My reply: (thinks for about a second)- “YES!!!”
A lot of you would have heard of the infamous £180 tasting menu of Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant, The Fat Duck. Extravagant for a lunch? Yes. Definitely. Worth it? Absolutely!!! After 4 1/2 hours of being served the most beautiful and entertaining dishes I have ever set my eyes on or treated my taste buds to, the lunch exceeded my already high expectations by far. This is not an ordinary lunch out.
For anyone who plans on visiting there may be a few spoilers here, but I’ll leave all the pics to the end so you can save something for the surprise when you go – some of them have to be experienced to be believed anyway. Also apologies if I get a bit carried away – I think I have been boring everyone I see since yesterday, going through every one of the fourteen courses in extravagant detail. My eating marathon went as follows:
The welcome taste teaser: a tiny bite of beetroot macaroon with horseradish cream that seems to disappear as soon as it hits the tongue leaving only the flavour memory as proof that you have just put something in your mouth.
The pallet cleanser:
Course 1: A choice of Vodka and Lime Sour, Gin and Tonic or Campari Soda; here the theatre begins.
Mixed with egg white for texture, a foam of your chosen flavour is squirted out of a canister onto a spoon ‘Mr Whippy’ style (only way I could think of describing it) and theatrically dropped into a pot of liquid nitrogen. A couple of taps of the spoon around the bowl and a little cold meringue is deposited on the plate for us to eat in one. We managed to cover each of the flavours amongst our table, my choice being campari soda – a burst of the blood orange and prosecco flavour in my mouth.
The starters (there are a few):
Course 2: Red cabbage gazpacho
Pommery grain mustard ice cream (I did say ice cream) sat on a little bed of diced cucumber in our bowls. Next the most vibrant purple gazpacho was poured on top. Absolutely delicious combination of flavours.
Course 3: Jelly of quail, crayfish cream, chicken liver parfait, oak moss and truffle toast.
Oak moss? Yes, a tray of moss was placed in the middle of our table at the same time as our starters in front of us. The first step was to take a thin strip of gelatin-like substance out of a small plastic container from the moss and place on our tongue, providing the oaky flavour layer to the dish. Next, the waiter performed some kind of magic by pouring liquid into the moss and smoke slowly spreading out across the table and over our starters to lots of oooooing and aaaaahing. A small piece of truffle toast sat on a block next to a bowl (if the word bowl can be used to describe the genius cream receptacle that was placed to show the contents perfectly on its stand) of layers of pea puree, quail jelly and crayfish cream, topped with a perfect quenelle of chicken liver parfait. To get the most from the experience we were instructed to take a bit of the toast with a different layer each time. Spectacular attention to detail.
Course 4: Snail porridge.
I was admittedly slightly apprehensive about this course, however it turned out to be surprisingly one of my favourite dishes of the day! A bright green porridge was topped with the little snails, less rubbery than I anticipated, and delicate shavings of fennel. This generally proved that you just have to trust that Heston knows his stuff and try everything as this was a taste sensation in my mouth!
Course 5: Roast foie gras
I know it’s not the most ethical of dishes, but I have never tried it and wanted to give it a go. I now have a confession – I really liked it… :-S It simply melted in the mouth and was matched perfectly with the delicate crab biscuits and barberry puree lavishly spread on the side of the plate.
Course 6: Mad Hatter’s Tea Party
After running Mad Hatter’s Tea Party workshops all week (some people have much more exciting jobs than me) one of my friends was particularly excited about this one. The build up of the story came in the form of a stunning bookmark placed in front of us with the background to the mock turtle soup we were about to taste. Of course this was not just any old soup. Instead we were given a glass teacup of goods covered with a glass teapot of hot water. An extravagant tale was told by our host of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party whilst gold coins were distributed amongst each teapot and we were instructed to swirl the mixture to see the broth form in front of our eyes. Poured into the teacup, this formed our mock turtle soup. A tea party is not complete without sandwiches of course, so in the middle of our table appeared a wonderful sandwich stand topped with a hat holding our little sandwiches with a special toasted middle layer.
The fish courses:
Course 7: “Sound of the Sea”
For me, this dish epitomises the eating experience and thought that goes into Heston’s dishes. Before our food arrived we are given a shell containing earphones that provide us with the sounds of the sea as we eat (I know, it sounds a little eccentric). A sheet of glass on a wooden block was the canvas for our seascape. As a fish lover I relished every bite, but I would warn that other less fishy enthusiasts struggled slightly. A strip of frothy, seaweed flavoured foam was washed up next to the sardine infused “sand”, topped with three fish (including halibut…I cannot remember the other two) and beautifully crafted pieces of seaweed.
Course 8: Salmon poached in a liquorice gel.
I’m not the biggest fan of liquorice but I figured I would give everything a go today. This was definitely worth it. The gel surrounding the melt-in-your-mouth poached salmon was so delicate in flavour, particularly matched with the artichokes, pink grapefruit and vanilla mayonnaise. I even finished off most of my friend’s roe as well as mine, it was so tasty.
The main course:
Course 9: Lamb with cucumber.
Perfectly cooked pieces of lamb were enhanced with the onion and dill fluid gel. A side dish of flavoursome morsels of sweetbread and tongue sat next to a bowl of gorgeous mint jelly I could almost have drank. This was however the only course I left any glimpse of remains on my plate. Not because it wasn’t completely wonderful, but just because I really do not like cucumber and after eating two of the three pieces, I ran out of other food to match it with to cover up the flavour. I also had to leave a little bit of jelly as did not feel it was the done thing to pick it up and eat the rest with a spoon…
Course 10: Hot and iced tea.
This literally has to be tasted to be believed. This sweet drink starts hot in your mouth and is then somehow cold. I can’t explain it. It just somehow is.
Course 11: Macerated strawberries.
This dish was so beautiful I could have cried. Admittedly I can get emotional. I cried at the google advert – you know the one where the dad’s emailing his child throughout their life – emotional stuff. And Extreme Makeover: Home Edition literally gets me every time. Anyway…this course was stunning. Firstly we were given a little strawberry cornet filled with salty earl grey ice cream that turned into an intense hit of strawberry jelly at the bottom. Amazing. The subsequent “picnic” of berry delights can only described as stupendous (which friends and I have agreed is pretty much the top of the adjectives hierarchy). Gingham painted, white chocolate formed the picnic blanket. The spread: raspberries, berries, pistachios, meringues, heaven. As hard as it is to choose a favourite dish, this one is slightly ahead. But only just.
Course 12: The “BFG” – Black Forest Gateau
Eradicate potential memories of the frozen black forest gateau you may have had from a child. This was a tower of chocolate coated sponge with a chocolate and cherry core sat next to lines of crunchy chocolate bits and cherry puree and kirsch ice cream. The smell kirsch was spritzed into the air around us to enhance the experience – again, immense attention to detail. I scraped this plate clean and conjured up all my will power to not lick the plate.
Course 13: Whisk(e)y wine gums
A framed map of Scotland is the stage for these five whiskey explosions; the whiskey matched to the respective region on the map. Genius.
Course 14: “Like a kid in a sweet shop”
And this we all were. Beautifully branded sweet shop bags held the contents of four ‘sweets’. The menu placed next to it was perfumed with the smells of a sweet shop – THE MENU SMELT LIKE SWEETS! The first aerated chocolate melted in your mouth, ending with the flavour of mandarin jelly. Coconut baccy had a bit of a liquorice twang for me, but I still guzzled it all. The apple pie caramel was contained within an edible wrapper – you just put the whole thing in your mouth and the wrapper melts around it. Blows my mind. The final ‘Queen of Hearts’ was incredible. Tucked in an envelope (with an edible seal of course) was a card: the Queen of Hearts. She made some tarts – this card was white chocolate with a thin layer of jam and biscuity substance running through it.
For some reason we all abstained from the optional extra cheese board after all 14 courses. We did all go for at least three slices of bread, mainly due to the delicious butter that came with it. Note: my lactase enzyme tablets that allow me to eat dairy without falling into a sleepy stupour came in very handy during this meal and were worth the pit stop and mad dash around Maidenhead for a Holland & Barrett when I realised I had forgotten them!
The service was impeccable at all times. They must be trained in constant politeness and ‘niceness’.
Also (this will only impress the marketing enthusiasts out there) everything is branded. Down to the soap and lotion in the bathroom. Wonderful.
***SPOILER ALERT*** A lot of the wonder comes from the surprise – do not continue if you do not want it to affect a future experience (they’re only small)…