We celebrated our first wedding anniversary with lunch at the Fat Duck. We’re making no excuses – it was bloody expensive and worth every penny. So, for those who are interested, here are the highlights.
Finding it is the first challenge. Even standing right outside, the livery is ridiculously subtle. However, there’s someone on hand to open the door and let you know you’re in the right place. This is their general approach to customer service, which is low key but always there. Always. They know you need something before you do. It’s spooky, but probably testament to the dedication of staff who seem to stay for a long time and take a huge amount of pride in their jobs. This impression was strengthened when the woman who welcomed us to our table turned out to be Fanny, who had made us bacon and egg ice cream at our table during our other visit four years ago. She’s been promoted since then, says she loves it there and can’t really imagine what else she would prefer to be doing.
But enough of the foreplay. If you’re still reading this, you want to know about the food. So here are the best bits.
Nitro Poached Aperitifs: rather than pre-dinner drinks, the Fat Duck offers (of course) a mouthful of frozen egg white infused with your choice of drinks. Chloe chose a gin and tonic, Allan went for vodka and lime. The spoonful of egg is poached in liquid nitrogen, which we were invited to eat in one bite. Chloe was spritzed with essence of juniper while she tasted it. Allan’s was sprinkled with freeze dried green tea. This starter sets the tone for the meal, which is fun and amazement.
Jelly of Quail: If you’re a fan of the jelly bits that go round the edge of a pork pie, for example, you will think you’ve died and gone to heaven when you taste this one. But it can’t be that straightforward. Oh no. To complement the truffle on the accompanying sliver of toast, you first place a strip of gelatine on your tongue which is infused with the flavour of oak moss, while liquid nitrogen mist boils out of a tray of the stuff. It’s a total woodland experience!
Mock Turtle Soup: Chloe’s favourite. The tea party in Alice in Wonderland: remember the Mad Hatter and the March Hare attempting to fix a broken pocket watch by dunking it in tea? We were invited to help fix a watch (produced from a large wooden box, gold-covered and attached to a piece of string) by dunking it into the hot water in the large teacup beside our plates. The watch dissolved into a rich broth, full of floating golden flecks. By pouring this over our plates, we created Mock Turtle Soup. As well as being spectacular, it was also delicious.
Sound of the Sea: This is the one that everyone has heard of: a delicious tumble of fish and seaweeds is bordered by edible ‘sand’ (semolina flavoured with anchovy) on one side and foamy, fishy brine on the other. You eat it whilst listening to seaside sounds (waves, gulls, laughing) on a teeny iPod hidden in a shell. Mental.
Hot and Iced Tea: Think it’s impossible? It’s not. A cup of sweet, iced tea, one half of which is hot and the other chilled. Our brains didn’t quite know what to make of it and it was like a magic trick on a plate!
The BFG: This stands for Black Forest Gateau but, bloody hell, it’s pretty much the ultimate version. Chocolate mousse stuffed with cherries soaked in something (kirsch?) alcoholic. The forest floor is represented by chocolate shavings. Allan proclaimed this his favourite, despite it coming at the end of the meal and us both being stupidly full.
Whisk(e)y Wine Gums: Amazing. A framed map of Scotland (with an inset of Tennessee) is placed before us. Stuck to the glass, at the appropriate locations, are five bottle-shaped sweet jellies made from the whisky of the area. Although we know nothing about whisky, we definitely recognised the Highland Park and the Jack Daniels, and will take Heston’s word for the rest. Each was very distinctive and I bet would be a true joy for real whisky lovers.
Like A Kid In A Sweetshop: The finale. Two pink and white striped paper bags arrive at our table. The Fat Duck has recreated sweets from our childhood, but Heston-style. Toffees have edible cellophane wrappers. The sweet tobacco is infused with actual tobacco essence. The most grown up Orange Aero ever contains mandarin jelly and melts in the mouth. And the show stopper: a little envelope (with edible wax seal) opens to reveal a Queen of Hearts playing card, reproduced in perfect detail on both sides, which is white chocolate sandwiched around jam tart. Perfect.
Other dishes there’s no space to describe were the red cabbage soup with mustard ice cream, snail porridge, salmon poached in liquorice and more.
As if this unbelievable lunch was not enough, we were treated to a peek into the kitchens. They were tiny for a restaurant delivering such a complex menu. Every single person knew exactly what they had to do and managed to do it without all of the usual shouting and high-stress energy you usually associate with restaurant kitchens. Even towards the end of service, it was stunning how a dozen staff could move tableware, load a dishwasher and co-ordinate food coming out of the kitchen in a space smaller than our hall at home. Fanny also presented us with a little congratulations card signed by Blumenthal himself (out of a stock by the desk, but very sweet nonetheless).
So we left, stuffed, entertained and happy, deciding to call a cab from the pub next door. The Hind’s Head is also owned by Blumenthal, so we should not have been surprised when the response to our order of ‘two gin and tonics, please’ was ‘Ah, now. We have eight different gins ranging from floral to citrus…’ Allan’s came with a sprig of rosemary, Chloe’s tonic released a cloud of grapefruit oil when the lid was released. Of course it did.