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MobyP

The Fat Duck 2004

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In this weekend's Independent, Terry Durack asks whether acclaim will spoil the master of molecular gastronomy, Heston Blumenthal.

And Matthew Fort on how Heston Blumenthal combined mastery of French cuisine and the mechanics of cooking to win a rare third Michelin star.

[both pieces can be found in this week's UK Press Digest.]


"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

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"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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There's a new review of the Fat Duck in the Telegraph. The headline is: "Jan Moir concludes that while a dying millionaire with no teeth might appreciate Heston Blumenthal's cuisine, she'd rather have a cheese sandwich." I'm curious what all of you think of it. And we thought there was a lot of flak after the Shepherd's review....

Robyn

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I think the headline is fine. The article's bloody awful though. :blink:

Jan Moir at the Telegraph on the Fat Duck.

I thought this in particular was cute:

"The chefs may sneer that people like me do not "get it" or understand their food, but one thing I do recognise when I see it is greed."

It reminded me of people who feel it necessary to declare they have a good "bullshit detector," when actually it makes you think they have nothing of the kind, other than another undiagnosed neurosis.


"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

Flickr Food

"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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Interesting that she calls the place "The Fat Profit" and then points out that it takes 50 quail to produce 2 litres of stock for the "Quail Jelly, Pea Puree, Cream of Langoustine". In the Restaurant Magazine article, the figures they give are 90 quail for 4.5 litres and that when it is served with an oak flavoured truffle butter toast, as it soon will be, the dish would have to sell at £11.00 if it were to be individualy priced on the a la carte.

Given that the tasting menu consists of 17 dishes, and given what it takes to produce them (although I'm sure not all of them are as expensive or labour intensive as the quail jelly), the £85 price tag doesn't seem all that bad or greedy, especially when you compare it to the 6 courses (including coffee and mignardises) for £79.50 at The Waterside Inn.

I've had the champagne flutes she mentions, and although they are very thin, they are also very tall and I'm fairly sure hold the standard 125ml. £9.50 is the going rate for house champage in a 2 or 3 star establishment.

Other than that, I thought it was a nicely written and entertaining article, and reported the Fat Duck experience accurately, its just that she didn't like it very much.

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Other than that, I thought it was a nicely written and entertaining article, and reported the Fat Duck experience accurately, its just that she didn't like it very much.

In this case, Andy, I disagree. Whilst I ordinarily enjoy Jan Moir's columns, this one seemed to be driven by an agenda rather than by any real experience of the restaurant. The nonsense about "the fat profit", the continuous attribution of sinister motives to the chef and the staff, and the silly digs --

the chef's visionary monomania ... savoury ice creams, the crashing bores of the dairy world...the kind of wacky stuff that appeals to chefs and industry professionals in the same way that fashionistas are charmed by avant garde, but unwearable hats.
none of which actually describe the experience, but rather the reviewer's attitude -- all these make this a less than insightful review.

It's fine to dislike the Fat Duck. I don't like every one of Blumenthal's dishes. Some find his cooking generally obnoxious. But given the strong public interest in the place after its third star, people deserve to know something about the place as it actually is. Jan Moir can do better than this, and usually does. This was a weak, self-indulgent review.


Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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and the silly digs --
the chef's visionary monomania ... savoury ice creams, the crashing bores of the dairy world...the kind of wacky stuff that appeals to chefs and industry professionals in the same way that fashionistas are charmed by avant garde, but unwearable hats.
none of which actually describe the experience, but rather the reviewer's attitude -- all these make this a less than insightful review.

Although I think its true to a certain extent that Moir can be accused of phrase making and given the timing of the review, opportunism, that quote in particular I think rings very true. Although I wouldn't agree with the "crashing bores" part, there is an arguement that a proportion of what Blumenthal does is aimed at other chefs, industry people and devised to get the likes of you and me excited.

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It reminded me of people who feel it necessary to declare they have a good "bullshit detector," when actually it makes you think they have nothing of the kind, other than another undiagnosed neurosis.

My old man used to say:

"it's one thing to call a spade, a spade, it's another to call it a f**king shovel"

I agree entirely, some get so caught up telling it like it is, they don't stop to wonder if they have "it" right.


A meal without wine is... well, erm, what is that like?

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a proportion of what Blumenthal does is aimed at other chefs, industry people and devised to get the likes of you and me excited.

I doubt you mean that Heston Blumenthal personally can't stand the taste of a lot of the things he makes, but dishes them up anyway because he knows they will appeal to a certain segment of foodies, including Derek Brown and the Michelin inspectors.

My sense from a brief chat with Blumenthal, from reading his writing and from dining at the Fat Duck is that Blumenthal enjoys good (delicious) food, its intellectual sophistication aside. He himself hardly seems an esoteric scholar: he's a somewhat blokeish family man who enjoys his Sunday roast surrounded by roast potatoes. He may have cooked the joint in a 60C oven and done a brown crust with a blowtorch, but so what?

Any highly ambitious chef "plays to the Michelin inspectors", if nothing else by ensuring fancy tablecloths and tableware, high standards of service and the like. The Fat Duck's offer is innovative, "molecular gastronomy" cuisine. A positive spin on dishes like the beetroot and orange combination mentioned by Jan Moir is that Blumenthal, like Adria, is trying to shock us into tasting these things anew, rediscovering what they really taste like. But why not write a review without bringing either a negative or positive attitude to the table, before the first dish arrives? Why not just write about how you, as a critic, enjoyed the food at The Fat Duck?


Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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"This is the kind of wacky stuff that appeals to chefs and industry professionals in the same way that fashionistas are charmed by avant garde, but unwearable hats."

i'm going later this month. i'll be sure to wear my phillip treacy hat.


Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

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Okay, time for one of those posts that BLH hates.

But why not write a review without bringing either a negative or positive attitude to the table, before the first dish arrives? Why not just write about how you, as a critic, enjoyed the food at The Fat Duck?

The penultimate issue faced by any critic of any craft or art or artisanship is: Why, and for whom, do they do what they do? The ultimate issue is how they then execute the answer.

It is my - probably minority - view, that any critic who goes believing themselves to represent the consumer of the work in question, will never be able to address artisanship, or craft, or art, at the highest level - because primarily they will see their role as one of consumption. That, imo, is Moir's problem. If all you can do is hold up your experience and expectations as the high water mark to be reached, you'll never know when they've been surpassed. More importantly, you will never admit that any work is greater than your ability to perceive it, because that goes against your fundamental precept that as a consumer, you are there to be pleased.


"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

Flickr Food

"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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Moby, I wonder whether we are discussing two different things here.

I don't have any problem with the critic bringing a concept of the good to a work; in any event we all turn up at the theatre, gallery, concert hall or restaurant with some idea of good art, whether or not this is explicit.

What bothers me is a critic arriving at a restaurant obviously predisposed to dislike it, and apparently not open to the possibility that the prior concept she held might be limited, or limiting.

I've had friends and family come to fine restaurants in France and -- even before the menu is brought to the table -- begin to complain about how formal the place is, how the waiters look intimidating, how the people at the next table aren't speaking English. Then the menu arrives and -- ohmigod -- it includes liver and sweetbreads. Can't they make a burger and fries?

I'd be surprised if the Telegraph were to accept a review written by someone who started from that perspective. Switching some of the details around, is Jan Moir's review all that different?


Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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Sorry Jonathan - I was actually agreeing with you (I think). The point is, at that level, walking into that room with many preconceptions - as she so clearly did, and you so clearly pointed out - was going to be an act of ego that could only get in the way of a fair evaluation.


"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

Flickr Food

"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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And a slightly different perspective from the Financial Times (www.ft.com)


"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

Flickr Food

"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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And continuing his rise - of all odd places - Heston Blumenthal was just interviewed on Richard and Judy. He brought along a selection of chocolates - including leather, oak, and pine. And some beetroot pastilles - one of which had an increase of acid only, which gave it the flavour of blackcurrent.


"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

Flickr Food

"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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I saw that interview and I think this is where Heston has a problem appealing to lots of food lovers. Too many mainstream commentators concentrate on the the amusing little courses, the beetroot jellies, the tobacco ice cream, the snail porridge.

Why don't people ask about the main courses which aren't nearly as bizarre? Where are the questions regarding the slow cooked lamb, the pigeon and pastilla of its leg, the duck with pomme puree. All delicious dishes incorporating 'different' techniques but overlooked or glossed over by far too many people in my opinion. Heston is aware of this problem, maybe when he does interviews like this he should talk about something other than the little in between bites.

Intersting to see he has a new book coming out, strange that it has the same title as the last one, I hope that doesn't affect sales :raz:


"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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And continuing his rise - of all odd places - Heston Blumenthal was just interviewed on Richard and Judy. He brought along a selection of chocolates - including leather, oak, and pine. And some beetroot pastilles - one of which had an increase of acid only, which gave it the flavour of blackcurrent.

Could you describe the chocolates a little more? I am familiar with some unusual chocolates - but I've never heard of anything like this before. Robyn

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Nothing more to say about the chocolates, they really are tobacco/leather/pine flavoured chocolates. I have only tried the Tobacco, at first it tastes of chocolate but after a good few seconds you feel a slight burn at the back of your throat (not unpleasant) and the tobaco flacour comes through. Very nice indeed!

They are made for Heston by Artisan Du Chocolat who sell the tobacco flavour at Borough market on Saturdays.


"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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Why don't people ask about the main courses which aren't nearly as bizarre?  Where are the questions regarding the slow cooked lamb, the pigeon and pastilla of its leg, the duck with pomme puree. All delicious dishes incorporating 'different' techniques but overlooked or glossed over by far too many people in my opinion. Heston is aware of this problem, maybe when he does interviews like this he should talk about something other than the little in between bites.

I agree - the interview made the food sound a little Science Project ("And if we surgically remove your tongue, and then reattach it to your knee caps, and feed you sauteed sea-slug...it tastes like bacon!") But on the Web site, many of the main courses - as you say - don't sound odd in the slightest.

Well, I'm looking forward to going there.... (I've agreed to go as Tarka's security detail).


Edited by MobyP (log)

"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

Flickr Food

"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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Amazing (to me) that someone could say ""This is the kind of wacky stuff that appeals to chefs and industry professionals in the same way that fashionistas are charmed by avant garde, but unwearable hats" without arriving at one fundamental conclusion.

Namely, that however outlandish a couture collection may look on the catwalk, it will be influencing high street fashion somewhere down the line. The extreme militaria of one collection may be unwearable in itself (for most of us, anyway), but when Top Shop is full of cammo print t-shirts, skirts and handbags 4 months later, where do you think their inspiration came from ?

Likewise, some chefs may be doing things which the mainstream finds odd today - but their real influence is in what we will be able to eat in restaurants several years into the future.

Think back to the days before nouvelle cuisine, to what London restaurants were about, what the dining experience consisted of - elaboration, heavy sauces, Edwardian tradition. You may not have fully "got" what nouvelle cuisine was about, but you might accept that is has fundamentally influenced what we can eat in London restaurants today.

This is the importance of Heston's style of molecular cuisine. Not what we all eat in restaurants today, but in influencing the presentations and flavours we will find commonplace in a few years time. Not in repetition of his work, but in influence and in opening up the imagination of tomorrow's chefs.

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This is the importance of Heston's style of molecular cuisine. Not what we all eat in restaurants today, but in influencing the presentations and flavours we will find commonplace in a few years time. Not in repetition of his work, but in influence and in opening up the imagination of tomorrow's chefs.

It seems to me that what English chefs have really gained over the last ten years, and Heston is almost the apogee of, is freedom.

Defining the rules by which they chose to deal with food, and the non-classical schools with which they associate themselves. Has there ever been a more exciting time in food in this country? The resources that we take for granted - which 20 years ago we couldn't have dreamed of - are exceptional.


"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

Flickr Food

"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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I had exactly the same experience as Moir last week, the same food with the same wine. But I came to some different conclusions.

Let me start by saying that I enjoyed it.

That said, her point about course after course of flavour has something to be said for it. She talks of wanting a roast chicken, a green salad. I can relate to this. Jelly and mousse does have this effect.

But I wonder if the answer to this is not to have the tasting menu, but to have the courses instead. In fact, I almost wish I'd done this. Although I *had* to try the tasting menu.

What I do disagree with are the comments about the wine. We had the wines matched to the food, and they did this brilliantly. In fact my girlfriend cannot have cows milk (or butter, obviously). The restaurant not only adjusted and substituted courses, but also changed her selection of wines, and did this brialliantly. Moreover, the way the wines complimented the food was excellent.

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Giles Coren definitely gets The Fat Duck.


"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

Flickr Food

"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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It took my friend TP to the Fat Duck for a celebratory lunch yesterday. It was my second visit, her first. The first time I did really like it, couldn't see what all the fuss was about but though it deserved a second chance. Now seemed like a good time to return.

3 menus on offer: lunch menu, a la carte and tasting. After much deliberation & pondering etc. we went for the tasting (this was help enormously by the fact my partner, who is filming in Canada just now - had arrange for a bottle of champagne: me for valentines & TP for her birthday. Trust me, this is a very good way to start a meal.)

I remembered some of the pre-starters before but some have had a make over.

Man arrives with pot of liquid nitrogen. What looks like shaving cream is pumped from a canister- this is egg whites with green tea & lime, a ball of which is dropped in said nitrogen. As they can only do one at a time we are told to pop it all into our mouth in one go and to not wait for the others. The melting texture is simply astonishing an unlike anything I've had before. Great fun, pure theatre & not bad tasting too.

A couple of jellies arrive, orange & beetroot. Fine if a little unspectacular (it was a hard act to follow).

Next oyster with passion fruit jelly also had a hint of lavender. This was new to me & quite superb excellent pairing of fish & fruit. Could easily have had several more.

Mustard ice cream & red cabbage essence. I vividly remembered this from last time & as one of the few good moments. It didn't disappoint this time around.

Then came the layered dish which I also remembered from last time & really didn't enjoy, layers of pea, quail jelly & langoustine cream. This time it also had a dollop of foie gras mousse. I just ate the foie gras, the other were too musty for my liking, but TP devoured & loved it.

That was the pre-starters, overall, vastly improved on my first visit. Presentation was a lot slicker and certainly more fun.

The meal was 8 mini-courses starting with snail porridge. When ordering I said that I really couldn't see my way to eating he snails. I have a bad enough time with crustacea (insects!) but snails were a no. Very silly of me of course, but its hardly polite to wretch in the middle of a dining room. Anyway, we were talked into having a snail porridge and a vegetarian version made with parsnip & almond. The result was little more than a mouthful of bright green sludge with saving of various vegetables decorating the plate. The vegetarian one pretty good. I did brave a taste of the snail but its too rubbery & garlicky & was forced down with lots of water. I can see its attraction though.

Roast foie followed, quite stunning. Medium sized piece of foie gras which had the most perfect velvety texture with almond and pistachio crumbs on top & accompanied with two striking slashes of red cherry sauce. A few almonds & cherries dotted the plate. Fabulous.

Sardines on toast next, the sardine was mackerel ballotine virtually raw - with toast sorbet. The sorbet also had mackerel taste accompanied with crisp piece of very thin melba. Again, quite stunning, great combination of textures and tastes. A second plate wouldn't have gone amiss.

Salmon poached in liquorice followed. It was covered in a thin jelly made from liquorice accompanied by some superb bitter chicory and a couple of splashes of vanilla mayonnaise, the most substantial mayo I've ever had. The salmon was cooked to perfection. I guess this was done at quite low temperatures as it was cooked but looked raw-ish. Also came with some asparagus. The liquorice was kept under control, more essence than in your face & the balance between that & the salmon & vanilla mayo was accomplished.

The sweetbreads came next. The waiter described it as the "chicken nugget" course. It was a single sweetbread parcel cooked in a casing of hay, pollen & salt. A parsnip puree accompanied this with seriously good cockle sauce, breathtakingly good sauce. Again, a superb dish that left you wanting more.

This was followed by:

- a cornet of ice cream & caramelised pear followed, silly & fun

- a disk of white chocolate with caviar

- a plate with a silver box, same size a mini-breakfast cereal boxes. Inside was some dried parsnip crisps. These were accompanies with milk infused with parsnip. Again, silly & fun.

Then came desserts, two of them. First was a mousse of mango & lychee(?) with some darkberry sorbet. The pate was dotted with little cubes of jelly. This was a bit hit and miss, looked great, very good sorbet but the mousse didn't do it for me. There was also a weird undertaste to this that I didn't like, it was very pronounced but it did have a long unpleasant finish.

Then came the bacon & egg ice cream with tea & toast. The bacon & eggs: infused ice cream, this didn't really taste of much to me which was just as well given my aversion to eggy tastes. The toast was caramelised brioche, v good. Also was a thick gooey salty caramel & we were advised to have all three together for maximum enjoyment. I didn't like this at all. The tea was tea jelly & we were told to eat after the meal.

A couple of petit fours arrive with some chocolates. Great - but we were pretty stuffed by now & not a little tipsy and don't really remember them too well.

So, in the two years the cooking has dramatically shifted in terms of look, taste and confidence. The 4 main courses, foie gras, mackerel, salmon & sweetbreads where truly outstanding & I would rate easily as on a level with establishments such as Gagnaire & Arzak. OK, I wasn't keen on desserts, but then again I am not a great lover of sweat curses (ice cream excepted) . It certainly had the fun, not taking ourselves too seriously, approach putting the stuffy places like RHR to shame. This is a seriously good place & a lot better than I remembered. Anyway, don't take my word for it go see for yourself. Pity about the awful modern art on the walls, though.

(BTW this was booked before its got its third star, certainly deserved)

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