off to one side was a gooseberry puree. The foie gras was so smooth and rich, so I was glad that the tartness of the gooseberry puree helped to cut through the richness. I also really enjoyed the braised kombu, and the thin slice packed in a lot of salty unami-ness. The thin crab biscuit was crisp and sweet, and quite intensely crab flavoured. It was quite a straight forward dish compared to the others, but it was totally delicious.

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6: Mock Turtle Soup (c. 1850): Mad Hatter Tea

“Have you seen the Mock Turtle yet?”

“No,” said Alice. “I don’t even know what a Mock Turtle is.”

“It’s the thing Mock Turtle Soup is made from,” said the Queen.

While the preceding dish was straight forward, our next course was probably the most fun out of all the dishes. We were each given a bookmark that had Alice in Wonderland quotes on one side, and the story of the Mock Turtle on the other. After we’d had an opportunity to read the bookmark, the above plates were placed in front of us, and a tea cup holding warm water was set next to it.

The Fat Duck

The waiter then told us a small story about how we were invited to a Mad Hatter tea party. He presented us with a box of gold watches, and then we each had a gold watch placed into our tea cups. We watched, transfixed, as the watches slowly started to dissolve! He told us to stir the tea, and pour it over the rest of the components of the mock turtle soup.

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And here is the final Mock Turtle Soup. The watch dissolved into a super meaty, flavoursome, concentrated soup with flecks of gold leaf. On the left was a “Mock Turtle egg”, made from turnip mousse with swede puree, and small enochi mushrooms that signified the Caterpillar’s toadstool. On the right was a little bundle of very beefy tender meat, wrapped in a thin edible skin.

It was so much fun!

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7: Sound of the Sea

Next up we had Sound of the Sea. This course started with large conch shells being brought out. Inside were tucked ipod shuffles, and we were instructed to take the earphones and start listening to the sounds of the beach – waves crashing on the shore, and seagulls.

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We were then presented with an amazing looking dish that was presented on clear glass, underneath which was a box of sand. On top of the glass we had “sand” on one side, made from crushed tapioca and fried baby eels. On the other side was the “sea”, a foam made from vegetable stock and seaweed. Lying on the “sand” were cubes of fish – yellowtail, halibut and mackeral, as well as different seaweeds which gave small bursts of sea as they were eaten. We ate while listening to the sounds of the beach, enjoying the salty, fishy flavours of the dish and almost feeling like we were somewhere else!

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8: Salmon Poached in Liquorice: artichoke, vanilla mayonaise and golden trout roe

After the sensory experience of the previous course, we had something more pedestrian. Well, sort of. We had salmon that had been poached in liquorice, and was topped with golden trout roe. It was served with vanilla mayonnaise, a couple of pieces of artichoke, and a smattering of grapefruit pulp. The waiter finished it off with some extra virgin olive oil at the table.

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The samon had been poached perfectly, and had an incredible texture, and just a slight aniseed flavour. The sweetness of the vanilla mayo, the fresh bursts from the grapefruit, and the salty fish eggs all went well with the salmon.

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9: Powdered Anjou Pigeon (c.1720): blood pudding, potted umbles, spelt and pickles

The next course was pigeon, blood pudding and potted umbles. The pigeon was perfectly cooked, and was so tender and dark. It was served with blood pudding puree, with the potted umbles in a separate bowl to the side. We were instructed to eat the two components together.

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And what’s potted umbles? Umbles are the edible entrails (ie offal) of any animal that used to be made into umble or humble pie. At The Fat Duck, the potted umbles were made from pigeon liver, heart, leg meat, and foie gras. It was topped with spelt. This was FANTASTIC. The potted umbles was incredibly rich and flavoursome, and the spelt gave a great texture and crunch to the smoothness. I could have eaten buckets of it (I would’ve been very sick from all the richness afterwards, but I still could’ve.) Even the non offal eaters on the table (Annette and Alastair) ate it and enjoyed it. I do have to say that it was a very rich and heavy dish though.

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10: Hot & Iced Tea

Following the pigeon, we had a mind bending palate cleanser. Terry said of it, “It makes my brain hurt,” which was a completely apt statement! The small glass held a liquid that tasted like a wonderful lemon tea… except one side was hot, and one side was cold! It caused lots of discussion as to how the effect was created.

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11: Taffety Tart (c. 1660): caramelized apple, fennel, rose and candied lemon

Moving on to the sweet courses, next we had a beautiful looking dessert. Thin layers of caramel, apple, and cream were presented next to a blackcurrent sorbet, candied lemon, sugared rose petals and fresh fennel. It was finished off with a small touch of vanilla salt. It looked so stunning that it seemed a shame to eat it, but when I did I found that it had a good mixture of textures and flavours – soft and crunchy, with a fresh sweetness and a small amount of aniseed saltiness.

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12: The “BFG”: Black Forest Gateau

Our second dessert was a black forest gateau. Not just any black forest gateau though, just the best black forest gateau I’ve ever eaten. Our waiter sprayed the scent of kirsch in the air, and then we tucked in. A quenelle of kirsch ice cream sat on one side, with a trail of dark cocoa crushed biscuits leading to the cake tower on the other side.

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The cake was made from several layers – mousse, ganache, cream, sponge, chocolate, biscuit base and kirsch-soaked cherries. It was all bitter chocolate, occasional sourness and booziness from the cherries, and soft, sweet cake. The cherry sitting on top of the cake was like a maraschino cherry – except delicious! And boozy.

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After the “BFG” an optional cheese course was offered (£15). We decided to only get one serve to share – thank goodness because there was no way I could’ve eaten an entire serve after all that food!

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13: Whisk(e)y Wine Gums

Our second to last course was so cute! The whisk(e)y wine gums were presented in a picture frame, stuck to a map of Scotland. There were five different gums, made with different whiskeys. As the wine gums dissolved, we were hit with an intense flavour of the whiskey, and it was interesting to note the different characteristics of the different whiskeys used eg the Laphroaig gum was very smoky compared to the others.

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14: Like a Kid in a Sweet Shop

And to finish off, we received a little bag of goodies, complete with a little printed menu that smelt like liquorice / an old fashioned sweet shop. I choose to take all of my sweets home with me – they were so cute it took a great effort to eat them!

Inside the bag we had:

Aerated chocolate – Mandarin Jelly. The bottom layer was aerated chocolate (like Aero) and the top was a mandarin filling.

Coconut Baccy – coconut shreds infused with an aroma of Black Cavendish Tobacco. The strips of coconut were wrapped up in what looked like a tobacco pouch!

Apple Pie Caramel. It had an edible wrapper and was sweet and sour and apple.

And finally, the Queen of Hearts, which came in a little envelope with a red edible seal.

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The Queen of Hearts was white chocolate printed on both sides to look like a playing card. Inside the thin chocolate was a berry compote!

If you’ve read the entire post – well done! By now it should be clear what I thought about The Fat Duck: I was completely, and utterly blown away. But more impressive – the non food obsessives, Alastair and Annette, felt the same way. (And so did Terry, but like me, he’s totally into food.)

Price wise, only the tasting menu is available, which is £150 pp, plus an optional 12.5% service charge. With champagne, wine and cheese, it definitely added up to a pricey meal (our four glasses of champagne were almost £100!). Was it worth it? I think so! Everything was impeccable – the service, the food, and the ambiance. Service was cheerful and witty (and mostly French!), and also unobtrusive but available whenever required.

I didn’t have a favourite dish, as I can’t pick just one! I enjoyed them all! All the food was beautifully presented and tasted amazing. I also loved the small perfect details, the sense of fun, the entertainment, and whimsy, that was apparent in the food. That was what lifted the meal beyond just food and a regular restaurant – it was an experience unlike any I’ve ever had. As the meal progressed, we sat there eagerly anticipating what was to come, and chatting about what we had just eaten. It was fun and thought provoking, but every component of all the dishes remained delicious.

I could honestly gush about it forever. I’m firmly in the love camp, but not everyone feels the same way about The Fat Duck, so if you want a different opinion: google it (there’s far too many posts written about it for me to link to). It was delightful, and I definitely hope to go back one day!

The Fat Duck
High Street, Bray
Berkshire SL6 2AQ
Phone: +44 (0) 1628 580 333