|That's not a wine list, that's a wine encyclopedia!|
Rachel, A flying visit to Berkshire
This blog post has been a long time coming, longer even than the usual week I spend procrastinating over finishing a post. The Fat Duck has been on my gastronomic bucket list for a long time, but that's a list that I've always thought was more for daydreams than reality.
I was therefore delighted when I got talking to my Uncle about it back in January and he suggested that it was something that we could do in August when he would be in that part of the UK with my Nana. I have to take a moment to say thank you to him for making all the arrangements.
Molecular gastronomy might not be to everyone's taste, and usually I like my food to have been messed around with as little as possible, however, I do find the creative process that goes in to dreaming up these dishes fascinating and, after seeing Heston's Feasts and reading some of his books I knew I wanted to experience the menu myself.
I shan't explain every dish we had in detail as I know no-one wants a post that will take as long to read as the five hours it took us to get through all 14 courses. Instead, the dishes are labelled under each collage in the same order that we received them in, and I've included our highlights, and some lowlights, at the end.
|Amuse bouche: Aerated Beetroot and Horseradish Cream|
Top: Red Cabbage Gazpacho with Pommery Grain Mustard Ice cream. Bottom Left: Jelly of Quail, Crayfish Cream, Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss, Truffle Toast. Bottom Right: Snail Porridge, Iberico Bellota Ham, Shaved Fennel.
Top Left and Bottom Right: Hand Dived Scallop, Roe Stuffed Mooli, 86 Hour Onion Gel, Dried Scallop Threads. Top Right and Bottom Left: Mad Hatter's Tea Party, Mock Turtle Soup, Pocket Watch and Toast Sandwiches.
So, how do you begin to describe a meal like this?
The theatrics, it really is a spectacle, and I loved being surprised and, sometimes challenged, by various elements of the meal.
How much we talked and discussed each course, nobody is going to love everything in such a varied menu and it was interesting to see how we reacted differently to some things.
The incredible sommelier who was able to explain to us exactly why we all suddenly noticed a difference in the sharpness of our wine due to the different flavours our palate had been exposed to.
The Mad Hatter's Tea Party, I loved the theatre of being presented with our gold pocket watch which we swirled in our glass tea pot until the gold leaf came away and the bouillon underneath dissolved into 'Mock Turtle Soup' that we poured into our tea cup.
The scallop dish, probably the best scallop I have ever eaten, and the surprise of finding the roe hidden inside the braised mooli.
The Hot and Iced Tea, the simplest looking dish of all, was probably the most impressive, and the one that challenged our senses the most. While there was no visible difference looking at the glass, every sip you took was two completely different temperatures at the same time. Brilliant!
The Desserts: The strawberries were incredibly flavoursome and Nana loved the white chocolate checked picnic blanket. The 'BFG' divided opinion but really strong cherry flavours can do that. I was amazed at how incredibly different all the Whisk(e)y Gums tasted, they really captured the variations in flavour. I loved how pretty the sweet shop bag was and the 'Queen of Hearts' chocolate playing card was incredibly detailed, with a thin layer of strawberry tart in the centre.
The souvenir copy of the menu that they gave each guest to take away at the end of the night, a lovely touch, especially as you'd be doing well to remember all of those courses otherwise.
The not so highs:
The Sound of the Sea, the edible sea shore that Heston has said is one of his favourite creations failed to live up to expectations for any of us. Listening to the lapping waves and the odd seagull squawk from the iPod shuffle that was concealed in a large shell was meant to evoke childhood memories. However, I found the seaweed flavours far too strong and reminiscent of the smell of a dried up beach at low tide, not a particularly pleasant image to conjure up. The edible sand was the most unappetising part though as it had a texture and flavour reminiscient of mushroom soup powder once you put it in your mouth. As I looked around the room I noticed we were not the only ones leaving it behind.
The salmon and lamb dishes that followed failed to knock our socks off either. There was nothing wrong with them, in any other meal they would have been the star of the show, but they lacked the wow factor of the other courses and were too unwieldy considering the size of the overall menu.
We had requested a pescetarian menu for my Uncle's partner which they went to some effort to provide, including printing her a special copy of her own menu to take home. However, the chef has apparently never eaten the menu she received in it's entirety as she was suffering from mushroom overload by the time we came to the main course and, while there was nothing wrong with any particular dish, she found the lack of variety disappointing.
I was very worried that I would be disappointed by this meal. Considering I flew over and back to London just for that night and the fact that the menu costs a small fortune (£180 to be precise) it had a lot to live up to. However, I needn't have been concerned as it really was the once in a lifetime experience I had been hoping for. I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who has ever thought they might like to go. I feel that, no matter how much you read about the dishes, the menu, or the overall experience of The Fat Duck, the only way you can really experience it is by eating it yourself. I felt like I could have written a whole essay on the Hot and Iced Tea but I could never have properly captured the experience that way. The fact that we had such differences of opinion about some dishes also points to how subjective each person's experience is and why you should try it for yourself. Who knows, you might love that mushroom soup sand!
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I have to give a special mention to our accomodation, Whitehouse Farm Cottage, run by Louise and Keir who made us feel incredibly welcome. It was such a shame we were only staying one night as I would have loved to sit and read in their pretty summer house or enjoy their beautiful garden some more.