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Peter Green

The Fat Duck 2010

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February 11, 2010

There are few things as fun and invigorating as an overnight intercontinental flight.

Waterboarding, perhaps?

We were back, and this time we had reservations (of the dining variety).

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Now, I’ll preface this matter asynchronously.

Before I left on this trip, once I knew we had bookings, I busied myself reading Heston Blumenthal's

Further Adventures In Search of Perfection and the opening history section of The Fat Duck Cookbook. This was as a means to getting to know the chef better.

The result of this prep work was exactly what he wanted. Excitement. The thrill of a little kid being taken out to an opening movie, or a trip to the sweet shop.

Well enough.

We came away from the meal with as much excitement as when we went in. Immediately after the meal, I put down my initial reactions, and what were, in most cases, guesses. So, upon my return home many weeks later (a couple of weeks ago), I sat down with The Fat Duck Cookbook, and started educating myself on what we’d enjoyed. (In case you're going to as, "No, I was not about to use up half my luggage weight allowance carrying The Fat Duck Cookbook with me as a working reference").

Hence, I’ll be writing most of this in two (perhaps three) time zones, so bear with me if things get a little tense (past, present, or future. I’ll leave the plus qu’imparfait out of this).

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There’s a comfort to recognizing places. Much of the trip to Bray was still in our mind’s eye from our earlier foray to the Hinds Head. Luckily, that recognition factor meant that we had a clue (or at least our driver did) as to where the parking was, as much of the village is limited to residents’ parking only.

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It was cold enough - and we were hungry enough - that I couldn’t even rally our group to pose out front. By the time I had the camera focused on the door, they were through and in.

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We never peeked inside last time (I’m funny about these things) so I was looking forward to seeing what the fuss was about.

What I found was a pub’s interior redone as a dining room. White plaster walls, and rough-hewn dark wood beams (conveniently located to bash your brains in) as per traditional building codes – this in counterpoint to white linen, light brown serving trays with clean, straight lines, and horizontal, bright abstracts, with a lustrous yellow theme to bring the room up. (We debated the topics of the paintings – whale songs, topographies – I hold the one by the window, that my friends felt might be eggs, was actually a vertical profile of Heston Blumenthal. They told me to keep quiet until after the meal, someone might hear).

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A bowl of interesting olives arrived (extended, irregular and lozenged in shape), their green complementing the tones from the lilypad in the bowl that made up our center-piece.

We started with still water, and then they brought the selection of sparklings – rose, brut, and a blanc de blance by Tattinger, the BdeB being our choice all around.

The delivery of the menu is a bit of a tease, as there’s not a choice in the matter. Lunch or dinner, it’s the one tasting menu.

(In fact, it’s best to think of the restaurant as having two seatings, rather than lunch or dinner as different items. One seating just happens to be quite early, at noon)

There is a valid reason to present the menu, and that’s to check on allergic reactions (or intense dislikes). While the majority of the house was engaged in the same meal (which gives you a great ability to preview and prepare for what’s to come), there were some individuals who were receiving different plates at times.

But, to the food.

Lime Grove

Nitro Poached Green Tea and Lime Mousse

(2001)

Our opener, to cleanse the palate, was a technical affair.

The tray had an ice cream bucket, a selection of plates, and a flask of liquid nitrogen.

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(Yoonhi still won’t let me have liquid nitrogen in the kitchen.)

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It’s such a pleasant change to see a good pour of superfrozen fluid. The bowl steamed over, and I commented on the chill on my leg.

“it’s my hand that’s feeling the chill,” advised our waiter.

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Apart from the table’s equipage (is that a word?), our waiter had a seltzer bottle of mousse. This he spritzed onto a spoon.

This was then taken into the bowl, and worked around to flash freeze.

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“Yes, it is rather chilly.”

The result, a perfect little meringue. The liquid nitrogen had achieved the same effect as heat would, normally – the removal of all of the moisture.

“What is cooking?” says Yoonhi, and then answers the question, or at least muses upon it. “With protein, it’s the addition of heat, which denatures the protein. Egg white is protein, as is meat. But cooking isn’t really the heat, per se, it’s the modfications to the proteins. We ‘cook’ with acid in ceviche. ”

We have the most interesting conversations at times.

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The meringue was tamped with green tea powder – a quick ‘Pop! Pop!” The dish was delivered to Yoonhi, and she was advised to take it quickly. Meanwhile, a small atomizer was used to perfume the air with lime notes.

I have the book, and, given the length of time it’s taken me to come to rest and get back to regular writing, it’s worth taking a look and commenting. Many of my original questions are well served by the Fat Duck Cookbook, even if it has put a serious dent in my lap from bedtime reading.

So, how do you design a palate cleanser?

Plus, you want one that’s cool.

Blumenthal gives credit to Mrs. Agnes B Marshall, who put forward liquid oxygen as a tool for making ice cream, some 100 years ago. The argument is that cooking, as with science, sees change through evolution, rather than revolution. What seems like a brilliant new idea is often presaged decades (or centuries) earlier.

“Get an experimental chef and a like-minded scientist together and chances are that – sooner or later – they’ll be playing around with liquid nitrogen.” (page 135)

Originally, back in 2001 when the dish debuted, he’d been going through way too much liquid nitrogen. So much was going to waste in the earlier versions, sitting about, or evaporating to the table. The answer was in the thermos flask we saw earlier. Not as Macbethian as the original South African stewpot he’d used, but far more sensible. (I have fond memories, too, of Paco Rancero and his assistant manhandling that massive liquid nitrogen canister onto the teaching stage back in 2004 in Singapore).

His objective with this dish was to cleanse the palate, and to get the appetite going. Getting the appetite going means, effectively, salivating. It’s that mental trigger that has our mouth watering at the thought of certain foods.

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Citrus, for instance. The thought of lemons and limes gets me going, and this is often accomplished at the start of a meal with a pleasant aperitif. No fat, just the alcohol to carry the flavours about the palate. A gin martini with a twist of lime, for me. In this case, the chef opts for vodka as a neutral spirit to whisk about the other flavours.

Analysis from Tony Blake had shown Heston that green tea tannins could be effective in neutralizing residual flavours in the mouth. How much of a “kick” the tannins deliver can be controlled through the heat of the water used to infuse.

Ferran Adria gets a nod for his work with whipping cream canisters. They provide the “light puff!” needed in the finish of the mousse.

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Just a hint of fumes from the nose as you take it into your mouth just to have it disappear; curls of vapour twisting dragonlike from your nostrils.

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As a committed fan of Jeffrey Steingarten, it behooves me to comment upon the bread and butter.

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The congealed mammary fluid was a lush yellow, rich in fat. Perhaps a criticism from our table was that it was just too cold to spread easily. But, given the nature of the block, I see that this could lead to unconstrained polymorphism that might not fit the aesthete at hand.

The bread was crisp of crust, with a variety of voids internally. Soft and pully, meeting the criterion of a dinner companion. Luckily, it wasn’t so soft that it couldn’t take the too-cool butter, but you had to be careful.

Another dish from 2001 was Red Cabbage Gazpacho, Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream. A lush, satiny bed time story of a soup.

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Mustard ice cream, seeds apparent like moles on a top model, recumbent on a bed of diced cucumber, put to sleep with a gazpacho of red lettuce.

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As expected, the mustard worked very well in an ice cream, the granularity of the seeds against the cream and the richness of the cabbage. Toss in the bit of crunch from the cold cucumbers, and the match is all good.

It’s an interesting study., and one he admits is one of the few he hasn’t fiddled with over the years. I’d wondered about the original draw to this idea, and the book reveals that it lay in memory of fresh, peppery, red cabbage from his youth.

Of course, he does like ice cream. And cold on cold is hard to argue with.

In the details, he’d found that the cabbage aroma dies off quickly, so he reinforces the gazpacho with fresh cabbage juice just before serving. The cucumbers, which were a delight, were brought up in intensity by sous vide’ing them beforehand, retaining that “jade green colour”.

Jelly of Quail, Langoustine Cream, Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast (Homage to Alain Chapel)

The tribute is to Alain Chapel’s restaurant in Mionnay, and his Gelee de Pigeonneaux, Trous Sot-l’y-Laisse et Jeunes Legumes.

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From our appetizer of the tea fields, to the green of the garden, we moved to the deeper forest. A wooden board hosted a slab of truffled toast, topped with radish and parsley. This brought forward the earthy smell of loam. The bowl contained a trio of purees; peas in the bottom layered over by a quail puree (200 quails to make today’s puree) in turn topped by a cream of langoustines. Resting on this was a chicken liver parfait with a fig tuiles atop.

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To settle the atmosphere, we were also served little singlets (what do you call these things?) of oak moss essence served as if they were breath fresheners. This was put out on a bed of said moss.

Oak resin had seen some use in stews and other dishes where the intent was to get a deeper flavour (credit here goes to Francois Benzi for bringing the aroma to Heston during a session at Fermenich). The Fat Duck had already been messing around with it in their earlier ice cream of leather, tobacco, and oak that had drawn my friend R’s interest many years ago.

But oak resin was in thin supply, and so they moved to oak moss, which was more accessible (and common in use of perfumeriers). This was worked up, and infused in the “breath mints” we saw before us.

From the deep woods smell of oak, it’s a small step to get to truffles, and so these were a natural companion.

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And, as the theater of dinner is an important part of the meal, the bed of oak was hit with dry ice (reminiscent of the way that Da Dong serves out his final fruit).

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I do enjoy the theater.

It was all very pretty, but it was really the amalgamation of the flavours that drew attention. The peas gave a fullness, the cream provided the fat, and the quail lent a slight gamey gelatinous texture. And we all just like chicken liver and parfaits, so that’s a bonus.

Blumenthal, of course, goes into more detail. He was looking for a release of flavours from these dishes; a release which would stage itself over time. First we took the film in our mouth, and then we dug down into the bowl to ensure that we had a selection of each element. And he also wants that contrast in the textures of jelly and cream.

This dish – originally from 1999 - did vary from the book (which was published in 2008). In the book, the top with a parfait of foie gras, but, as that was to follow, he’d moved to chicken liver instead.

There’s star anise in there, (”It punches above its weight”), along with other Asian flavours. But there’s also Armagnac, Madeira, and Chardonnay, backed up by the carrots and leeks and onions of our part of the world.

And the truffled toast just makes it that much earthier.

This was one of my favourite dishes of the meal.

ROAST FOIE GRAS, Rhubarb Puree, Braised Konbu and Crab Biscuit

If you look this up in the book (on page 177) you’ll see instead Roast Foie Gras ‘Benzaldehyde’, Almond Fluid Gel, Cherry, and Chamomile. I like the changes, as the seaweed and sesame that top the foie, reminding me of Korea. And the crab biscuit is a natural with the seafood note.

This dish also carries on the theme of combining sea and soil, something that Blumenthal credits to L’Esperance.

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To perk this up, he’d worked up a slug of rhubarb sporting some green, and dotted the plate with balsamic. The rhubarb replaced the stone fruits used earlier, and is a sensible substitute (I like using rhubarb alongside foie gras when I cook in Vancouver).

I’d written soon after the meal that “This was a good example of solid technique, with no real fuss or technological wizardry”. My friend, Ean ensconced beside me had been grousing to some extent at the experimental elements of much of the meal, but was more comfortable with this dish.

So, when I turn to the book, I find that the effect I so admired in the foie gras was a multi-stage evolution. Originally, Heston Blumenthal had been roasting his foie gras in the oven, constantly turning it, and hitting it with liquid nitrogen to adjust the heating gradient. From there he became obsessed with the issue of oxidation, and how to avoid it, which in turn led to sous vide. And then the focus became the temperature gradient to use, in order to avoid the “pappiness”

So, what I ate had been done sous vide two days before, allowed to settle, then brought back to temperature for the meal and then blowtorched at the end to sear.

It’s a lot of work, but the results were admirable. I should try this at home.

But enough work. Next we were back to fun.

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The thought of it made me all brillig in my slithy tothes.

We would be having mock turtle soup.

MOCK TURTLE SOUP (c.1850)

"Mad Hatter Tea"

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This is one that wasn’t in the book, a new invention.

The bowl was set with a mock up of a turtle egg, with little enokis sprouting up, a little slab of meat, diced cucmber and radish, rolls of truffle, two dots of balsamic, and a tangle of coriander.

That’s simple enough.

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Then, of course, we needed the March Hare’s pocket watch. This was delivered plop into a teacup.

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Hot water was then introduced to the pocket watch, and the pocket watch to the hot water.

“Charmed.”

“I’m sure.”

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This revealed that the watch was gold leaf wrapped about turtle bouillon.

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And then the broth goes all mumsy on the borogroves.

I showed this to Scud, thinking it would interest him. “You’re drinking gold” was his reply.

“Yes”, I said.

“Gold”, he said, shook his head, and wandered off.

I question how we’ve raised that boy.

(Note: There's a lot of Asia wending its way through the cooking here. I wonder if the gold element came from the West, or if it's in the Indian tradition of taking small amounts of gold in your diet?)

The Sound of the Sea (2007) came next.

This was covered in part in Further Adventures In Search of Perfection when he investigated fish pie. The thesis of the chapter was that food enjoyment is as much milieu as mastication. That emerging the diners in the proper environmental aspects (here auditory) would enhance the food.

Hence, enter the iPod conch(no jokes about shell scripts, please).

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(I have to ask…..if we succumb to the recorded screechings of seagulls, are we in tern gullible?......sorry.

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Yoonhi seemed to appreciate the idea (if not my jokes).

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The dish was quite a bit different from the book. Gone were the oysters, and in their place samples of salted fish (halibut and hamachi I could identify) on a bed of flavoured tapioca, a salty foam (originally this would have been worked up from the reserved sea juices of the shellfish, but as they had been replaced by fish, it’s unclear what the basis was for this) giving us our waves on the beach (or low tide scum, depending on how you look at it). Everything on the glass plate was to be eaten, and that’s what we did.

It was a fun dish to pick through. There were little “sea jelly beans” which the book describes as Japanese lily bulbs. There are fried baby eels and anchovies worked into the tapioca after it’s been fried up. Miso oil is used to give it the wet sand texture.

Underneath, of interest, is sand from the beaches of Venezuela.

SALMON POACHED IN LIQUORICE

Artichokes, Vanilla Mayonnaise, Golden Trout Roe and Manni Olive Oil

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The salmon in licorice was constrained in comparison. A very nicely done piece of salmon wrapped in a licorice gel, topped with trout roe (not ikura, as I’d first thought), and resting on dollops of vanilla aioli, individual grapefruit bits (as you’d find in a good Thai yam som o), and artichoke hearts, all drizzled with manni olive oil.

Oh yes, and more beads of balsamic.

This dish, from 2003, has changed a bit. While the use of licorice is still the centerpoint, the asparagus has given way to artichoke hearts, which is a trifle odd, as it was the common compound of asparagine that had drawn this dish together originally.

Be that as it may, it was a very pretty thing to see, and nobody at the table had any complaints as to the execution. The salmon came out soft, rich, and well balanced with the licorice root in the gel. The mayonnaise/aioli and the olive oil put a bit more fat into the mouth, and the grapefruit tanged things up (and kept you busy sniping at the little lobes).

POWDERED ANJOU PIGEON (c.1720)

Blood Pudding and Confit of Umbles (2007)

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The pigeon followed. This was Ean’s favourite dish, one he felt that showed a chef’s mastery. The bird was – for me – just right, a shade off of bloody and the skin crisp. The jus was excellent, and the wafer was reconstructed from duck. And pigeon in the back was a blob of black pudding that looked like a pat of chocolate, and onions were lightly caramelized and supported by a bit of vinegary foam.

His focus in the book’s notes is on the construction of the bird, how to get the skin crisp while the meat is tender. Traditionally, caul fat would be used, but this requires a slow cook (to render the fat) that would be a bit over the top for the pigeon. The answer lay in transglutaminase, which allows him to bind the proteins.

My interest, however, lay in the blood. This had a fantasticaly smooth, rich nature. Cream, of course, was part of the answer, infused with the Asian spices that he was using in the cracker and elsewhere (a touch of Sichuan peppercorn, but I can’t say I felt any numbing). After some time in the fridge, it’s taken to the Thermomix and introduced to the blood, doing a slow dance for some hours at 170 F. Once you have a smooth puree you just keep it handy in a water bath. It’s almost like making blood ice cream.

We’d worked through a couple of chardonnays at this point, contrasting New Zealand with Australia (“Imagine, a Kiwi with a bigger mouth than an Australian?”). At this point we entered the realm of desserts, and so took the sommelier’s suggestion of a finishing wine, a Maculan Torcolato 2006 form Venice.

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I wouldn’t have mentioned the wines at all, as this meal was much more a matter of food, but it’s interesting that the Venetians are getting so much of a push in the sweet wines lately. We saw this at The Latymer, and I was exposed to more during the course of this trip (but that’s for later).

TAFFETY TART (c1660)

Caramelized Apple, Fennel, Rose and Candied Lemon

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First, a treat. Crisp wafers of caramel over puffs of cream and apples. Piles of nuts and stuff on top. Running parallel, a sorbet of black current (our guess) with crystallized rose petals. And the candied lemon. This is one of his recreations of an older English dessert, something that leaks over into the menu of the Hinds Head to good effect.

A very soothing little thing, the apple’s sweetness with the soft give of the cream. A bit of crunch, and, if you tire of that, you just shift your attention to the sorbet.

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I already used the Hemingway line. I’ll let the picture above speak to our level of satisfaction.

And so, as we approached the end of the meal, it was time for breakfast.

The Not-So-Full English Breakfast

(Part 1)

Parsnip Cereal

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This was theater on several levels. First was the staff, who appeared with our fixings and cheering greetings of “Good morning!” I admired the pretty (focus is my problem) eggs, proudly sporting the Fat Duck’s emblem.

But that’s to come.

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We began with a bowl of Fat Duck cereal taken with a pour of full cream flavoured with vanilla. The cereal is crystallized parsnip chips, a byblow of the sweetbreads dish he used to serve with parsnip puree and cockles.

Nostalgia”, as he says in the small card on the table “is memory, and memory is highly personal.” The simple pleasure of a mini-box of cereal (and the minis hold a special place in our hearts) can’t help but make you smile.

This kept us busy as the cooking gear for the eggs was set up.

The Not-So-Full English Breakfast

(Part 2)

Nitro-Scrambled Egg and Bacon Ice Cream

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Our “eggs” were broken into the bowl, revealing that they had been blown and then injected with custard.

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This in turn was hit with liquid nitrogen, and worked up to produce a fine ice cream in a flash of time.

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The staff do really seem to enjoy their work.

The liquid nitrogen makes for a very quick ice cream, and the texture is wonderful.

Blumenthal’s musings on the dish indicates his concern with the scrambling of eggs. In ice cream it’s this going over with the eggs that is avoided so fastidiously. But what if you were to take it past that point, let the eggs cook up, and then blend it back down?

And then, what if you infused bacon flavours into the milk before you did this?

Ice cream. Bacon. How can you go wrong?

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The result was served on a piece of glazed “pain perdu” – brioche accelerated to staleness, and then sous vide’d with a mix of vanilla, sugar, milk, eggs, and walnut liqueur. Atop this is a long, crisp candied piece of pancetta and my beloved bacon ice cream.

You can never go wrong with bacon.

Table comment (unascribed) from my notes: “That’s just amazing.

The Not-So-Full English Breakfast

(Part 3)

Hot & Iced Tea

Breakfast needs a good cuppa.

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The tea was an interesting twist. A thermal gradient, hot to cold, taken in one fell swig – quickly, before the temperatures muddied – and then assessed in your palate.

This is a wonderful trick, accomplished through the use of tea gels, giving just enough viscosity difference to keep the illusion intact.

Whisk(e)y Wine Gums (2006)

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Wine gums, and old candy store favourite, were replaced with whisk(e)y gums, something I wholeheartedly approve of.

This had a mixed reception, however. If you are a drinker of whiskey, then it’s a fun study of the amounts of peat and smoke in the different gums. The heartier gums, redolent of the bogs, were a treat for me, the flavour disassociated from the alcohol and concentrated.

They did a Glenlivet, an Oban, a Highland Park (I always think of a Korean in a kilt), a Laphroaig, and a Jack Daniels.

But if you’re not, then the flavours, are rather…..disconcerting. Some at the table much preferred the Jack Daniels for its more accessible flavours. Others just didn’t care that much for them.

Still, for the malt aficionado I heartily endorse this.

Entering the final stretch, towelettes were served, each a small marshmellow of a puck until it was hit with hot water, at which time it all became rather Freudian.

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Tea was proferred, but most of us passed. Ean, the exception, felt like a cup, and so I recommend the Silver Needle, a white tea.

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I love the almost milky flavour of these teas. They also had an aged pu’er from the 1970’s that looked tempting.

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The tea was properly washed, and then poured and backpoured. I snuck a bit of Ean’s and appreciated the soft, milky tones of this marvelous tea.

”Like A Kid In A Sweet Shop”

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Finally our sweets arrived, in a jaunty pink and white bag.

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This contained four treats, which I photographed horribly, so let me just describe three of them. Technically, you could take this bag of treats back home to linger over, but home in this case held a pair of ravenous young men, so we decided to dally over them here and take our notes.

The first was a playing card – the Queen of Hearts (going back to Alice) – white chocolate about a red tart interior. The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts

The second was an Apple Pie Caramel, with an Edible Wrapper (no need to unwrap) (2006) - wonderfully soft, and no danger to my fillings. The wrapper on this draws from the same source as the film used for oak moss flavouring in the puree dish earlier.

The third was an Aerated Chocolate Mandarin Jelly (2005) A round, brown hemisphere of happiness reminding me of an Aero bar with it’s tidy pore structure. Sicilian mandarin “essential oil” was used to get the hint of oranges in this.

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And the fourth a tangle of sweet coconut, which I really liked, meant to replicate the old “baccy”. Coconut Baccy Coconut Infused with an Aroma of Black Cavendish Tobacco (2006).

I like coconut. And I still remember the smell of my dad’s pipe back when he was a smoking man (a burning obsession, back then).

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I was surprised to read that this dish was inspired not from childhood, but from Galette of Rhubarb, as he played with rhubarb and coconut combinations. From there the associations with sweets of Christmas Past came about.

And credit goes to David Thompson for advising on the right coconut to use for the proper texture – recommending coconuts in their “teens” for use.

Mr. Thompson does know his coconuts.

At this point, we were done.

They were kind enough to take us for a tour of the kitchen. We were asked not to take photographs however, which is fair enough as they’d been quite free in the dining room, as long as we didn’t disturb others.

As expected from The Fat Duck cookbook, the dimensions are challenging. I would have difficulty fitting in the kitchen, let alone maneuvering. It’s a tight fit, but the staff are smilling, and (I’m assuming we were unannounced) there’s no swearing or cantankerous behaviour.

In part, the economy of space is a tip of the iceberg. This is the working kitchen, but there is also a separate baking area letting out to the back, and across the street is a prep kitchen, where the mis is worked up; the schedule of long lunch, long dinner not allowing enough of a gap in the day to be able to handle both.

Also across the street is the famous experimental kitchen, which must have been where we saw Heston rushing to last trip to the Hind’s Head.

All in, the Fat Duck runs on a staff of some thirty or so with a bit of overlap in shifts. For the front of house, it’s pretty much one person per table. That’s a lot of staff.

When you consider issues like this, and the funds that have gone into research, you can see where the money goes in a set up like this (”You were drinking gold, for Heaven’s sake”……”Quiet, Scud”)

Needless to say, I was well impressed. We’d eaten and been entertained for almost four hours, and were leaving properly full. It would have been nice to meet up with the good Mr. B, but as we’d chatted on the earlier visit, it wasn’t the end of the world (we did think we’d seen a bald-headed man in chef whites talking frantically into a phone through the window earlier, but we couldn’t be certain if that was him).

Months later, back at home, I found that working through the cookbook and seeing how things were done has brought it all back to me in detail, drawing even more value from the meal.

So, would I go back?

Yes. But I would wait for the menu to change over, to get the full effect of the work. I liked the mix of theater and flavour, and I really do admire the obsessive (if not manic) nature of Heston Blumenthal.

The world (at least the one I want to be in) needs more of that.

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Went with a few work colleagues the other week, lots of theatre but I think I prefer food thats more, well, tasty han theatric. Had a few extra things :wink: ...

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We reviewed The Fat Duck for the IWFS journal Food & Wine in 2005. For anyone interested my report is below. I won’t bore with all the photos it is just bits on plates the same as it is today, in fact it doesn’t sound as though it has changed much, still very expensive theatre!

Pam Brunning report for IWFS F&W

The Top Restaurant on the Planet

When is a restaurant not a restaurant?

When it is the Fat Duck – it is pure theatre.

When Ruth Reichl, editor in chief of the legendry US food magazine Gourmet landed at Heathrow she was asked by passport control, “Business or pleasure?”

“I’ve come to eat,” she told him.

“Business then,” he replied brusquely. “Nobody comes to London to eat for pleasure. I wish you luck love. Don’t you know that English food is terrible?”

Ms Reichl and her team of restaurant critics proved him wrong. “The food across all levels is fantastic,” was her verdict. She enthused about everything from a toasted cheese and onion sandwich, made with Montgomery cheddar and thick slabs of French Poilâne bread, from a stall in Borough Market, to the gastronomic heights of The Fat Duck.

Our visit was instigated by the gift of a voucher for dinner, received from some very close friends (IWFS members) that insisted we could not go through life without telling them exactly what we thought of Heston Blumenthal’s revolutionary techniques.

Three days after I booked the Restaurant Association announced that The Fat Duck had been voted top restaurant in the world. So, just a week after the award, at 7pm, on a wet April evening we sat with bated breath awaiting the sixteen course tasting menu with accompanying wines, compiled by a man that is said to be ‘turning gastronomy on its head’.

Act 1. Green Tea & Lime Mousse poached in liquid nitrogen. The mousse was sprayed into a spoon then immersed in a bowl of liquid nitrogen. It emerged hard and ‘smoking’ – pop it straight in the mouth we were told. A crisp cold shell that dissolved into an ethereal lime flavour on the palate, a great performance

Act 2. An oyster shell containing two slithers of oyster sitting on a bed of passion fruit jelly and horseradish cream finished with a thin paper thin crisp of caramel laced with pepper. The oyster was inconsequential, the horseradish and pepper heightened the palate bringing the passion fruit through rich and creamy.

Act 3. Pommery Grain Mustard Ice cream drizzled around with red cabbage gazpacho. The ice cream was fine once you have got your brain around savoury ice cream. The gazpacho was by far the worst flavour of the evening – rotting cabbages. Reminiscent of my childhood when we lived next to a field of cabbage that was often left to rot when the bottom fell out of the market.

Act 4. Jelly of Quail, Langoustine Cream with a Parfait of Foie Gras. A pepper crisp again garnishing a teaspoon portion of the parfait, floating in the Langoustine cream, which hid a layer of quail jelly in the bottom of the dish. Delicious, subtle flavours that melded well together.

With the above courses we drank a Lustau Fino Sherry from southern Spain.

Act 5. The infamous Snail Porridge. The thought of this dish is the reason I didn’t get himself here sooner. What a revelation, don’t think snail liquidised into a porridge, as most people do. A thick soup of cooked oats with parsley and garlic butter swirled in to give a bright fresh green appearance and good flavour, topped with half a dozen snails (cooked, naked snails contrary to some of the cartoons in the press!), garnished with a julienne of Jabugo ham and shaved fennel. An fascinating dish, served with a very pleasant 2002 Grüner Velliner Smaragd Achleiten, Nikolaihof from Austria.

Act 6. Roast Foie Gras. A small (approx. 3cm) square of perfectly cooked foie gras dusted with fresh chamomile, with a garnish of almond fluid gel, two streaks of cherry preserve and a cherry. Wine, a 2003 Tokaji Furmint, Szent Tamas, Szepsy from Hungry.

Act 7. Sardine on Toast Sorbet. Another much maligned dish, no it’s not sorbet made with sardines on toast. A teaspoon of sardine flavoured sorbet served on two wafer thin slices of marinated daikon (mouli), a small ballotine of boned mackerel, some pearls of caviar and a thin tuile of toast on top, an interesting combination. With this we drank 2002 Riesling Trocken, Gold-Quadrant, S. Kuntz, Mosel.

Act 8. Salmon Poached with Liquorice. Another small square, this time wrapped in a very thin liquorice coat. The salmon, poached slowly, was moist and so translucent that it appeared to be raw. This was served with two spears of ‘Pertuis’ asparagus, pink grapefruit, ‘Mammi’ olive oil and a grating of liquorice which was performed by the waiter with a flourish. One of the most outstanding dishes, but just as you were really starting to enjoy the flavours they were gone! The 2001 La Grolaigt Veneto, Allegrine fron Italy with this was the best wine paring of the evening.

Act 9. Poached Brest of Anjou Pigeon Pancetta. The pigeon was lightly cooked, pink, juicy and very tender. The pancetta, filled with meat, quatre épices and pistachio, was crisp and delicious, a lovely contrast of textures. Another great course, I could have eaten a double portion of this one too. The wine was 2002 Yerring Station, Shiraz-Vionier, from the Yarra Valley. A hard wine that needed more ageing but softened a little with the pigeon.

Good, plain brown and white bread was served with the option of salted or unsalted butter. We kept stocked up on this as we had been told by friends that they went home hungry.

The next three courses we felt constituted the ‘interval’.

Acts 10. A white chocolate disc with some beads of caviar on top which we were told to place on our tong and leave to melt. Fine, white chocolate and fish - I think I missed the point of that one.

Act 11. Mrs Marshall’s Margaret Cornet - a tiny cone of ginger ice cream with which we were given a card telling us the story of Mrs Agnes B. Marshal ‘The Queen of Ice Cream’, the first person to make ice cream using liquid gas in 1901.

Act 12. Pine Sherbet Fountain – a tub of sherbet with a straw – a miniature of the ones we used to have as kids – the trouble was mine was empty! With these was a tiny box of parsnip crisps.

Act 13. Mango and Douglas Fir Puree with a Bavarois of Lychee and Mango with blackcurrant sorbet. Beautifully presented, the bavarois was light and creamy but once the resinous flavour of pine hit the palate it overpowered the subtle flavours of the lychees. The blackcurrant sorbet was also very intense. With this was served 1989 Beerenauslese Reichgraf von Kesselstada.

Act 14. Carrot and Orange Tuile topped with a Bavarois of Basil accompanied by beetroot jelly. After so many sweet things the savoury bavarois was quite an assault to the taste buds.

Act 15. Smoked Bacon and Egg Ice Cream with pain perdu and tea jelly. A creamy ice cream with a slightly savoury, smoky flavour, resting on a purée of sun dried tomatoes accompanied by a square of bread that was caramelised on the outside and soft and moist in the centre. I am not sure where the ‘perdu’ came in, my dictionary it translates as waisted, ruined, sunk or god-forsaken! Along side was served an egg cup of tea jelly. On the whole we found the sweet courses disappointing.

A glass of 1984 Vin Santo, C. Argiros from Greece was satisfactory.

Act 16. Praline Rose Tartlet, a tiny crisp praline shell filled with a rose jelly.

The Finale - Coffee was not included in the £97.50 a head tasting menu, by this time we decided hell, what was another £4.50 a head!

One cup of good strong coffee served with Leather, oak and tobacco chocolates. The tobacco were very like a good cigar, soft and cool to start and then the heat hit you at the back of the throat. The leather and oak were rather nondescript.

The staff put on a brilliant performance, every one was word perfect in their detailed knowledge of the composition of the dishes and the wines and the service was impeccable.

The wines, served in Ridel glasses of course, were interesting, some matching the food better than others. We thought that £67.50 a head for what were rather meagre portions was rather over the top. There was better value to be had selecting from their vast wine list.

I had a chat with the maestro himself, a quite, unassuming man who has not let fame got to his head. He oversees nearly 40 people, working in a very confined space, the atmosphere is relaxed and happy, and they are obvious gaining much enjoyment from what they are achieving.

Service at 12.5% was £42.44.

A once in a life time experience, I am told. :hmmm:

I think my next report will be on a sandwich in Borough Market!

The Infamous Snail Porridge

02-04-2010 13;49;22 snail .JPG

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An interesting application of inflation?

Pam's meal five years ago costing £97.50. Today, the similar meal - £150. I feel Pam got the best of this.

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Interesting to see how the menu's changed - or really NOT changed, I suppose - since I was there in the summer of 2006. That roast foie looks insane. The lack of change in the menu does make me wonder if I would go back, but when I think of how joyous that meal was I think I probably would.

I'm always frustrated at knowing that there's so much work that goes into a dish that I'll never see, understand or fully appreciate. Every dish at Fat Duck, and Alinea too, made me wonder what exactly I was missing. All I knew was that it must be a lot. I should pick up his cookbook, and go back to the Alinea cookbook as well so that I can try to wrap my head around the laborious techniques.

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And she had a voucher, too.

Still, I don't begrudge the price. Yoonhi and I were discussing the matter, and in comparison to the prices charged in many other places in the London area it's not too far out of line (and the meal, per head, was less than some of my extravagances from a couple of years ago).

As I mentioned, you can see where a lot of the money is going (and liquid nitro isn't cheap).

It's cold comfort for those on sterling and euro payrolls, I know, but even with the increased prices now isn't a bad time do an eating tour, given the relative strength of the Canadian and Australian currencies.

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An interesting application of inflation?

Pam's meal five years ago costing £97.50. Today, the similar meal - £150. I feel Pam got the best of this.

I also went in 2005, at £97.50. With some courses the same, there is little incentive to repeat soon, and there's not even a ALC to give you some consumer choice. So it's like a one-off experience. But I suppose there's still plenty of demand.

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We went last Thursday evening. I have written about it on my website. Worth every penny and every inconvenience. Very similar to the first person, but we had the snail porridge before the sounds of the sea... and no English Breakfast. Instead, we had the BFG - and it was deadly. Deadly.

I would go again and eat the exact same meal all over again in a heartbeat. I am sure there were all sorts of little aspects I missed in each dish. But, alas, we live in Alberta, Canada, so the chances of going again are slim to none. I will say, however, that the staff was exception. Fun, full of wit, humor and made the evening even better than it would have been without their warm light hearted touch.

Take a look at my post at

http://www.acanadianfoodie.com/2010/04/08/the-fat-duck-in-maidenhead-heston-blumenthals-triumph/

Detail. Simple perfection. Brilliant.

:)

Valerie

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We went last Thursday evening. I have written about it on my website. Worth every penny and every inconvenience. Very similar to the first person, but we had the snail porridge before the sounds of the sea... and no English Breakfast. Instead, we had the BFG - and it was deadly. Deadly.

I would go again and eat the exact same meal all over again in a heartbeat. I am sure there were all sorts of little aspects I missed in each dish. But, alas, we live in Alberta, Canada, so the chances of going again are slim to none. I will say, however, that the staff was exception. Fun, full of wit, humor and made the evening even better than it would have been without their warm light hearted touch.

Take a look at my post at

http://www.acanadianfoodie.com/2010/04/08/the-fat-duck-in-maidenhead-heston-blumenthals-triumph/

Detail. Simple perfection. Brilliant.

:)

Valerie

Great pictures Valerie. I'm green with envy!

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i notice the new website is finally up after like what, 2 years of saying its going to be changed? looks pretty nifty.

those really are some great pictures Valerie, makes me want to go back sooner. shame theyre not doing the breakie anymore i really enjoyed that, probably my favourite part of the meal next to everything else.

really wish i didnt look at your review. youre gunna put me down £150.

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i notice the new website is finally up after like what, 2 years of saying its going to be changed? looks pretty nifty.

those really are some great pictures Valerie, makes me want to go back sooner. shame theyre not doing the breakie anymore i really enjoyed that, probably my favourite part of the meal next to everything else.

really wish i didnt look at your review. youre gunna put me down £150.

I was going to make a comment about hoping you have plenty of time free for calling them, but I see that you now have the option of using an online reservation system for weekday lunch reservation instead of phoning them. I'll be interested to hear how well that works (if it meets your needs).

The new website is certainly flashy, but I wonder how well it will work for slower connections and for the visually impaired (with the continually shifting background)?

As for the "breakie" no longer being on I would see that in some respects as a good sign - at least if it means that the menu will change more frequently than in the past.

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I would bet that they still do the breakfast... that the BFC is a new item, and outrageously amazing... and that as they develop other PERFECT dishes like these, they will switch up a few things. One of the reviewers here didn't get the snail porridge, and then I did... Certainly, the oysters are off the menu (sadly, too) But, it is probably a smart move to have the menu switched up at times for people that have already been there. But, I would go back again, anyway - and be happy to eat exactly the same thing all over again. :)

valerie

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It was probably with some trepidation that my wife suggested going to the Fat Duck as my 60th birthday present from her. And it was with some trepidation that I said that I’d love to. It was going to be a dinner unlike any other we’d eaten. It was going to be wacky. It was going to include food that didn’t sound instantly appealing. It was going to be eye-wateringly expensive.

So, the reservation was made. An opportunity to mention any dietary issues had been given (and would be repeated on arrival) but we decided to “go for it” and trust that everything would be OK. And, if it wasn’t, then we could always get a bag of chips on the way home. So, there we were. Ready for anything. But, perhaps, the biggest surprise was in the whole ambiance of the place. It was extremely relaxed and, whilst service was formal, there was not a hint of stuffiness. Some diners had “frocked up”, others were dressed in jeans and polo shirts. Neither group looked out of place. We were about to start on a four hour experience of great food, theatre and just downright good fun. It will be fair to say that my wife found the meal more challenging than I did and, whilst she found all the dishes to be excellently constructed and interesting, there were several that were simply not to her taste. Apart from a couple of the courses, I liked everything.

I no longer drink alcohol but a long tasting menu is always a challenge for my wife in matching wine to food. The restaurant offers a pairing which would have brought eight different wines but, if she was not to leave Bray absolutely legless, this would have to be pared down. This is when the skill of a good sommelier comes to the fore. He was able to select four glasses from the eight which, in conjunction with a champagne aperitif, kept her going all evening.

And so to food:

LIME GROVE, nitro poached green tea and lime mousse. Kit is delivered to a side table – plates, a bowl, a flask containing the liquid nitrogen, a pressurised bottle of the mousse. The waiter squirts nitrogen into the bowl; mousse onto a spoon and it goes into the nitro. A few seconds later, the blob has set and is plated. A dusting of the green tea. One mouthful. It feels like meringue – crispy on the outside, soft inside. The waiter squirts an atomiser of lime scent into the air. Perfect theatre. Perfect citrusy palate cleanser.

RED CABBAGE GAZPACHO, Pommery grain mustard ice cream. Bread arrives before this. Nothing fancy – just white and brown. But it’s excellent bread with a good crust. It’ll be regularly offered throughout the meal. A small quenelle of the ice cream sits in the bowl and the soup is poured over. You notice the mustard first, then the sweetness of the ice cream and, finally, the distinct flavour of the cabbage.

JELLY OF QUAIL, crayfish cream, chicken liver parfait, oak moss and truffle toast. The most theatrical dish of the evening. Placed in front of you is a bowl and a wooden board. On the board sits the toast. In the bowl is almost everything else. In the centre of the table is a small tray of oak moss. On this are two slivers of film of “essence of oak moss” which we’re invited to place on our tongues. They taste of, erm,, oak moss. In the bowl, there are four layers. A bottom layer of pea puree, topped with the extremely rich quail jelly, then a thin layer of the crayfish cream (in truth, not detectable to our palates) and, uppermost, the chicken parfait. You are about to eat when waiter pours dry ice onto the moss and your table is completely covered with the mist of the forest floor. It lingers while you eat. It had us laughing out loud. This is a wonderfully rich and delicious dish which I loved, the crisp truffle toast contrasting well with thr softness of the jelly concoction. It was the first dish which didn’t find favour with my wife (which meant I got “seconds”).

SNAIL PORRIDGE, Jabugo ham, shaved fennel. Perhaps the best known Blumenthal dish, it was again a very rich flavour in the porridge. Neither of us had eaten snail before and we were both surprised how little flavour they had in themselves. The fennel was heavily salted and, whilst it was no doubt intended to have the predominant flavour, we were less than convinced that it worked better than a fuller pure fennel taste.

ROAST FOIE GRAS, gooseberry, braised konbu and crab biscuit. Foie gras is something that we’d usually choose not to eat but we’d decided to put ethical considerations to one side and “go for it”. Of course, you cannot entirely escape your prejudices and it was, perhaps, no surprise that this simply didn’t appeal to us. Of course, it was technically brilliant – the soft richness of the liver; topped with the crunchiness of the seaweed (and something else) topping, the tartness of the gooseberry. No doubt, many customers would love this. We wouldn’t be amongst them.

MOCK TURTLE SOUP. I think this is from one of the “Heston’s Feasts” programmes and was back to just damn good fun. In the bowl, a little piece of veal, a pretend egg, little dice of veg. Alongside a cup. The waiter drops the Mad Hatter’s gold pocket watch into the cup. And pours water on. You then stir and the watch dissolves into the water, forming the gold flecked stock for the soup. You pour it into your bowl and, there you are, a delicious soup of deep savoury flavours and textures. Wonderful.

“SOUND OF THE SEA”. Theatre continues with the presentation of an iPod enclosed within a conch shell. You listen to the gulls and the waves lapping whilst you eat. There are slivers of raw yellow fin tuna, halibut and mackerel. They “swim” in the sea – actually a foam of fish and seaweed stock. It laps against the shore – the sand made from semolina, fried eels and vermouth. This is fab. We don’t want to take off the ear pieces. But it’s time to move on.

SALMON POACHED IN LIQUORICE, artichoke, vanilla mayo, trout roe & Manni olive oil. Neither of us was keen on this dish. The salmon was wrapped in the liquorice and topped with roe and drizzled with the oil. There were blobs of the mayo dotted around and it was the strong taste of the vanilla that “did for us”.

POWDERED ANJOU PIGEON, blood pudding, potted umbles, spelt. I loved this but my wife didn’t – but then she’s not a fan of game or offal. Here there was pigeon breast – two slices very soft, perhaps poached; a larger chunk fried. The blood pudding actually in the form of deeply rich thick sauce – almost the consistency of congealing blood. Separately a bowl of the umbles, in a creamy sauce, topped with crispy spelt. A masterpiece of a dish – my wife admiring the skill if not the taste.

HOT & ICED TEA. A palate cleanser and Blumenthal’s witchcraft is again employed. The glass of tea, intended to be drunk in one swig, is, as described, hot on one side, iced on the other. I swigged and tasted hot tea on the left side of my mouth, whilst cold on the right. There must a gelling agent in there somehow. Burn him, burn him!

MACERATED STRAWBERRIES, olive oil biscuit, chamomile & coriander. A seemingly straightforward summer dessert. Delicious berries made special by the oily biscuit and the hint of spices. There was excellent sugar craft here, in the form of a miniature plaid picnic blanket, draped over the berries. Oh, and there was a delicious jelly & ice cream cornet to eat first. Summer in a few bites.

THE BFG, Black Forest Gateau. A dessert from another TV show which attempted to perfect this British classic dessert. We’re old enough to remember when this was a feature of dinner at a Berni Inn (after the prawn cocktail and steak & chips). And we don’t diss Berni Inns – this is where folk like us went for celebration meals. As for eating the creation, it was really good gateau with some kirsch ice cream on the side. And an atomiser of an indeterminate “essence of Black Forest” to spray around.

WHISK(E)Y WINE GUMS. The wine gums come “stuck” to a map of Scotland showing the region from which the flavours come. Even in my drinking days, I was never a fan of Scotch and now this was just so-so.

LIKE A KID IN SWEET SHOP. The Fat Duck’s offering as petit fours to go with coffee (extra charge). They arrive in a stripy paper bag – just like when you were a kid and went to spend your pocket money on penny chews, sherbet dabs and blackjacks. There was an “orange aero”. And a caramel with edible cellophane wrapper. And the Queen of Hearts – a white chocolate playing card, encasing a tart fruit filling. And a paper pouch, just like you’d buy loose tobacco – but here the baccy made from coconut but infused with tobacco flavour. Bloody good coffee, as well.

So, in conclusion, how do I feel about my birthday treat? It was an evening that I’m really glad I’ve experienced. I’d eaten some outstandingly tasty and enjoyable food. I’d eaten even more outstandingly interesting food. It had been fun. And I can now say to anyone who asks “I’ve been to the third best restaurant in the world”. There’s not much more a foody could ask for.

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I think your reaction was about the same as ours John - some great dishes some not so great but an experience. We decided it was a one off event - it had to be done. I can go one better than you - we have been to the ‘Best restaurant in the World’ - it was when we went and it cost less in those days, mind you the menu sounds about the same. I am disappointed you didn’t take any photos! :biggrin:

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      Throughout his career, Jose’s vision and imaginative creations have drawn the praise of the public, the press and his peers. José has received awards and recognition from Food Arts, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Saveur, the James Beard Foundation, Wine Spectator, and Wine Advocate. In addition, José has been featured in leading food magazines such as Gourmet as well as the New York Times, the Washington Post, Good Morning America, Fox Sunday Morning News with Chris Wallace, the Food Network, and USA Today.
       
      Widely acknowledged as the premiere Spanish chef cooking in America, José is a developer and Conference Chairman for the upcoming Worlds of Flavor Conference on Spain and the World Table at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, November 2 – 5, 2006.
       
      In 1993, Jose moved to Washington, DC, to head the kitchen at Jaleo. From there, Jose took on executive chef responsibilities at neighboring Café Atlantico and later Zaytinya. In July of 2003, Jose embarked on his most adventurous project to date with the opening of the minibar by jose andres at Cafe Atlantico. A six-seat restaurant within a restaurant, minibar by jose andres continues to attract international attention with its innovative tasting menu. In the fall of 2004, Jose opened a third Jaleo and Oyamel, an authentic Mexican small plates restaurant and launched the THINKfoodTANK, an institution devoted to the research and development of ideas about food, all with a view toward their practical applications in the kitchen.
       
      Every week, millions of Spaniards invite Jose into their home where he is the host and producer of “Vamos a cocinar”, a food program on Television Española (TVE), Spanish national television. The program airs in the United States and Latin America on TVE Internacional.
       
      Jose released his first cookbook this year, first published in English, Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America (published in the United States by Clarkson Potter) and shortly after in Spanish, Los fogones de José Andrés (published by Planeta). The book is an homage to Spanish cooking and to tapas, one of Spain's gifts to the world of good cooking.
       
      Jose Andres is passionate, intelligent, dedicated, witty and a fan of FC Barcelona.
       
      Jose has been a member of the eGullet Society since 2004.
       
      More on Jose Andres in the eG Forums:
      Cooking with "Tapas" by Jose Andres
      Vamos a Cocinar - cooking show with Jose Andres
      Jaleo
      José Andrés' Minibar
      Zaytinya
      Oyamel Cocina Mexicana, Crystal City
      Cafe Atlantico
       
      Jose Andres recipes from Tapas in RecipeGullet:
      Potatoes Rioja-Style with Chorizo (Patatas a la Riojana)
      Moorish-Style Chickpea and Spinach Stew
      Squid with Caramelized Onions
    • By gibbs
      With Modernist Cuisine I waited a couple of years and ended up with a copy from the 6th printing run the advantage of this was that all errors picked up in the erratta had been corrected in the print copy.  I am looking to get modernist bread soon and wondered if someone had purchased it recently to check or if someone knew of hand if they have printed any additional corrected runs 
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