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macrosan

The Fat Duck 2003

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Can't do 8th March until 16th March though. Off to Sharrow Bay, Ullswater, The Star at Harome and Winteringham Fields that week.

Oh boy, Bapi, I'm jealous :sad: Please let me know how you find Sharrow Bay, because that's on my distinctly-probable-list for May (March sounds a bit chilly there for me).

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Big Ben, with its magnificent and remarkable coherence of character and almost abstract lucidity and elegance in the London fog, purged a long, full-bodied boom, striking eight times, waking us from the reverie of the magic of the sight and turning our original plans to stop at the hotel before our journey to The Fat Duck into a ghostly dust of wishful thinking. Ten minutes. That was all we had to turn my consort’s short-sleeved shirt into more appropriate gentleman’s attire and to make it on time for our 9:15 p.m. dinner.

A blue shirt, a yellow tie at the nearest store, no time to try on a nice-looking jacket, a taxi, a sigh of relief and a striking realization that we left the restaurant directions at the hotel.

“Mīdnhäd” said the cheerful taxi driver. The station you need is “Mīdnhäd.” After pausing for several seconds, while calculating vertical and horizontal derivatives of the word we heard, my consort finally exclaimed “Oh, Maidenhead!” “No sir,” said the cab driver. “Mīdnhäd. You are not saying it correctly.” I figured that another layer of foreign accent on top of my cute current one would not have a significant consequence on my existence, and, to our driver’s satisfaction, I fully submitted myself to his attempt to give me yet another English lesson.

A ticket, a bathroom, a phone call to the restaurant notifying them of our possible delay, and two pairs of strained eyes frozen to the bulletin board in the waiting area of the Paddington Railway Station.

I could see the sweat leaving wet streaks on my consort’s brand-new shirt as he saw “Delayed” next to our train number displayed on the board. With British punctiliousness, the time of delay shown was one minute, and in about 45 minutes we were cruising the picturesque village of Bray in a taxi on our way to the restaurant.

As soon as we entered the small lobby, a sense of a get-away home, away from the diverse abundance of city wealth, where every element of the room contributed to the concept of a rustic retreat with modern accents of abstract yellow-green paintings on the walls, seemed to create a contemporary atmosphere for those who fear the word “contemporary” -- who feel that they must move with the times yet are not quite comfortable entirely abandoning their roots.

We were taken to a back room separated from the front by a partial wall partition with a modern artwork sculpture of a fireplace. Wooden beams in the center of the room and an unrefined low ceiling lent charm and character, and a niche in the back, filled with wine bottles, provided homey comfort. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t find such juxtaposition of styles appealing, but all elements of the interior though they argued, seemed appropriate.

On the first page of each menu was a short, spirited preface by Chef Blumenthal, which betrayed the most sacred secret of the serious diner. After reading that “eating, above all should be a thing of pleasure and, dare I say it, fun,” there was no doubt in our minds that putting our fate in the hands of the chef was the way to go.

Generally, my consort doesn’t favor wine pairings and rather prefers to order one bottle or two half-bottles to accompany our food. The idea of having eight glasses of wine seemed to be excessive as well, and I asked our manager to suggest a bottle of wine that would go well with most of the dishes. He, however, was so passionate in assuring us that our experience would not be complete unless we try the wine pairing, that we followed his recommendation and didn’t regret that decision, but one thing at a time.

We started with the sherry aperitif of Manzanilla Solear, A. Barbadillo

Palate cleanser: Green Tea & Lime Sour.

A small shot glass of yellowish mousse of frothy raw egg whites with green tea and lime juice infused with a dash of vodka for a little added zing opened our dinner. Light and foamy, with a sweet but not intrusive flavor, the mousse had a dominating crispy citrus finish, tickling the back of my tongue and leaving an exotic perfume in the background. The purpose of this dish was to cleanse our palate – to clear the taste buds, preparing them to receive the next dish without competition from other lingering flavors. The dish performed its purpose perfectly, refreshing my mouth and perking up my mind, and, in fact, I preferred this version of a cleanser to a more usual sorbet type, for instance, which generally numbs my palate with its wintriness.

Amuse 1: Oyster On a Half Shell with Passion Fruit Jelly and Lavender.

A plump oyster, hidden by a blanket of bright-yellow passion fruit jelly with a touch of lavender, sherry and several flakes of Chinese pepper (?), rested on a white creamy shallot mousse and was served in a rough and irregularly shaped shell placed on a bed of a coarse fleur de sel and presented on a white, rectangular plate. When speaking of oysters on the half shell, what comes to mind is a taste of clean ocean breeze, and a drop of lemon, a little mignonette sauce, a hint of black pepper, or a dab of hot sauce that seems to be just right not to overwhelm the oyster freshness. However, the condiments of this amuse did not impede but rather enhanced the natural taste of the oyster, in my opinion. The passion fruit jelly was salty with a slight tropical tart tang, which only stressed the oyster sweetness, and the sherry provided a mild bitterness. The combination of sweetness, saltiness and bitterness was well balanced, and I found this dish interesting.

Amuse 2: Pommery Mustard Ice Cream, Red Cabbage Gazpacho.

A scoop of beige mustard ice cream ornamented with brown mustard grains left swirls in a purple liquid of slightly chilled, intense cabbage broth. A finely diced cucumber rested on the bottom of the soup plate and added a neutral, fresh counterpart to the pungent horseradish flavor produced by the amalgamation of the mustard ice cream, sherry, tamarind and the broth. A tenderly sweet and creamy flavor penetrated my mouth upon sampling the ice cream, only to leave a bitter finish in the background as I swallowed it. These two layers of flavor, sweet and bitter, were very distinct and seemed not to interweave.

My grandmother used to make red cabbage borscht for me many years ago, and as soon as I tried this amuse, an abundance of childhood memories was brought back immediately. My Bubby’s borscht was a hearty, peasant, winter soup served with sour cream and filled with shreds of cabbage, pieces of beets and chunks of potato swimming happily in the broth. The impression I had from experiencing the familiar flavors but in such an elegant and delicate presentation was that of a pumpkin that has turned into a sparkling coach. Absolutely wonderful.

First Course: Roast Scallop – caramelized cauliflower purée, jelly of Olorosso sherry.

I loved this dish. The roast scallop in the center of the plate touched a splash of a golden-brown cauliflower puree. A slice of marinated cèpe mushroom, two (golden and black) raisins, one black olive, and cubes of the Olorosso sherry jelly were tossed around the scallop. Though the combination of scallop and cauliflower is far from novel, the concentration and intensity of flavors from the extremely sweet and almost rare scallop, which was perfectly browned on top and sprinkled with finely grated salt and black pepper, and the condensed sweetness and an amazing natural flavor, brought out by caramelizing process, of the smooth, rich and luscious cauliflower purée were just divine. In contrast, the Olorosso sherry jelly was much subtler in taste and brought a hint of bitterness and sherry aroma to the dish.

We drank St Peray 2000 Cave de Tain L'Hermitage, Rhône.

Second Course: Crab Biscuit – roast foie gras, crystallized seaweed, marinated salmon and oyster vinaigrette.

A thick, elliptical piece of nicely roasted foie gras, sprinkled with chives, was placed in between delicate, dark-brown crab tuilles garnished with sesame seeds, and rested on a very lightly marinated raw and fatty salmon covered with a thin sheet of dry, crystallized seaweed. The elements were positioned in the middle of the plate in a puddle of off-white, lemony, oyster vinaigrette enriched by swirls of balsamic vinegar, poured on top of the edifice, adding another layer of acidity to the dish. It was an interesting dish whose components and their compatibility could be placed in a queue of skepticism in one’s mind, but eventually defeat all doubts. The thin and crunchy rounds of tuilles, utilizing a concentrated crab reduction and maple syrup, had a distinct nutty, crab essence and their sweetness very well complemented the rich taste of the slightly overcooked (for my taste) but creamy and extremely flavorful foie gras. The crab flavor wasn’t discordant and the seaweed rather echoed the chives’ freshness and brought a salty counterbalance to the dish. The raw piece of fatty salmon lightly marinated in olive oil had a coriander tang and lacked strong fish taste, adding to the foie gras a lusciousness of texture and fat. The first bite was simply striking and the combination of elements wasn’t as incompatible as one could’ve originally thought. A good, solid dish that still left me wondering in the back of my mind.

We were served Riesling Kabinett 1994, Bassermann, Pfalz, Germany with this dish.

Second Course: Cauliflower Risotto – carpaccio of cauliflower, chocolate jelly.

I enjoyed this simple dish. Risotto sprinkled with chives rested in the crater of the big, white plate, and was decorated by an abstract coral of dry cauliflower. A thin piece of chocolate jelly and cocoa powder dust gave the risotto an appealing and contrasting color. Everything in this dish was about the cauliflower. The creamy and buttery risotto enriched by Parmesan, tasting slightly similar to rice pudding, provided a rich texture to hold the intense and overwhelming cauliflower flavor. The unsweetened cocoa powder was almost undetectable until you tried the chocolate jelly, which made the bitter taste of chocolate more distinguishable and offset the black pepper and curry spices in the risotto quite nicely. The chocolate seemed to play the role of a secondary spice to complement or offset other spices which all seemed to be very well balanced in the dish with the main ingredient, cauliflower, shining brightly.

The wine we drank with the risotto was Rioja Reserva Capellania 1997 Marques de Murrieta, Spain.

Third Course: Poached Seabass – velouté of Borlotti beans with rosemary and vanilla.

A wonderful dish. A transparent, medusa-shaped glass bowl held in its basin a thick fillet of sea bass, which hid the beans under its body, was bathed in a bubbly light froth of vanilla foam and was generously garnished with finely chopped chives. The poached, perfectly done sea bass, moist and tender, with soft and gentle flesh and mild flavor, brought out a clean and sweet taste as the vanilla foam penetrated its flesh, creating a melt-in-your-mouth effect. The foam had a quite strong vanilla tang, but upon being mixed with the reddish Borlotti beans (which in my mind were usually associated with sausage or meatballs and certainly not with a delicate fish) that had an intense and salty flavor and were cooked with morel mushrooms and bits of toasted red pepper, balance was achieved, and the vanilla merged into the other elements bringing lightness to the hearty accompaniment. This was the dish I most enjoyed all evening.

We had St. Veran 2001, B. Morey, Burgundy with this dish.

Third Course: Poached Breast of Anjou Pigeon – pastilla of its legs and cherry, pistachio, cocoa and quatre épices

Since my consort was enjoying the pigeon so much and I was quite happy with the seabass, my recollections of this dish may not be accurate as I had just a little bite. Deep-red plump and tender pigeon breast slices wrapped in bacon, meat on the bone and a triangular crispy pastilla in the middle of the plate were encircled by the creamy-green pistachio foam. Sketchily tossed roasted pistachios and two quarters of baby beetroot(?) completed the composition. The perfect, medium-rare meat was not very gamy, but was delicate in flavor, smooth and tender and rendered slightly acidic juice with each bite. The meat, however, was mild enough not to leave a long aftertaste. The pastilla accompanying the dish was a nice twist on the traditional Moroccan pastilla where a parcel of wafery pastry is usually filled with an exotic concoction of pigeon meat, almonds and spices and sprinkled with sugar just before serving. A crispy shell of chef Blumenthal’s pastilla, stuffed with shreds of pigeon meat saturated with cinnamon, cardamom, a touch of vanilla, unsweetened chocolate and cherries was slightly sweet and seemed to take away attention from the much milder taste of the pigeon breast. The beetroot with its earthy taste worked well with the pigeon and the spicy and sweet roasted pistachio added creative touch to the pastilla. A very nice dish, but I was taken by the seabass too much to appreciate the pigeon dish in full.

We drank Priorato 1998 Les Terrasses Alvaro Palacios.

We were finally done with our main courses and an anticipation of two desserts filled our thoughts with sweet expectations. Meanwhile, a young waiter approached our table holding a spoon in his hand encouraging me to taste its content. Naturally, I attempted to rescue the spoon from his hand, which, to my surprise, met his quite firm resistance. Finally, after several unsuccessful attempts, I realized that the gentleman was determined to feed me! Somehow I missed that part when reading about the restaurant and was certainly taken aback.

I always thought that there was something very intimate in the process of being fed. I was so unprepared for this course of events that an abundance of thoughts, ranging from questioning whether the young gentleman was showing his affection in front of my husband to the uncomfortable feeling of losing the status of adulthood, were voyaging through my mind. My whole life flashed before my eyes and paused at the unpleasant point of my mother trying to force-feed me oil fish at my early age. Whatever the contents of the spoon were, I simply can’t describe as I was too occupied with processing multiple layers of information at the time. According to our waiter, it was mashed potato purée with maple syrup topped with several dice of lime jelly. This is where I started questioning the word “fun” mentioned in the preface by chef Blumenthal, as I was curious whether the fun was intended to be ours or his in this particular instance.

After the mashed potato palate cleanser, whose role was to neutralize carryover effects of our savory dishes, we were presented with a thin disc of white chocolate topped with small dark beads of Sevruga caviar, which had a very pronounced taste of salt and sea. The experimentation with savory flavors, specifically, with salt and sugar where both stand distinct, brought back memories of our lunch at Sketch several days before. If you held the caviar with the chocolate long enough on your tongue, upon melting, the combination would also produce a somewhat bitter flavor. I personally thought that the chocolate should’ve been just a little bit softer to allow the full amalgamation of flavors, and that Sevruga was too strong for this amuse. A different sort of caviar, less pronounced and more delicately flavored (Ship or Beluga, for instance), would’ve fit better.

It was time for another palate cleanser, and a small box of parsnip cereal was placed in front of me. While my consort explored the facilities of the restaurant, I struggled to open a very well-sealed, small, airtight bag of cereal. I assume this was supposed to be another fun part, which I would’ve certainly preferred to escape. The milk was poured over the dried cereal at our table. Like in the cauliflower risotto dish, which was all about cauliflower, this dish was all about parsnip, where the milk and the cereal merely provided a body to hold the prominent flavor of the parsnip brought by the chef from Alsace(?). I enjoyed this little amuse which smoothed the savory flavors lingering in my mouth and prepared us for dessert, but not just yet.

One last touch to clear our mouth: a shot glass of bright-green lemon sugar and a long vanilla stick, and we were ready for a Mango and Douglas Fir Purée dessert. I wasn’t quite sure what was the purpose of the vanilla stick other than to force a child-like behavior of licking the stick to make the sugary content adhere and then licking the stick again to remove it. I wondered whether the chef has a secret spyhole where he enjoys watching his customers.:smile:

First Dessert: Mango and Douglas Fir Purée– bavarois of lychee and mango, lackcurrant sorbet, blackcurrant and green peppercorn jelly.

A rectangular piece of yellow mango and lychee(?) custard topped with a thin layer of jelly was sided with a plump drop of yellowish lychee mousse(?) on one side and an oval scoop of dark-violet blackcurrant sorbet crowned with a thin, rectangular sheet of beetroot tuille on the other. A thick, bright-yellow stroke of mango sauce and tiny cubes of blackcurrant jelly placed on top of the custard and on the plate completed the composition. Chef Blumethal often compares beetroot with blackcurrant due to the similar acid contained in both. Indeed, the beetroot tuille had rather a sour taste and complemented the intense blackcurrant sorbet very well. The lychee mousse was a little bitter and had a quite pronounced lychee flavor. I enjoyed the idea of combining exotic tastes with an earthy, rich and deep blackcurrant flavor.

An intermediate amuse of red pepper lollipop; a small, rectangular piece of beetroot jelly coated in sugar; and a cylinder of basil blancmange with a crystallized fennel branch on top, placed in a flowery pastry shell reminiscent of a candle; arrived shortly after we finished our first dessert. The very thin chip of red pepper lollipop on a toothpick had a little bite and reminded me of the Gagnaire Strawberries and Red Pepper dessert we had at Sketch. The beetroot jelly was just slightly acidic, and had a very distinct taste of beetroot, not blackcurrant like our waiter attempted to persuade us. However, I must agree that the natural sweetness of the beetroot was apparent, and it forced me to start wondering why beetroot desserts were not common. The basil custard brought freshness and a very slight sweetness with just a tang of bitterness.

Goldackerl Beerenauslese 2001 W. Opitz, Austria was served with this dessert.

Second Dessert: Délice Chocolate – chocolate sorbet, cumin caramel.

A dark-brown almost black cylinder of chocolate mousse with a shiny, sticky and viscous chocolate skin was accompanied by the light-brown chocolate sorbet resting in a puddle of cumin caramel sauce and crowned by very thin and shiny, irregularly-shaped, crystallized caramel-chocolate cloak. This was a stunning looking dessert. As my fork penetrated the soft mousse, it encountered light resistance from the caramel base, which produced a cracking noise reminiscent of the sound of a broken glass when being stepped on. The interesting sound persisted upon my eating and resonated in my ears with the same cracking sound. As it appeared, the chef utilized space dust he brought from Spain to achieve this effect. It was certainly a dish that demonstrated that sound could be an influential part of a dining experience. Frankly, it was the most disturbing dish for me, and I didn’t enjoy it as much, as all my senses were directed toward getting rid of the unpleasant crackling sound dwelling in the back of my throat, on my teeth and in my head. Perhaps people with good pitch are more sensitive to such novelties, since my consort certainly enjoyed the dessert, but I wasn’t pleased with this extra feature. The mousse was rich, smooth and creamy and had a slightly lighter texture than the classic chocolate mousse. The chocolate sorbet echoed the chocolate mousse in taste but with a delightfully light sorbet texture, and the caramel sauce and the chip complemented the crunch caramel base of the mousse very well.

We had Maury Solera 1928 Selection Gerard Gauby.

A nice cup of espresso and absolutely delightful petit fours -- a thin, almost translucent sheet of bacon caramel and tobacco chocolate-- brought our three-and-a-half hour dinner to the end.

The service was admirable and personal. Our reservation time was the latest available since the kitchen stops taking orders at 9:20 p.m. Our late arrival didn’t seem to affect the care with which we were served. Every wait staff member was knowledgeable, helpful and willing to indulge our curiosity. Not for a second did we feel rushed or too persistent with our questions. The restaurant staff was extremely good: not too intrusive, and at the same time always there when needed. Aside from the usual routines performed impeccably, if my consort were to leave the table, a service member would wait at a respectful distance assessing whether I would prefer company until my companion returned.

A couple of jokes, a little bit of a chit-chat with the folks who helped us through the dinner upon our leaving an empty restaurant; relief on both sides (we from the overwhelming impressions and satisfaction, they from a long and tiring day), a taxi, a Maidenhead train station, an hour of delay, and a very specific smell of the hotel room reminding us that it was only our temporary home.

Conclusion:

We came to the conclusion that Chef Blumethal bases his cuisine on the comforting glow of the classic while sparking a new flame of creativity. We didn’t find too much radicalism in flavors and tastes -- perhaps challenging, on occasion, on the intellectual level, based on the preconceptions we tend to acquire over the course of our lives, but certainly quite appropriate on the sensual level. The dining experience was logically structured with a perfectly balanced progression from one dish to another. In some cases we felt that the small, intermediate dishes, playing the role of palate refreshments, were more of a medicine rather than a gastronomic experience, and though they certainly performed their function perfectly, they were not at the same standard of delectableness as the base courses of the menu.

The approach Chef Blumenthal takes seems to be far from minimalism. The complexity and the number of elements in one dish can sometimes be overwhelming, and despite the fact that all elements may fit well in flavor and texture with each other, there may not be unity, in my opinion, where one would be able to say that there is nothing else he would like to subtract from the dish. There were several occasions on which I would note that the dish was just as tasty without one or another component, like salmon in the crab biscuit, or Olorosso sherry jelly in the roast scallop dish.

In his preface, Chef Blumenthal suggests that our health, mood, environment or cultural background may explain why “one food can taste so good to one person and so bad to another,” and though I do agree that certain circumstances may affect one’s preferences, the reports I’ve read on people’s experiences ranged from negative to thrilling. I keep wondering why food based so strongly on science doesn’t provoke a more balanced reaction. Whatever the rationale is for such polarized perception, we stand on the side of those who enjoyed the experience substantially.

The creative artist is not content to use signs that have become conventional, but in his search for what is the truth for him he constantly modifies and changes these signs. We often say that such an artist is ahead of his time. What we really mean is that the public has not yet learned how to read his work correctly. He himself lives with his work, grows and changes with it, and sometimes cannot understand why other people cannot see as he can. On the other hand, people do not expect to have to learn to see, and therefore condemn that which is unfamiliar. Perhaps one of the reasons lies in our innate conservatism and just like the critics who accused the Impressionists of being social anarchists (where Degas was regarded as sordid because he did not idealize his laundry women and ballet dancers, or disguise his nudes with classical allusions or when Seurat was accused of taking an unnatural delight in ugliness because he chose to include factory chimneys in his landscapes), we sometimes find it difficult to acknowledge an acceptable marriage between marinated salmon and foie gras. Time will make it right for many, but as to us, as much as art was employed in Chef Blumenthal’s cuisine, it was certainly basic and tasty, and we plan to enjoy it again on our next trip to London.


Edited by lxt (log)

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thanks lxt for such a comprehensive review. The menu sounds almost exactly the same as when we went 2mths ago. Couldn't he be a little more seasonal? Otherwise I really can't see anyone wanting to go back and try the same food more than once.

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thanks lxt for such a comprehensive review.  The menu sounds almost exactly the same as when we went 2mths ago.  Couldn't he be a little more seasonal? Otherwise I really can't see anyone wanting to go back and try the same food more than once.

Charlene, assuming that a fair amount of research is involved in creating each dish at Fat Duck, it is reasonable to imagine that it would make the process of menu turnover a little more difficult. However, I do agree that should I visit the restaurant again, the same tasting menu will not be as appealing. I wonder how much emphasis chef Blumenthal gives to seasonal ingredients and whether he ever considered adjusting his menu to reflect the seasonal market. For instance, while asparagus was in season during our visit, and we had the opportunity to enjoy this ingredient at Sketch, but we didn’t see anything on the menu at The Fat Duck that used asparagus.

I would think that at some point the menu should become more flexible and as a diner, I would be thrilled to see what chef Blumenthal can do with seasonal ingredients. Does anyone else know how often the menu is changed at The Fat Duck?

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Thanks for those mere 4,171 words lxt. I assume the full version is due anytime soon!

Well I made it 4,172 words, so I guess that was the full version after all :sad:

Classic piece of Lxt, I think. A joy to read and savor :smile: I didn't even mind the liberty of the imaginary fog shrouding Big Ben at 8pm :hmmm:

I thoroughly enjoyed my one visit to the Fat Duck, but having read that review, I just realized I enjoyed it even more than I thouight at the time. Incidentally, I also bridled at being spoonfed that mushy potato thing, which was universally disliked (both the food and the feeding process) by those who went. Maybe it's time Heston had a rethink about that.

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Incidentally, I also bridled at being spoonfed that mushy potato thing, which was universally disliked (both the food and the feeding process) by those who went. Maybe it's time Heston had a rethink about that.

I liked it and the spoonfeeding, it was kind of kinky, which you can't often say about a restaurant experience.

There was also the bit with the blindfold that we got but lxt seems to have missed out on.

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There was also the bit with the blindfold that we got but lxt seems to have missed out on.

No, we weren’t submitted to this torture, fortunately. Duncan, what course did require blindfolding?

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No, we weren’t submitted to this torture, fortunately.  Duncan, what course did require blindfolding?

It was a beetrot flavoured fruit pastille type thingy. :wacko:

I thought that the mashed potato effort was actively nasty, and had the chap not been spoon feeding his next victim, next to me, I would have spat it out.

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It was a beetrot flavoured fruit pastille type thingy.  :wacko:

I'm not sure what the point of the blindfold was, because it looked like it tasted. It tasted like a berry-related fruit pastille and looked like one too. If it had looked like a slice of cucumber or a live mouse or something while tasting like a fruit pastille then there would have been a point to the blindfold.

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While I enjoyed the Fat Duck because it was unusual and fun, there's no way I could approach the food with the same degree of gravitas that lxt shows in her review.

To me this is toy food. To be played with and enjoyed for a while but soon to be gotten bored with and discarded, never to be eaten again. I didn't mind the blindfold and being spoonfed mashed potato thingy because I wasn't thinking of the meal as real food-more of a game involving food, and of which those things were a part.

I couldn't see it as a "proper" or as a "serious" meal, although I concede that there was a serious amount of creativity going on and I'm perfectly willing to concede that this says more about my innate culinary conservatism than it does about the food at TFD. I just thought it was all quite amusing really, and that's the level that the whole meal worked on for me. I'm glad I went. But I doubt I'll go back.

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It was a beetrot flavoured fruit pastille type thingy.  :wacko:

I'm not sure what the point of the blindfold was, because it looked like it tasted. It tasted like a berry-related fruit pastille and looked like one too. If it had looked like a slice of cucumber or a live mouse or something while tasting like a fruit pastille then there would have been a point to the blindfold.

Heston claims that when you taste the beetroot pastille without seeing it, it tastes of beetroot. When you see it, you think it tastes of blackcurrant.

I thought the two bites, with and without blindfold tasted different, but then I'm gullible. Judy thought they tasted the same, but claims that may be because she knew what it was going to taste like since we've had them before.

I agree that the spoonfed potato, and the beetroot jellies &c. are toy food, but I don't mind that. I look at those as an interlude between the more serious courses.

BTW, nobody has mentioned the liquid nitrogen yet, another bit of the fun and games that probably wouldn't work for everyone. Since lxt won't know what I'm talking about: the green tea & lime foam at the very start can also be served as a quenelle frozen in liquid nitrogen. The waiter suggested it was best eaten all in one bite but whoever it was at our table that was served first (sorry, can't remember who) looked at her plate and said 'but my mouth's not that big'.

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The waiter suggested it was best eaten all in one bite but whoever it was at our table that was served first (sorry, can't remember who) looked at her plate and said 'but my mouth's not that big'.

LOL :raz: It was me!

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lxt: This is where I started questioning the word “fun” mentioned in the preface by chef Blumenthal, as I was curious whether the fun was intended to be ours or his in this particular instance.

It sounds as if you approach creative food with a skeptical, but open mind. Too many diners, those who take food too seriously as well as those who don't take it seriously enough for my taste, are either too skeptical to allow themselves the opportunity to enjoy playfulness or theatricality of some chefs work, or are too quick to jump on the bad wagon of the latest hot chef. The lack of prejudices displayed in your post is remarkably refreshing in a report that is nonetheless quite a personal response to the food and the evening. We do get to share your excitement at being there.

I'm reminded a bit of Stephen Jackson's reaction to his meal at Marc Veyrat. Have you read that? I think you will enjoy it.

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While I enjoyed the Fat Duck because it was unusual and fun, there's no way I could approach the food with the same degree of gravitas that lxt shows in her review.

To me this is toy food. To be played with and enjoyed for a while but soon to be gotten bored with and discarded, never to be eaten again. I didn't mind the blindfold and being spoonfed mashed potato thingy because I wasn't thinking of the meal as real food-more of a game involving food, and of which those things were a part.

I couldn't see it as a "proper" or as a "serious" meal, although I concede that there was a serious amount of creativity going on and I'm perfectly willing to concede that this says more about my innate culinary conservatism than it does about the food at TFD. I just thought it was all quite amusing really, and that's the level that the whole meal worked on for me. I'm glad I went. But I doubt I'll go back.

I certainly wouldn’t characterize the food at the Fat Duck as toy food. I think that the base dishes were as serious (though not necessarily at the identical level) as one would find at Jean George, as to complexity, or Sketch, as to creativity. For instance, the roast scallop at the Fat Duck could be compared to J-G’s signature scallop with caramelized cauliflower and caper-raisin emulsion. Both starters and both main dishes were elaborate, but quite strong on the basic level as well, and tasted very good. I found this cuisine not only innovative, but also well balanced, where all elements fit and worked together well. I think that if you are looking for clear flavors with a straightforward and simple preparation and minimalist approach, the Fat Duck is not for you, but I certainly considered this cuisine to be serious and look forward to trying other dishes on the menu.

The toy dishes were, however, all intermezzos (or interludes as Duncan said) with the main purpose to clear one’s palate. They were playful and hardly serious, indeed. You had to switch your mind from serious to playful in between the courses. Despite the fact that these dishes performed their role, to clear one’s palate, perfectly, I can see how they could’ve detracted from the natural progression of the main courses. Nonetheless, behind this playfulness and the theatrical rituals, which I didn’t favor, stood a serious, innovative, interesting and tasty cuisine.

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I'm struck that many dishes at the Fat Duck -- and this is also true of el Bulli -- are in fact references to classic or more traditional preparations. Of course one can never entirely escape tradition and convention: after all, for the most part these foods are presented on plates, with knives and forks rather than being offered in Erlenmeyer flasks or toothpaste tubes. There are savoury dishes and sweet dishes. Fine wines are served: even the most avant-garde restaurant seems happy to revert to tradition in the choice and service of wine.

Both Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adria write about the need to take classic preparations and tastes and help us experience them afresh. In both cases -- though with different styles -- a good number of their dishes are riffs or variations on things we have eaten since childhood. In some cases, he simply takes things and makes them taste superb: the pot roasted best end of pork, for example, comes with a macaroni gratin that is simply delicious, macaroni cheese taken to a great height, Blumenthal's riposte to Robuchon's mashed potatoes.

I've enjoyed everything I've had at the Fat Duck. The only downside is that things don't seem to change that much from year to year: I am sure that in fact they do, but the changes seem incremental and therefore the menu that LXT enjoyed seems similar to one I had perhaps two years ago.

el Bulli, on the other hand, constantly experiments and innovates, and rarely seems to repeat a menu or a dish. The downside here is that experiments can go wrong, as some of the reviews on these pages suggest.

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I'm struck that many dishes at the Fat Duck -- and this is also true of el Bulli -- are in fact references to classic or more traditional preparations. Of course one can never entirely escape tradition and convention:

Sorry, but I don't understand what connection you're making between el Bulli and the Fat Duck? Aren't tradition and convention always present in dining?

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I'm struck that many dishes at the Fat Duck -- and this is also true of el Bulli -- are in fact references to classic or more traditional preparations. Of course one can never entirely escape tradition and convention: after all, for the most part these foods are presented on plates, with knives and forks rather than being offered in Erlenmeyer flasks or toothpaste tubes. There are savoury dishes and sweet dishes. Fine wines are served: even the most avant-garde restaurant seems happy to revert to tradition in the choice and service of wine.

Both Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adria write about the need to take classic preparations and tastes and help us experience them afresh. In both cases -- though with different styles -- a good number of their dishes are riffs or variations on things we have eaten since childhood. In some cases, he simply takes things and makes them taste superb: the pot roasted best end of pork, for example, comes with a macaroni gratin that is simply delicious, macaroni cheese taken to a great height, Blumenthal's riposte to Robuchon's mashed potatoes.

I've enjoyed everything I've had at the Fat Duck. The only downside is that things don't seem to change that much from year to year: I am sure that in fact they do, but the changes seem incremental and therefore the menu that LXT enjoyed seems similar to one I had perhaps two years ago.

el Bulli, on the other hand, constantly experiments and innovates, and rarely seems to repeat a menu or a dish.  The downside here is that experiments can go wrong, as some of the reviews on these pages suggest.

I'd disagree. Heston does random wierd shit as well as old-stuff-in-a-new-format

Rabbit and sea urchine veloute, Sweetbread with pollen, Lamb garlic and coffee, Potato and lime, Crab foie gras seaweed and salmon, Langoustine pigs trotter and truffle. Sure there old or canned combinations, but there are also new ones too

J

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I'd disagree.  Heston does random wierd shit as well as old-stuff-in-a-new-format

Rabbit and sea urchine veloute, Sweetbread with pollen, Lamb garlic and coffee, Potato and lime, Crab foie gras seaweed and salmon, Langoustine pigs trotter and truffle.  Sure there old or canned combinations, but there are also new ones too

J

Hardly 'constant innovation and experimentation', though. Most of what you mention has been on the Fat Duck menu for years.

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Hardly 'constant innovation and experimentation', though. Most of what you mention has been on the Fat Duck menu for years.

Sorry if you misunderstood. I was referring to Tony's point about there being lots of "references to classic or more traditional preparations".

Yes I agree the menu and the amuses stay pretty fixed. note that this doesn't mean the dishes don't change; dishes have changed over the years, but kept the same menu description.

J

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I think Jon's description is accurate: the Fat Duck menu changes, but around the edges. Heston Blumenthal is clearly engaged with Hervé This and other food scientists/molecular gastronomers in testing new ideas and methods. At el Bulli, on the other hand, almost nothing seems to carry over from year to year: there is a restlessness about their innovation that makes even keeping track of their repertoire a challenging task.

I'm not saying that one approach is better or worse than the other. I can see the merit in constantly pushing the limits of culinary innovation; I can also see the advantages of taking a dish (e.g. the pot-roasted best end of pork) and constantly seeking ways to improve it.

On Michael Lewis's point about tradition, it seems to me that avant-garde cooks can take us varying distances from traditional foods. Of course there are some universal "traditions": for example, (almost) nobody eats mud, gravel, wood chips. But within those wide bounds, there are dishes that go varying distances from the familiar.

At the Fat Duck, the red cabbage gaspacho with mustard ice cream that LXT enjoyed -- as did I -- was unusual but not completely foreign -- perhaps 5 or 6 out of 10 on a scale of distance from the familiar, where a dish like roast chicken would score 1 and one like el Bulli's espardeñas con pure de limon (sea cucumbers, cut in noodle-like strips, served with a combination of puree of potato and lemon rind and a lemon marmalade on the side) a 9 or 10. Heston's crab biscuit with foie gras was harder to identify with anything in Western culinary tradition -- perhaps a 7 out of 10.

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Heston Blumenthal is clearly engaged with Hervé This and other food scientists/molecular gastronomers in testing new ideas and methods.

Yes, but seeing as his involvement doesn't seem to extend to his stagnated menu, one has to conclude that he exploits food technology as a tool for self-publicity.

At the Fat Duck, the red cabbage gaspacho with mustard ice cream that LXT enjoyed -- as did I --

You may have enjoyed this dish -- Gaspacho à la moutarde d'Orléans, crème glacée -- even more at Arpege (note the Fat Duck's endearingly slavish adoption of Passard's misspelling of gazpacho).


Edited by Lord Michael Lewis (log)

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I'd disagree.  Heston does random wierd shit as well as old-stuff-in-a-new-format

Rabbit and sea urchine veloute, Sweetbread with pollen, Lamb garlic and coffee, Potato and lime, Crab foie gras seaweed and salmon, Langoustine pigs trotter and truffle.  Sure there old or canned combinations, but there are also new ones too

Jon, my original point was that though the combination of flavors may not sound too traditional at the Fat Duck, the way they taste does. I must agree with Jonathan in this regard. That is what I found interesting in Chef Blumenthal’s approach. For instance, coffee seems to be an unusual ingredient when utilized as a spice nowadays. However, in the 16th century coffee was used by the Aztecs exactly as that: It was mixed with chili pepper. Cocoa is used by Chef Blumenthal as a spice and as a bitter counterpart to other spices. The marriage is quite acceptable and instead of creating new tastes, his approach seems to enhance existing, traditional ones. Other than little delights like a red pepper lollypop, I didn’t find the flavors too experimental. All of the dishes tasted good and not unusual at all.

I agree that two years is a long time for the menu not to change even if the existing dishes are in the constant process of being improved and modified. However, is it so unusual for a restaurant not to renew its menu on a constant basis? What about Café Boulud’s menu or Gagnaire’s tasting menu?

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You may have enjoyed this dish -- Gaspacho à la moutarde d'Orléans, crème glacée -- even more at Arpege (note the Fat Duck's endearingly  slavish adoption of Passard's misspelling  of gazpacho).

The gazpacho at Arpege is tomato-based and puréed whereas at the Fat Duck the broth is thin and is based on cabbage and beetroot. The mustard ice cream is the only component that links the two versions of the gazpacho together. While I may in fact enjoy Arpege's rendition even more, I see nothing wrong in taking the idea and enhancing it with more inventiveness. In fact, if we follow the rationale of not borrowing ideas for further development, progress would come to a halt, and for instance you would have to prevent any restaurant from modifying chocolate mousse so that it could never be called a signature dish in more than one restaurants. The list goes on.

Michael, other issues aside, what is your opinion of the dishes at the Fat Duck and the way they taste?

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I agree that two years is a long time for the menu not to change even if the existing dishes are in the constant process of being improved and modified.  However, is it so unusual for a restaurant not to renew its menu on a constant basis?  What about Café Boulud’s menu or Gagnaire’s tasting menu?

Gagnaire's tasting menu , even between adjacent tables, is in constant flux, but besides, Blumenthal is neither Gagnaire nor Adria. Rather, he is resting on his bay-leaves. Lionized by so many as an immense creative talent, it seems ironic that Blumenthal's creativity should be so little evident in his restaurant. Blumenthal doesn't deserve the comparison with Gagnaire and Adria. They produce the goods, Blumenthal just talks about doing it. Indeed, the lengthy extra-gastronomic discursions in Blumenthal's menu, remind me of Strauss' inability to musically convey meaning in Don Juan without recourse to lengthy programme notes culled from Lenau's play of the same name: the very genre he wished to sequester.

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In fact, if we follow the rationale of not borrowing ideas for further development, progress would come to a halt, and for instance you would have to prevent any restaurant from modifying chocolate mousse so that it could never be called a signature dish in more than one restaurants.

This is not a rationale, and Gazpacho and Mustard Ice Cream is not of the same generic ilk as chocolate mousse.

Michael, other issues aside, what is your opinion of the dishes at the Fat Duck and the way they taste?

Blumenthal is sublime technician and deserves his status amongst the best of British Chefs. However, his exploitation of a frustratingly ignorant British food media has resulted in an excess of undeserved praise for creativity. Hence, the decontextualized comparisons between him, and Gaganire, Adria et al.

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