On Tuesday, May 13th, we moved from the Hilton Hyde Park to the more posh Marriott Park Lane, where we were to stay two more nights courtesy of my many thousands of Marriott Rewards points (cheaper by far than paying London hotel rates out of pocket, considering it is the most expensive city in the world to visit according to recent surveys).
After dropping our bags off, we made our way on the Tube to Paddington Station, and from there caught a train out to Maidenhead, some 40 minutes west/southwest of London to partake of a remarkably unusual lunch at a restaurant called The Fat Duck, operated by famed chef Heston Blumenthal.
Reservations at The Fat Duck, which is a Michelin Three Star rated restaurant, are very difficult to obtain, even a couple of months out, so we were elated when we received a call while in Porto the prior week telling us we had cleared the waiting list for one of the three different meal times we had requested.
The Fat Duck is one of few restaurants world wide which specializes in something called Molecular Cuisine, a cuisine in which science is blended with gastronomy to produce taste sensations based on scientific food research. It had been suggested that we explore Molecular Cuisine by Patrice, the owner of Bistro de Paris, back home on Bonaire, and we thank him profusely for that suggestion.
We arrived in Maidenhead early, so instead of a five minute taxi ride, we decided to use our GPS and walk the two miles to The Fat Duck. Half the way was drab and noisy, filled with cars, traffic, and asphalt, but the remaining half put us on a green country path which led us into the tiny little heart of the village of Bray. We actually walked past the house in which The Fat Duck was located, before realizing such a plain façade housed this fabled culinary destination.
What waited beyond the plain façade was a quaint room with perhaps a dozen tables, each seating no more than four people, necessary because a meal at The Fat Duck includes an element of theatre that is ill-suited for larger groups.
After being seated we ordered our beverages as we normally would, and all opted for the Chef’s Tasting Menu, but from there things changed.
Our first introduction to Blumenthal’s novel approach to cuisine was a vodka, egg white, and lime mousse which was “cooked” in liquid nitrogen right at our table. After it was removed from the liquid nitrogen the outside of the mousse was crisp. The server dusted it with matcha (powdered green tea), and we were instructed to immediately pick up the mousse “ball” and pop it in our mouths, where it almost literally exploded (gently, though – no carnage) on our tongues. We had a moment where we felt the frozen shell of the mousse ball before the whole thing came apart in a burst of flavor.
At the same time that the first mousse ball was served, the server also spritzed a bit of lime scent above the table using an atomizer, as part of the dining experience is to affect multiple senses. The spritz of aroma was for our noses, the nitrogen steam creeping over the edge of the copper vessel in which the mousse was being “cooked” was the visual component, and of course, the eating of the mousse ball filled our taste sensation.
And that was just our palette cleanser.
I went with wine pairings (excellent, incidentally) with my lunch, but Linda’s ear was still bothering her, so she stuck to water.
Dry ice and water creates ambiance for one of our courses at The Fat Duck
Other courses included oyster in passion fruit jelly with a sprinkle of lavender (Bas’ least favorite dish as he doesn’t like passion fruit); a pommery grain mustard ice cream in a red cabbage gazpacho (the ice cream was unexciting by itself, but when combined with the red cabbage gazpacho it was exquisite); and a duo dish of jelly of quail, langoustine cream, parfait of foie gras, and oak moss and truffle toast. Preceding this latter dish, a bed of moss was put before us, and water poured over it, creating an aromatic fog of sorts when the water thawed the dry ice below the moss, and we were also given a piece of foie gras “tape” which came in the type of dispenser used to deliver Listerine mint strips. After we put the “tape” on our tongues and let it melt there, we were treated to the rest of the course.
This was followed by snail porridge (green) with shaved fennel and hair-like wisps of jabugo ham; roast foie gras with almond fluid gel cubes, cherry, and chamomile foam.
Another dish in which a blend of senses was used to heighten the experience follow, namely the “Sound of the Sea” course. This started with each of us getting conch shells from which iPod ear buds dangled out. As we were served the course, we were instructed to listen to conch shells (each of which had small original sized iPod Nanos in them).What we heard was a sea scape, with waves gently crashing upon the shore and seagulls crying out. The dish before us looked like a small beach, with a strip of what looked like sand (but was actually artfully prepared baby eel crumble) and sea foam (which hid three types of shellfish and multiple types of seaweed). It was an interesting presentation and blend of flavors and textures, made more “realistic” by virtue of the beach sounds we were listening to.
Next was salmon poached in liquorice gel with artichokes and very tasty vanilla mayonnaise – a dish which even Krystyana and Linda, neither of whom are big fans of salmon, found quite tasty. A ballotine of Anjou Pigeon with black pudding followed. The pigeon was served rare, and Bas was convinced it was beef until told otherwise. He now insists that while he does not eat pigeon as a rule (an issue we had with him in Morocco with an excellent pigeon pastille), he will make an exception for the Anjou Pigeon at The Fat Duck.
As a palette cleanser we then received a cup of hot and iced tea – in one cup. Incredible sensation, as the tea came in hot on one side of the mouth and chilly on the other. It was an Earl Grey tea, incidentally.
We thought we might be winding down at this point, but there was more to come. We got a small pamphlet about Mrs. Marshall, who is believed by some to be the actual originator of ice cream cones, and then received a small ice cream cone in her honor. Then there was mango and Douglas Fir puree (yum!), followed by a breakfast with parsnip flake cereal (in a cereal box with The Fat Duck logo on it) with parsnip milk (also delicious), and finally the final course – nitro-scrambled egg and bacon ice cream.
Our server prepares Nitro Egg & Bacon ice cream at The Fat Duck using liquid nitrogen
For this last course, the server came out with eggs stamped with The Fat Duck logo, which she explained were special. And they were. She broke them open and as she poured the contents into the pan she had waiting table-side, it was obvious the contents were not just regular eggs. They looked like scrambled eggs with something more added. The server then poured liquid nitrogen into the pan, and started “cooking” the egg mixture, which was then served to us over a “pain perdu” (akin to French Toast) and a paper thin slice of bacon. The egg mixture turned out to be egg and bacon flavored ice cream, and it was extraordinary. Both kids now insist we need to find a way to make liquid nitrogen of our own so we can replicate this particular dish at home. I think that will be one of our science projects for their next school year.
We finished the meal with tea, coffer, and petit fours, including carrot and orange lollipops, mandarin aerated chocolates, violet tartlets, and apple pie caramels with edible wrappers.
The entire meal took over three hours, and was simply brilliant, with incredibly attentive service, great wine pairings, and, of course, intriguingly odd but delicious food with great presentation. The only thing that was a bit of a challenge was the final tab, which was nearly twice our monthly utility bill on Bonaire (and we pay more for utilities than most people we know pay for their mortgages). But it was definitely a worthwhile experience, and well worth the investment.
The Fat Duck is not a place one would eat at regularly, but it’s certainly worth a visit whenever the Chef’s menu changes appreciably (and one’s finances permit, of course).
I give The Fat Duck a rare 10.0 out of 10.0 on The Richter Scale.
The rest of our day was spent getting Linda back to the hotel in London so she could rest (her ear was still really bothering her), with the rest of us heading back out, this time to Epsom for a BonaireTalk mini-meet at the home of Sarah and Hugh Frame, old friends of ours whom we met through the BonaireTalk web site community that Linda and I started back in 1999. Also joining us were Roy from Germany (another BT’er who happened to be at a conference in Manchester), and Bob & Yvette Raikes, friends of mine who live in Surrey, the same county where Epsom is located. Bob is one of the world’s leading experts in the electronic display marketplace, incidentally. Photos from this evening can be found here. We had a delightful evening with everyone, albeit without Linda present, heading back, tired and weary, to the hotel by hired car, around 11:30pm.