The Gastronome Restaurant Reviews - The Fat Duck, High St, Bray, Maidenhead SL6 2AQ

Visit: 9 April 2022, lunch for two

Awards: 3 Michelin Stars

Price: ***

Website: https://thefatduck.co.uk/

The Review:

There are 136 restaurants in the World that can boast 3 Michelin Stars, and the UK has only 8 of them.  Two of these are located in Bray, a small village near Maidenhead in Berkshire.  These are The Fat Duck and the Waterside Inn.

The Fat Duck is housed in a 16th-century building that had previously been the site of The Ringers pub in Bray.  Heston Blumenthal opened the restaurant on 16 August 1995, serving French bistro type food, but soon acquired a reputation for invention.  On opening, Heston worked with one other member of staff in the kitchen.  Now there are 42 staff members, resulting in a ratio of one kitchen staff member per customer.

Stuart Clarke Restaurant ReviewFour years after opening, the restaurant gained its first Michelin star in 1999, its second in 2002 and its third in 2004, making it the fastest in the United Kingdom to earn three Michelin stars.  It temporarily lost its status as a three-starred restaurant in the 2016 guide due to a 6-month renovation preventing it from being open for assessment, and the team temporarily relocating to Crown Towers, Melbourne, Australia.  The restaurant regained three stars in the following year’s Michelin guide.

Heston has been at the forefront of many modern culinary developments – food pairing (where recipes are created by identifying molecular similarities between different ingredients and bringing these together in a dish, eg white chocolate with caviar), flavour encapsulation (to magnify the difference between one flavour and another, and heighten the contrasts between flavours so that you can taste each of them more clearly), and multi-sensory cooking (eg the “Sounds of the Sea” – a plate of seafood served with a seafood foam on top of a “beach” of tapioca, breadcrumbs and eel, accompanied by headphones where diners listen to a recording of the seaside – crashing waves with sounds of distant seagulls, children’s laughter and the horn of a ship).

This year is the 25th anniversary of the opening of The Fat Duck and to celebrate there are four “Anthology” menus of Fat Duck classics available over a 12-month period.  Anthologies 1 and 2 have been completed, so we booked the Anthology 3 menu.  The cost of the experience is £350 per person (which is paid in full when you book and is transferable to another diner, but non-refundable), plus your drinks.

For me, this was a superb restaurant experience with terrific food and top-notch service that was enhanced by the excitement and wonder of Heston’s creations.  I think it’s worth every penny, and it was an afternoon I will never forget.  If you haven’t been, I highly recommend a visit.

One week before our visit, I was called by the restaurant so they could confirm any dietary requirements, explain the concept of the anthology menu and the time it would take for us to complete the lunch, approximately 4 hours.  We were told we should wear something comfortable!

Heston plays with all your senses in order to magnify the experience of taste. When we arrived, we were greeted outside the front door by a waitress dressed in a Sherlock Holmes type cape and escorted directly to our table.  The inside of the restaurant is dimmed, and this enhances the experience and expectation.  Following a short introduction, we were asked if we wanted aperitifs which were chosen from a list that includes cocktails, wines, beers and non-alcoholic drinks.  On the table was a booklet giving the details of the Anthology 3 menu and a large magnifying glass.

Nitro Poached Aperitif – Pina Colada (2014) or Green Tea and Lime (2001)

In 2001, Heston was the first chef to serve a dish using liquid nitrogen.  The supercooled nitrogen, at -196 deg C, hardens the outside of the mousse while leaving the centre airy and delicate, evaporating in the mouth.

A small snowball of mousse is mixed by the waitress at your table.  The mousse is contained in a pressurised canister.  A small blob is squirted onto a spoon and dipped into a bowl of liquid nitrogen to produce a frozen bonbon, which you pop into your mouth.  It produces an extraordinary sensation with intense flavours and, sometimes, vapour comes down your nose, dragon-like.  The pineapple in the Pina Colada makes your mouth water and prepares it for your meal.

Aerated Beetroot (2011)

This is a small honeycomb of beetroot with horseradish mascarpone cream.  It’s designed to stimulate the taste buds to get your mouth ready for your meal.

Heston discovered that reduced beetroot juice could be whisked into a voluminous foam.  He used a vacuum centrifuge, which his development team nicknamed the Rocket, to boil off water from the beetroot at a very low temperature, leaving a concentrated liquid that can be dehydrated to create the light, airy beetroot macaron.

The Tonic of Botanicals (2015)

This dish is a combination of warm and cold.  There is pepper from horseradish and nasturtium, menthol coolness from fennel, thyme, mint and lemongrass, limonene coolness from lemon verbena, fennel, ginger, cardamon and star anise, as well as artichoke crisps for texture, and artichoke ice cream.

There is a wonderful aroma of fresh green herbs and green vegetables.  The dish is designed to prepare your mouth by triggering the trigeminal nerve that detects what happens in your mouth that is not to do with flavour, such as chilli heat flavours or astringency.

A Walk in the Woods (2015)

The light above our table was dimmed and a glass cylinder containing a woodland scenery, complete with bark, a tree, ferns, and small mushrooms, was placed in front of us.  Liquid was poured from a teapot into the base of the cylinder to create a wood scented mist that filled the cylinder and covered our table.

The dish itself was designed to resemble a forest floor.  A shard of crisp “bark” covered mushrooms, truffle and beetroot, with juniper, lovage and fig, representing the “textures and flavours” found on the ground if you walked through a wood, with small shoots starting to grow through the soil.

Crab Risotto (1998)

It’s very unusual to see fish and Parmesan in the same dish.  Heston discovered Parmesan and crab are both rich in umami compounds, so they can complement one another.  A further twist to this dish was to add a cold savoury crab ice cream to contrast with the warm risotto.  Interestingly, he found that people found the dish to be more or less salty depending on whether it was called “crab ice cream” or “frozen crab bisque”.  He started to explore how our senses and emotions affect our perceptions of flavour.

Sound of the Sea (2007)

The ‘Sound of the Sea’ first appeared on the menu in 2007.  Ingredients with a distinctly oceanic character and flavour (such as octopus, razor clams, cockles, mussels, yellowtail, konbu cured halibut, ballotine of mackerel with 5 different seaweeds, sea jellybeans and monks beard) replicate the appearance of a shore’s edge, complete with edible sea foam, flotsam, beach greenery and edible sand (made from tapioca starch, toasted Japanese breadcrumbs, miso paste and dried seaweed).  It is served on a glass-topped box containing real sand and is accompanied by headphones relaying the sounds of the seaside – crashing waves, seagulls, children’s laughter and the horn of a ship, via a small iPod hidden in a conch shell.

The idea, according to Heston, is one “of creating a world, of transporting the diner – through sound, through food, through an integrated appeal to the senses – to another place”.  It works!!

Veal Sweetbread in Smoked Hay (1999) served with Triple Cooked Chips (1993)

This was Heston’s first signature recipe.  The sweetbreads taste slightly smoky thanks to the smoked hay, and the dish includes parsnips, truffle, cockles, and bee pollen.

The veal sweetbreads were accompanied by Triple Cooked Chips.  These were Heston’s first invention, back in 1993, and for me, those at The Fat Duck are still the best.  The potatoes are first simmered in water until they are nearly falling apart, then dehydrated in a desiccator to remove as much water as possible.  Then they are fried twice, once to dehydrate them further and a second time to produce the crunchiness.

These were incredibly crispy and crunchy on the outside, but soft and fluffy inside, perfect to mop up the sauce from the sweetbreads.

Anjou Pigeon (2007)

Anjou squab pigeon has a delicate, nutty flavour more reminiscent of a great chicken than the normal gamey wood pigeon.  Here it was served with turnip, onions and a black pudding puree that was almost chocolate ganache in texture, but meaty and slightly sweet.

The pigeon was accompanied by “duck and pigeon crackers”, like prawn crackers, but with cardamon, ginger and Szechuan spices.

Black Forrest Gateau (2006)

The gateau has multiple layers, with a cherry on top.  It is accompanied by a kirsch ice cream made with sour cream.

The layers inside the Black Forrest Gateau included white chocolate mousse, dark chocolate mousse, chocolate sponge, kirsch ganache and aerated chocolate, topped with a cherry and stalk.

Like a Kid in a Sweetshop (2006)

The fabulous sweetshop dessert trolley is wheeled to your table and opened by the waitress by turning a handle.  The shop is a scale model of the restaurant building, but with sweets in the windows.  When you drop your magic penny into a slot, the drawers containing the sweets open and close, and finally your personal draw is opened.  Your waitress places your sweets from the drawer into a paper bag so you can take them home with you.

The sweetshop is nearly open:

You drop your magic penny into a slot and the drawers open and close until one is automatically selected for you.

Our sweet selection included a Queen of Hearts playing card, that tasted like a jam tart.

Aerated chocolate with mandarin that tasted like a Jaffa cake.

Aerated chocolate with mandarin that tasted like a Jaffa cake.

The People

Oli Williamson is Head Chef.  He joined the Fat Duck team in December 2020, won the Roux Scholarship in 2020/21 and was promoted to head chef in January 2022.

Oli started his Michelin restaurant career at the one-star Michelin restaurant The Neptune in Old Hunstanton, before travelling to Australia for a year on a working holiday.

When Oli returned to the UK, he joined Roger Hickman’s restaurant in Norwich, as sous chef.  Then, in 2014, he moved to Cambridge and worked as demi chef to partie at Midsummer House, eventually working up to senior sous chef.

Oli’s then moved to California and worked as chef de partie at Corey Lee’s three-Michelin star Benu restaurant.  In May 2018 Oli returned to the UK and became head chef at The Clove Club in London, working for Isaac McHale.  To improve his pastry skills, he took a sideways move to work with Alex Dilling at The Greenhouse as head pastry chef in October 2019.

In December 2020, Oli took the role of sous chef at The Fat Duck and in January 2022, just a few months after winning the Roux Scholarship, he was promoted to Head Chef.

Edward Cooke started his career at Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant in Padstow before joining The Fat Duck Group as Senior Sous Chef in 2010.  He was promoted to Head Chef in 2016 and Executive Head Chef in 2021.

When Heston Blumenthal left school at eighteen, he began an apprenticeship at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons but left after a week’s probation.  Over the next ten years while working in a series of “relatively undemanding” jobs, he taught himself the French classical repertoire in the evenings.

In 1995, Heston bought a run-down pub in Bray, Berkshire called the Ringers and re-opened it as the Fat Duck.  The restaurant gained its first Michelin star in 1999, its second in 2002 and its third in 2004, making it the fastest in the United Kingdom to earn three Michelin stars.

He bought the Hind’s Head, also in Bray, in 2004. This was a 15th-century tavern and now serves traditional seasonal cuisine and historic British dishes.  In 2011, it was named the Michelin Pub Guide’s “Pub of the Year”, and was awarded a single Michelin star in the 2013 UK and Ireland edition of the Michelin Guide.

In January 2011, Blumenthal opened Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London.  It was awarded its first Michelin star in 2012, and a second Michelin Star in the 2014 Michelin Guide.

In 2014, he opened the Perfectionists’ Cafe in Heathrow Airport.

In 2015 The Fat Duck was temporarily relocated to Melbourne, Australia whilst the Bray restaurant was refurbished.  At the end of its temporary opening, the restaurant became a permanent Melbourne-based Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.

In 2004, Blumenthal won the Chef Award at The Catey Awards.  In 2006, Blumenthal was appointed an OBE in the New Year’s Honours List for his services to British Gastronomy.  He has been awarded a number of honorary degrees for his scientific approach to cooking.  In June 2013, the College of Arms granted Blumenthal a personal coat of arms.

The Wine

We chose the Discovery Wine Pairing (£155 per Person).  This started with the TONIC OF BOTANICALS course.  A TFD Martini was made from London Dry gin, Noilly Prat vermouth and green chartreuse.

The WALK IN THE WOODS course was accompanied by a red wine – Saumur Champigny, Glouglou, Domaine des Sables Verts, Loire Valley, France 2019 (3.8 / 5 on Vivino).

The CRAB RISOTTO course was accompanied by a white wine – Riesling Trocken, Hattenheimer Pfaffenberg, Schloss Schonborn, Rheingau, Germany, 2011(4.1 / 5 on Vivino).

The SOUND OF THE SEA course was accompanied by a Junmai Daiginjo Sake, Masumi, Sanka, Nagano, Japan (this medium-dry sake is brewed using the old yamahai method using Association. No. 7 yeast that was discovered at Miyasaka Brewing in 1946.  It has mineral notes and crispness, reminiscent of Pinot Grigio.  This premium grade sake has a polish rate of 45%).

The VEAL SWEETBREAD SMOKED IN HAY and TRIPLE-COOKED CHIPS course was accompanied by a white wine – VdP de l’Hérault, Grenache Gris, Le Pal, Boulevard Napoleon, Languedoc-Roussillon, France, 2017 (4.1 / 5 on Vivino).

The ANJOU PIGEON course was accompanied by a red wine – Valtellina Riserva, Vini di Balgera, Grumello, Lombardia, Italy, 2004 (4.0 / 5 on Vivino).

The BLACK FORREST GATEAU dessert was accompanied by a medium sweet dessert wine – Dolc Mataro, Alta Alella, Catalunya, Spain, 2019 (4.1 / 5 on Vivino).

Other wine pairings that you can choose included the CURIOSITY, at £290 per person, that includes small parcels of wines produced by well-known estates, and a WONDERMENT pairing, at £2500 per person, which includes a selection of iconic producers, historical appellations, exceptional vintages & rare drinks, including a Petrus (2011), Meursault 1er Cru Gouttes D’Or (2015) and a Corton (2009).  There was also a non-alcoholic pairing.

More Highlights from The Fat Duck

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