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Restaurant Review - THE FAT DUCK, BRAY

by Robin Bailey

Following a very lucrative year at Swine Towers , the powers that be felt that it was time the magazine had its first ever restaurant review. I was approached by the Editors and asked if I would like to choose a restaurant in the UK to visit and write about it. Being one of the only Gentlemen whose palette extends beyond steak, chips, marrow fat peas and stork, I accepted. Now choosing the restaurant was pretty easy it had to be one of the only, three, three Michelin stared restaurants in the UK : Gordon Ramsey, The Waterside or The Fat Duck. Gordon Ramsey in my book is just a wanker, who has become a parody of himself and spends more time taking off his shirt for middle age dried up women, than he does in the kitchen: fact. The Waterside is run by two French men and you need to wear a tie, having my gullet restricted whilst eating is not my idea of fun. So it had to be the one and only Fat Duck; Heston Blumenthal’s temple to molecular gastronomy, voted the second best restaurant in the world by a plethora of  chefs and restaurant critics worldwide.


To get to the Fat Duck is a journey in itself, train from London through some very humdrum towns, Slough being one (yes indeed ‘come friendly bombs……), then a taxi from the drag town of Maidenhead , which takes you to the delightful village of Bray . The restaurant used to be a local boozer and resembled an old quaint cottage. Entering the restaurant we were met by a lot of young down to earth friendly staff, no pomposity or ceremony that ‘high class’ restaurants often consider de rigueur.


We decided to opt for the tasting menu consisting of fifteen courses, including some of the dishes that have made this restaurant notorious, such as ‘bacon and egg ice cream’ and ‘snail porridge’. For those that have not heard of The Fat Duck or its chef/proprietor Heston Blumenthal, let me give you a brief resume. His take on food is to challenge all our preconceptions of what food should be and what ingredients go with what. He treats food like a science, examining which components of flavour match other flavours. He looks into the psychology of food, particularly linking his food with some tastes from childhood. Some consider the food much like modern art, pretentious and shocking for shock’s sake. Unlike art his food which has been aptly labelled ‘molecular gastronomy’ has its foundation truly rooted in scientific principles, not aesthetic whims. So many restaurants seem to be following this trend in food, where having a laboratory for experimental developments is as much part of the kitchen as a larder.


So is the Fat Duck as good as it is made out to be or is it the proverbial gastronomic emperor’s new clothes, well the proof of the pudding is in the eating (pun intended).


I will not reel through all 15 courses but give a synopsis of some of the more exciting parts of the meal:


NITRO-GREEN TEA, VODKA AND LIME MOUSSE: This arrived in a cauldron of smoking liquid nitrogen; where the waitress dipped a spoonful of mouse in the vat and once solidified we had to eat it in one. This resulted in the whole thing disappearing in a puff of smoke, through my nose. Apparently the green tea cleanses, the vodka takes away the oiliness and the lime balances the ph. No joke my mouth actually felt like it had been dry-cleaned.


OYSTER, PASSION FRUIT JELLY, HORSERADISH CREAM, LAVENDER: Being a fan of oysters naked and consider any accompaniment outside of lemon or Tabasco as sacrilegious this was going to be a challenge. This was just amazing, the sweetness of the passion fruit, with the ozone tang of the oyster and the earthiness of horseradish balanced perfectly, with just a subtle aftertaste of lavender.


The whole idea of mixing snails with porridge let's face it sounds at best weird and at worst disgusting. This dish was treated with sincere trepidation. First mouthful and I was converted, one of the best things I have ever put in my mouth, soft oats, crunchy fennel, tender snails and a salty ham, beautiful in texture and in taste. The strangest thing about it though was it tasted very much like a Vesta curry. I am not sure if this was intentional or a coincidence but it was uncanny, even my dining companion agreed. Even more strange having seen the ingredients for the recipe, there is not one Indian spice involved. Get past the name ‘Snail Porridge’ and you are left with a very, very good dish.


At this point parts of my brain are trying to process the whole experience, whilst feeling slightly euphoric. Having lots of little courses actually is a great way to eat as it keeps the interest and senses heightened; you anticipate what the next dish is and what it will be like. I am always more satisfied and less stuffed after eating this way; I find having too many things on my plate tends to phase me out.


SARDINE ON TOAST SORBET: This was basically a sorbet that tasted exactly like, well, sardines on white toast. This wrecked my head, how could I be eating a freezing sorbet that tasted of toast and fish, yet was utterly delicious. Welcome to the world of Willy Wonka! Interestingly Blumenthal tried to create this dish with ‘posh’ bread but found it only actually works with ‘Mighty White’.


Now it was time for desserts. At this point none other than James’s front man Tim Booth entered the restaurant with a lovely lady in tow. Both my dining companion and I are big James fans, so this just added to the weirdness. Looking at the skinny fucker though it was a wonder if he could manage more than one course.  Funny when they offered him some bread he asked for it be gluten free, however when the ‘Mighty White’ laced sardine on toast sorbet arrived he bolted it down with out any question. Throughout the meal thereafter I kept singing ‘This bread is on fire……’ to the point of tedium.


MRS MARSHALL’S MARGARET CORNET PINE SHERBET FOUNTAIN: This was a mini cornet that tasted like a doughnut, was quite tasty but very rich. The sherbet fountain was basically a sherbet dip but instead of liquorice stick a vanilla pod was in its place. Ok it was slightly fun eating this but it was just sherbet.


SMOKED BACON AND EGG ICE CREAM: Prior to this dish we had a mini box of cereal inside which were parsnip flakes and served with a small jug of parsnip milk in a cereal bowl. Again the sweetness of parsnip and texture of the flakes made it exactly like a bowl of cereal, which was strange. Continuing with the breakfast theme we had bacon and egg ice cream, sweet fried bread toast and a side order of tea jelly. This was like eating a sweet English breakfast, absolutely spot on with the replication of flavours, but it really messed my head up. Bacon and egg for dessert! Breakfast for dessert!


HOT AND COLD TEA VIOLET TARTLET: How they did this I had no idea, it was a cup of tea and one half of the liquid was hot and the other cold. It created the sensation of numbness, like I was having a stroke, very clever.


All in all I would consider the Fat Duck as one of my all-time great dining experiences, the ambience was down to earth and relaxed, the food not as pretentious as it sounds and utterly delicious, innovative and exciting. Ok, it was pricey but £97 pounds for fifteen courses actually only works out at £6.50 a course, which for 3 Michelin star food is quite decent.


Having eaten in the second best restaurant, my next review will be about the best restaurant in the world, ‘El Bulli’ near Barcelona , so please keep buying the magazine so I can keep you all thrilled with more gastronomical tales. If not I believe the Indian/Italian/Chinese at the bottom of Poolstock is under new management


By the way Tim did not ask me to ‘sit down next to him’…..........yes I’ll get my coat.






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