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ulterior epicure

The Fat Duck 2009

204 posts in this topic

Here's an excerpt from my blogpost about a recent meal at The Fat Duck. You can read the entire review (and see the pictures) at the ulterior epicure.

Of all of the m.g. restaurants I’ve visited, The Fat Duck has been the most successful at hitting the sweet spot where the brain is connected to the stomach. Through subtle clues and queues, it did a better job of eliciting a dialogue between the food and me than its peers. There’s a process of discovery at the table and afterward.  One’s curiosity is not beyond scratching.

Given my relatively low expectations, the food at The Fat Duck impressed me. Most of it was interesting and quite tasty.  Where gimmickry and theatrics were employed, they had a demonstrable purpose and directly contributed to creating the food.  Sure, parts of it did seem like the circus, but in those moments, The Fat Duck made me feel more like a kid wanting to be a kid rather than an adult being humored.

I found the dichotomy in Blumenthal’s tasting menu most compelling.  Dishes generally fell along two paradigms.  On one side, there were the classics - nostalgic forays into tradition cast in a new light: “Snail Porridge,” “Roast Pigeon of Anjou with Black Pudding,” and “Mrs. Marshall’s Margaret Cornets.”  For me, these were the more gustatorily gratifying dishes.  Was it because these were more familiar?  Or, was it because there were just tastier?

On the other side were the experimental dishes that, for me, were driven by multisensory experiences: the “Nitro Green Tea and Lime Mousse,” “Oak Moss,” and “Sounds of the Sea.” For me, these caused more intellectual stimulation than palate pleasure (though this isn’t true for the “Nitr0 Greet Tea and Lime Mousse”).  Again - is this because these dishes were less familiar to me?  Or, were they just less tasty?

Some, like the “Nitro-Scrambled Eggs” and “Hot and Iced Tea” straddled the divide, combining tradition with a multisensory experience.  When it came to taste alone, I loved the “Nitro-Scrambled Eggs” but wasn’t particularly wild about the “Hot and Iced Tea.”  But, I found the “Hot and Iced Tea” much more fascinating than the “Nitro-Scrambled Eggs” because I was unfamiliar with the technique.  So too, the discovery of Benzaldehyde in a collection of ingredients was exciting.

I don’t think there’s a hard and fast rule here - it’s like the nature versus nurture debate.

Did The Fat Duck convert me to being a proponent of molecular gastronomy? Certainly not.  But it did stir my gray matter. And, as stated at the beginning of this novel, the fact that I walked away with a new perspective on food was a reward worth the wait.

The 16th century stone building the restaurant resides in is a forgotten pub.  What I assume to be the original wooden beams are exposed on the inside, giving the interior a lovely off-kilter look.  The effect reminded me of Van Gogh’s “Bedroom in Arles.”  Unframed canvas panels vibrantly aglow with yellows and shades of periwinkle lined the space, fitting perfectly into the peculiar shapes framed by the wooden beams.

Though quite lovely, I did not find the restaurant particularly warm or cozy.  And this was surprising given its smallness and character.

Perhaps it was the staff?

As stated above, the service dampened the occasion and experience. In fact, at times, it was downright nippy. The reception was frosty, the middle sagged, and we  oft felt like the forgotten table.  Maybe this is a style the British prefer?  After all, they seemed quite well-received by the annual Front of the House Awards.

I noticed that the front of the house was extremely international.  When I asked one of our servers, he confirmed this and rattled off no less than ten (European) countries represented, including Germany, Poland, Spain, and France.  But I suppose this is the diversity that Michelin 3-star restaurants attract.

Would I go back to The Fat Duck? I suppose. Though the menu seems a bit stale, there are enough a la carte items to warrant a return. But I’m not going to be the one getting up a 4 a.m. to dial for reservations next time.

I’d rather devote my energy to gaining that elusive ticket to the fountainhead, el bulli.


“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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UE - thanks a very good review. I went last year with five freinds, I found it interesting that every dish divided opinions, everyone had a different favourite and a different dislike. We still discuss the meal a year later, thus a truly memorable meal.

Re your comment "I admit that I approached The Fat Duck as a skeptic" . To me the debate of "m.g." versus classic cooking appears to be like the question do you like red or white wine. IMO "m.g." restaurants offer a nice balance to the great classics, I love eating across the full spectrum of restaurants, and appreciate the variety. Like the wine question I like them both, and they meet different needs and situations, I don't see the need to "take sides". I like good wine, it can be either red or white, the same is true of restaurants I like good a restaurants be it a classic or "m.g".

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Re your comment "I admit that I approached The Fat Duck as a skeptic" . To me the debate of "m.g." versus classic cooking appears to be like the question do you like red or white wine. IMO  "m.g." restaurants offer a nice balance to the great classics, I love eating across the full spectrum of restaurants, and appreciate the variety. Like the wine question I like them both, and they meet different needs and situations, I don't see the need to "take sides". I like good wine, it can be either red or white, the same is true of restaurants I like good a restaurants be it a classic or "m.g".

PhilD, you're absolutely right - there is no need to take sides. And I'm not sure why you think I'm saying that one needs to take sides. I certainly am not taking sides for taking side's sake. I'm simply saying that I prefer one to the other.

I wish I could appreciate the full spectrum like you do. You're right that the two meet different needs. I just don't find myself needing one nearly as much as the other. In fact, my desire to visit m.g. restaurants have been mostly driven by a one-time curiosity and, admittedly, belt-knotching.

I have been to alinea twice. After my first disappointment (2005), I was so certain that I had an "off-night" (due to nearly unanimous raves) that I decided to give it a second chance (2006). The second time didn't impress me any more than the first.

I found moto (2005) more fun and tastier than alinea - though, admittedly, the lows were much lower than alinea (like that awful donut soup).

And, as I said in the blogpost, my one meal at wd~50 (2006) was such a disaster that I have no interest in returning whatsoever, though, as I have said time and again, I will give anything a second chance.

The Fat Duck, as I stated in my blogpost, has been the most successful at balancing classic and m.g. cuisines in my opinion. It has been my best m.g. experience thus far. As I said, if it weren't so difficult to get to, I probably would go back for their a la carte menu.

I have tried. I really have tried. I simply like "classic wine" much more than "m.g. wine," in your terms.


“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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UE - it sounds as though I have been lucky. Out of my three hard core m.g meals that push the envelope, Fat Duck, La Alqueria (at the El Bulli hotel in Seville - featuring the greatest hits menu from El Bulli) and Tragabuches (Ronda), only Tragabuches was less than great. We have also eaten at Mugaritz a few times, and whilst I don't think it is m.g. it has some of the attributes, but each time never less than perfect.

OK a small sample size but I find I have a worse hit rate at "classic" restaurants, with maybe a third of them missing the mark. If, like you, my experience had included such a high proportion of misses, I too would be a sceptic.

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My experience of the Fat Duck was superb and I felt that it hit the mark far more often than el Bulli. I think this is mostly due to the nature of the relatively minimal change Fat Duck menu to the constantly evolving el Bulli one.

Owning the Fat Duck book has shown me just how much work and precision goes into Heston's menu. The flawless foie gras dish comes from them buying foie that is frozen in liquid nitrogen so that the enzyme breakdown doesn't occur.

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Please excuse the length of this thing. It got a bit out of hand. But what is eGullet for, if not sharing our thoughts on restaurants, right? I just had many, many thoughts about The Fat Duck to share. :biggrin: You can read all about it below, and check out all the pictures and videos HERE.

I’m pretty sure the last time I ate out of necessity was in 1985. I was six months old at the time, breast-feeding, and as yet unable to reach the refrigerator door handle. I eat for pleasure now, which is to say I eat incessantly. Hell, I’m having trouble typing this sentence because I’m eating right now.

I didn’t need to go to lunch at the Fat Duck. Probably didn’t need to eat at all. Lunch and dinner the day before hadn’t exactly been carrot sticks and a protein shake. But I thought it would be a fun meal. And it was, apart from the Ice Queen hostess and the scolding from a waiter because “Chef’s” (no surname) masterpieces were melting, thawing, smoking less dramatically, or otherwise deteriorating before our eyes as we dared to snap photos of each course. But I’ll get to all that.

We opted for the tasting menu (£122), which may or may not have been revised since 1985. (As you’ll recall, I was six months old at the time.)

Okay, so the restaurant’s only been open since 1995, but the menu very rarely changes. Instead, chef Heston Blumenthal is a man obsessed with perfecting what’s already in his repertoire. He endlessly tweaks his recipes and refines his methods. He presents the same food in new ways, manipulating the smell in the air, the sound that hits your ears, and the story into which you’ve unknowingly been scripted. He’s probably more tuned in to your senses than you are.

It was easy to play along, though. While we stared blankly at the dish of olives on the table, our waiter rolled over a cart topped with a fancy ice bucket, a pitcher, and a siphon. My, that is one elaborate way to serve sparkling water, I thought. But no, it was NITRO-GREEN TEA AND LIME MOUSSE (2001)…

(Click for nitro-poaching video...)

It was a short dip in a very chilly pool (minus 196 °C according to the waiter) for this airy meringue infused with green tea, lime, and a drop of vodka. I was amazed that something so cold had such aroma. Or maybe my olfactory system was just tricked by all the other sensations at work. My mouth tingled like I’d just swallowed a particularly peppy breath mint and then inhaled deeply. It was cold and sour and just slightly bitter from the final dusting of green tea powder. The ball dissolved into nothing on my tongue in moments — a lovely, if ephemeral, start to the meal.

Soon came a small plate with two squares of jelly — one red, one orange. In a little game of culinary trompe-l’œil, the red jelly was made from blood orange, and the orange jelly, beetroot. Sneaky. Though a bit difficult to leverage the little squares off the plate with the supplied spoons, both were quite packed with their respective flavors.

Bread arrived with its good friend, butter. What can I say? It was… geometrical. A cube of salted, and a cube of unsalted. Both were fine butters, but not special by comparison to Stephen Harris', which was still so fresh in my memory.

Little black platforms were set before us, each topped with an OYSTER, PASSION FRUIT JELLY, LAVENDER. Frankly, the combination sounded revolting, but a layer of creamy horseradish hidden beneath the passion fruit jelly rescued it from cloying sweetness. The lavender was barely discernible – three miniscule buds atop the oyster, and a tiny sprig on the side. The oyster was actually shucked and cut into pieces before being returned to the shell and layered with the other ingredients, which made it remarkably easy to savor over a couple of bites instead of sending it down the hatch in one gulp like I might have otherwise. I wasn’t enamored of this dish, but I think that has more to do with my usual predilection against horseradish than anything else.

The POMMERY GRAIN MUSTARD ICE CREAM, RED CABBAGE GAZPACHO packed a latent surge of heat just like the horseradish that had come before it. However, this time the kick found its counterpoint not in sweetness, but in acidity. The red cabbage gazpacho had an almost acerbic quality in the mouth, as bright on the palate as it looked on the plate. The texture of the gazpacho was much thinner and less viscous than I had expected, but in combination with the ice cream and a tiny brunoise of cucumber, it had both crunch and character when you first bit into it, and a creaminess that lingered on your tongue until you lifted the spoon to your mouth once again.

The next few things came in rapid-fire succession. To be honest, I just wanted some along time with the first before the others starting arrived like unplanned children. It began with the OAK MOSS AND TRUFFLE TOAST (Homage to Alain Chapel), a bed of oak moss topped with cute little dispensers of moss-flavored breath strips. We let the film dissolve on our tongues while the waiter poured water on top of the oak moss, casting an eerie veil of moss-scented mist over our table…

(Click for oak moss video...)

I’m sure this imagery is intended to transport us mentally to the damp, shady base of an old oak tree. But the only thing I could think of was a holiday party I went to three years ago when a bunch of lanky physics nerds hopped up on Red Bull and gummy worms got their hands on some dry ice and decided to make it the evening’s “entertainment”, before presumably returning to their respective caves for an all-night World of Warcraft tournament. It wasn’t a pretty sight. But I digress. While our table filled with more smoke than I’d seen since that Iron & Wine concert a while back, we crunched our way through a thin piece of toast topped with chopped truffles and a few slices of radish. Apparently truffles and oak moss share certain chemical compounds, hence the pairing. He’s quite an intelligent chap, this Blumenthal character.

Layered in a separate bowl, the JELLY OF QUAIL, LANGOUSTINE CREAM, PARFAIT OF FOIE GRAS also had just a few spoonfuls of pea puree underneath it all. I thought this was lovely. It was rich, creamy and salty, but somehow not too much of any one of these. It would’ve made a nice spread for toast, and was probably meant as such for the truffle toast. Pity that I had already eaten it. And an even bigger pity, apparently, that I had taken a few seconds to photograph all the components of this course as they were set down. We were essentially scolded by one of the wait staff for doing so: “It’s very important that Chef’s creations are eaten à la minute. Blah blah blah blah blah. I have basically no sense of humor and no warmth of spirit. Please don’t smile in here, sir.” Okay, so that’s not a direct quote, and he obviously didn’t say those last couple of things. But seriously — reprimanded for a few (non-flash) photos of each course?! Give me a break.

And then give me SNAIL PORRIDGE with Joselito ham. Truly a marvelous dish, and a signature for which the chef is justifiably famous. It was so alluring in its simplicity. Snails and parsley have a mutual affinity, as the French have long since discovered. But the anise-y sweetness of shaved fennel and the salty, thin strips of Joselito ham here elevated the combination to a whole new level. And nutty porridge made this dish more than a good match. It was a love connection. I could’ve — and gladly would’ve — eaten forty of these.

Mmm, benzaldehyde — I never can get enough of that delicious C6H5CHO. It’s a chemical compound present in almonds, several stone fruits, and the exceptional ROAST FOIE GRAS “BENZALDEHYDE” that came flanked by almond fluid gel, cherry, and chamomile. Pre-cut into three fat slices and topped with chamomile, chives, and a snowy mound of shaved almond, the foie gras was absolutely tantalizing. It had a uniformly firm-tender consistency throughout each cross-section, rendering the dangerously sharp Laguiole knives we’d been given useless. The almond fluid gel transported me back to Sicily, where I had fallen for the subtle charms of almond milk. And I haven’t even mentioned the delicious tiny cubes of amaretto jelly or the pure, intense flavor of the cherry and its puree. This dish was sublime, simply one of the best foie gras preparations I’ve ever had.

The conversation of a particularly obnoxious couple nearby drifted well above the din in the room, and I glanced hopefully about for a blunt object with which to beat them. The waiter, ever so helpful, brought a large seashell — unfortunately far too beautiful to crack on those neighboring knuckleheads – with an iPod playing the “SOUND OF THE SEA”. I zoned out listening to the seagulls and the crashing waves while they set a glass-covered sandbox before us. The edible “sand” on top (a mixture of tapioca, fried breadcrumbs, crushed fried baby eels, cod liver oil and langoustine oil) captured the texture (if thankfully not the flavor) of that substance well. All along this virtual shoreline with several types of shellfish — oysters, winkles, razor clams, and mussels among them — seaweed, and a briny foam. The combination of so many different stimuli (sound, texture, aroma, taste, appearance) really brought all the senses to the seashore at once in this fun dish.

Striking though it was on the plate, the SALMON POACHED IN LIQUORICE GEL with artichokes, vanilla mayonnaise and “Manni” olive oil was my least favorite dish of the meal. The texture of the salmon was truly remarkable — light and flaky, so intensely soft and buttery that I wondered how it stood up on the plate at all. It was enrobed in a thin layer of very subtly flavored licorice gel, a veil of darkness that created a lovely contrast with the bits of bright pink grapefruit scattered about. But it was also — to my taste at least — horribly, unforgivably under-salted. The vanilla mayonnaise — strange as it sounded — was actually quite nice, a rich, slightly sweet way to balance out the acidity and mild bitterness of the artichokes and the balsamic vinegar dotted all over the place. Sadly, even with a few errant dribbles of the peppery olive oil, I just didn’t think the separate components of this dish became a very harmonious assembly.

Next was a beautiful deep-red BALLOTINE OF ANJOU PIGEON with black pudding “made to order”, pickling brine and spiced juices. I’m not sure it struck me how much I enjoyed this dish at the time, but I’ve been lamenting its absence at every meal since. The “black pudding” was a thick, smooth, creamy, and rich puree. I could spread that on toast every day and die (prematurely, of congestive heart failure) a happy man. The breast and leg meat of the pigeon was lean, tender and extremely flavorful. The foamed pickling brine and spiced juices kept the dish from skewing too much toward the rich, meaty, bloody side. And I thought the pigeon chip — made with tapioca in the same manner as shrimp chips in many Asian countries — was an exceptionally cool idea, and a well-executed one on top of it.

Not even mentioning the taste (which I quite enjoyed), the HOT AND ICED TEA (2005) was just plain enjoyable to drink. I’ve had layered hot-and-cold liquids before (Johnny Iuzzini’s white and dark chocolate consommés come to mind), but always layered vertically. This tea, however, was magic. The left half of it was cold, the right was hot , and they were separated by an invisible divider. Both sides were fairly viscous, so I’m guessing the technique employed is something like what was used for the almond fluid gel earlier. But I honestly have no idea, and I’m happy in that ignorance — I loved this.

We were handed some reading material on a certain Agnes B. Marshall, the so-called “Queen of Ice Cream”, inventor of the now-ubiquitous ice cream cone and, as such, worthy of sainthood. Blumenthal’s homage to her legacy was MRS. MARSHALL’S MARGARET CORNET, a Mini-Me-sized cone of apple ice cream on top, with a spicy ginger-orange granita below. Quite flavorful — if just a tad grainy — for something the size of a thimble.

To prep the taste buds for the first full-sized dessert, we were given small tubes of PINE SHERBET FOUNTAIN (PRE-HIT). Blumenthal is always playing with nostalgia — a British sense of nostalgia, considering the fact that he’s British and all. Oafish American that I am, I had not a clue what a sherbet fountain was. Left without an explanation, I wondered how to use the dehydrated stick of vanilla within… Dip and lick à la Fun Dip? Bring back the 80’s, lower my head to the table and start snorting like Tony Montana? I was lost. Hesitatingly, I licked, dipped, then licked again. Pine flavored. More sour than sweet. Interesting.

Now I suppose my palate was ready for the MANGO AND DOUGLAS FIR PUREE, bavarois of lychee and mango, blackcurrant sorbet, blackcurrant and green peppercorn jelly. I suppose the pureed Christmas tree was fitting, considering the season. But the flavor of the puree was surprising subtle, more mango than, well, tree. I also thought the bavarois was borderline insipid. Don’t get me wrong, the sorbet was incredible and the presentation, stunning. But aside from that sweet-tart sorbet and the peppery little cubes of jelly, the extra-fluffy bavarois tasted like fluff.

By now, it was pushing dinner time, so naturally finished up this lunch with breakfast. First up was a bowl of PARSNIP CEREAL – sweet, crunchy little flakes that were softened up ever so slightly by the addition of milk. With no added sugar, the natural sweetness of the parsnips came through. In the background, a subtle earthiness was detectable, but surprisingly, I almost forgot about the fact that we were eating a root vegetable for dessert.

What is there to say that has not already been said about the NITRO-SCRAMBLED EGG AND BACON ICE CREAM (2006)? While I think about that, let’s just watch a movie…

(Click for the nitro-scrambling video...)

Done already? Crap. Well, let’s see. Now you’ve witnessed how that “very special egg” that already tasted of bacon — magic! — was “scrambled” in liquid nitrogen — more magic! — as we sat with confused looks on our faces. Perplexity turned to bliss when I tasted it, though. The ice cream was rich, yolky, and smoky — essentially a flash-frozen bacon-infused custard. The pain perdu served beneath it was crispy and heavily caramelized on the outside, but amazingly moist within. A little dab of tomato compote was, for me, extraneous, but sweet and tasty nonetheless. A crispy crown of bacon reinforces the breakfast sandwich visual element of this dish. And to drink? This is England, so tea, of course. In this case, jellied tea that was served in a really neat broken egg-shaped cup. Perhaps I was spoiled by the hot and cold tea we’d been served not too long before this, because I found this tea jelly a bit of an afterthought, really.

Last up, a round of PETITS FOURS: mandarin aerated chocolate, a violet tartlet, and a carrot and orange lolly. The chocolates had an interesting interior that looked like a dried up brown sponge on top of a little round of mandarin jelly. Nearly weightless, I was amused by the texture more than I enjoyed the flavor. The violet tartlet I quite liked (the fat grains of vanilla salt were a particularly nice touch), but I think I was alone in that thinking among the rest of my party who found the oozy filling a little unwieldy. The carrot and orange lolly tasted more of the former than the latter, but was harmless enough. Oh, there were a few apple-flavored caramels with edible wrappers as well. Nice little selection of treats to close out the meal.

I’ve tried to forget the particularly cold greeting we received on the way in to the restaurant, having asked the hostess if there was even the slightest possibility that we could squeeze another friend who’d come along for the train ride from London onto our four-top (a spacious round table, might I add). She reacted like we had simultaneously run over her puppy, cursed her ancestors, and smudged her Pumas. It was a firm “No, I can’t”, not an offer to go and check with the chef, not a “Let me see what I can do”. She might as well have added “You most certainly may not. How dare you even ask?!” because that’s basically what her body language said for the remainder of the afternoon.

That initial bump in the road notwithstanding, this meal had been an incredibly fun ride and I was sad to see it end. I was also pleasantly surprised how often the words “fun” and “flavorful” had popped into my head at the same time that afternoon. The world is full of so-called “molecular gastronomy” restaurants where technology overshadows taste, and awkward, forced whimsy comes with a side of failed irony. But 99% of those restaurants aren’t backed by chefs as truly brilliant as Heston Blumenthal. His deep understanding of (food) science and (food) history is instantly noticeable. His dishes are relentlessly researched and yet playfully nostalgic. His cuisine, simply put, demands attention — eyes open, ears perked, and taste buds raring — because the entire experience at The Fat Duck, perhaps more than any other place I’ve been, hits you from so many directions and on so many levels at once.

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Great report, Tupac. It certainly did not quash my desire to get there. I was hoping to go in January, but it didn't happen.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Thanks for the write up tupac, we went to The Fat Duck for the first time last month too and I agree almost word for word with what you say. Though for us the service was impeccably friendly and welcoming. It was a most singular experience, quite brilliant.

Looking back on it now the three dishes that I still find mesmerising are the Snail Porridge, the Pigeon and the Scrambled Bacon & Egg Ice Cream. In particular, the black pudding sauce with the pigeon was for me the most blinding demonstration of the chef's GENIUS. As a carnivore the ultimate sauce for red meat is blood. The smooth deep flavour and texture of the sauce for the pigeon was perfection not only with respect to the senses but to every primeval instinct!

The salmon dish was the most disappointing, though I thought the vanilla mayo was tasty too. I just wished for something equally good to dip into it.

So the tasting menu has been done, the chef has convinced me - can't wait to go back for the A La Carte.


Edited by Prawncrackers (log)

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Looking back on it now the three dishes that I still find mesmerising are the Snail Porridge, the Pigeon and the Scrambled Bacon & Egg Ice Cream.  In particular, the black pudding sauce with the pigeon was for me the most blinding demonstration of the chef's GENIUS.  As a carnivore the ultimate sauce for red meat is blood.  The smooth deep flavour and texture of the sauce for the pigeon was perfection not only with respect to the senses but to every primeval instinct!

The pigeon was a "ballotine." I recall there being something stuffed in it (or at least, being told that). But I simply cannot remember what, if anything, it was. The meat, the pickling foam, the blood pudding, and pigeon cracker were simply too distracting (in a good way).

tupac/Prawncrackers, do either of you remember?


“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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I’ve tried to forget the particularly cold greeting we received on the way in to the restaurant, having asked the hostess if there was even the slightest possibility that we could squeeze another friend who’d come along for the train ride from London onto our four-top (a spacious round table, might I add).  She reacted like we had simultaneously run over her puppy, cursed her ancestors, and smudged her Pumas.  It was a firm “No, I can’t”, not an offer to go and check with the chef, not a “Let me see what I can do”.  She might as well have added “You most certainly may not. How dare you even ask?!” because that’s basically what her body language said for the remainder of the afternoon.

OK I've had issues with the service at the fat duck (this occurred just as they got the 3*) , at one point when we had ordered the tasting menu with wine parings something was going on back stage (my dining companion is a head chef and picked up on it) and were left sat there with no food and no drink for 20 mins (so we ordered a extra glass of champagne and griped - it was a dual birthday but didthey not pick up on that) then thimngs started moving again.

But in defense to your asking to add an extra guest - I'm not surprised they say no. Some of the food your eating takes weeks to prepare (See Fat Duck Cookbook) and my assume they make extras to cover when things go wrong but if you add an extra diner (and the number of covers is small) the risk of a foul up rises that you can't fix and you cant have if you aspire to perfection.

However that said, your contact with the restaurant was not not good. It would be better for the staff to explain the reason rather than just giving you a response that you experienced as offensive or arrogant.


Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.

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I’ve tried to forget the particularly cold greeting we received on the way in to the restaurant, having asked the hostess if there was even the slightest possibility that we could squeeze another friend who’d come along for the train ride from London onto our four-top (a spacious round table, might I add).  She reacted like we had simultaneously run over her puppy, cursed her ancestors, and smudged her Pumas.  It was a firm “No, I can’t”, not an offer to go and check with the chef, not a “Let me see what I can do”.  She might as well have added “You most certainly may not. How dare you even ask?!” because that’s basically what her body language said for the remainder of the afternoon.

But in defense to your asking to add an extra guest - I'm not surprised they say no. Some of the food your eating takes weeks to prepare (See Fat Duck Cookbook) and my assume they make extras to cover when things go wrong but if you add an extra diner (and the number of covers is small) the risk of a foul up rises that you can't fix and you cant have if you aspire to perfection.

However that said, your contact with the restaurant was not not good. It would be better for the staff to explain the reason rather than just giving you a response that you experienced as offensive or arrogant.

ermintrude - I agree with you completely, which is why I didn't bother mentioning this incident in my blog post of our meal.

I was one of the two responsible for this reservation (the other being someone who does not participate on these boards). The fifth, attempted add-on was an acquaintance of tupac's and mine. A local Brit with time to spare, he asked if he might come with us to Bray and try to join our four-top. Though I was hesitant, I saw no harm in trying. However, I reminded this individual that there was no guarantee - though the worst that could happen is that he would head over to Hind's Head for a tuck.

After asking politely, and being denied twice, I really didn't feel like pushing the subject any further. I desisted promptly. Others in my party seemed to want to persist a little more.

I certainly can understand the restaurant's refusal, given that the dining room is small and seating is limited. tupac, if you recall, they did give us a reason - they had no more chairs to spare. Now, whether or not that was a truthful statement doesn't really matter to me. The fact is, it was clear they couldn't or weren't willing to accommodate any more diners at that service.

Considering The Fat Duck's hellish reservation rigmarole, it would bring mad chaos on their heads to make an exception. Can you imagine the storm (and line gathering in Bray) if word got out that last-minute add-ons were permitted?

I have a friend who's headed to el bulli in November. I certainly don't expect to be able to show up with him on Adria's doorstep and ask my way into an extra seat there.

Now, I will agree with tupac that, this incident notwithstanding, our service at The Fat Duck could have been better.


“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

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Great report, Tupac. It certainly did not quash my desire to get there. I was hoping to go in January, but it didn't happen.

Thanks, Doc.

Thanks for the write up tupac, we went to The Fat Duck for the first time last month too and I agree almost word for word with what you say.  Though for us the service was impeccably friendly and welcoming.  It was a most singular experience, quite brilliant. 

Looking back on it now the three dishes that I still find mesmerising are the Snail Porridge, the Pigeon and the Scrambled Bacon & Egg Ice Cream.  In particular, the black pudding sauce with the pigeon was for me the most blinding demonstration of the chef's GENIUS.  As a carnivore the ultimate sauce for red meat is blood.  The smooth deep flavour and texture of the sauce for the pigeon was perfection not only with respect to the senses but to every primeval instinct!

The salmon dish was the most disappointing, though I thought the vanilla mayo was tasty too.  I just wished for something equally good to dip into it.

So the tasting menu has been done, the chef has convinced me - can't wait to go back for the A La Carte.

I wonder if we are somehow related. :biggrin:

The pigeon was a "ballotine."  I recall there being something stuffed in it (or at least, being told that).  But I simply cannot remember what, if anything, it was.  The meat, the pickling foam, the blood pudding, and pigeon cracker were simply too distracting (in a good way). 

tupac/Prawncrackers, do either of you remember?

I don't, but my guess is...

He called the liberty to call it a ballotine because it was boned, poached, and served in cylindrical pieces. Of course, I'm not sure it was poached, but look at the fried bread crumbs it was apparently rolled in after cooking, to add the crispy texture that would have been there if the skin had been left on and the bird had been roasted instead of poached. Just a thought.

But in defense to your asking to add an extra guest - I'm not surprised they say no. Some of the food your eating takes weeks to prepare (See Fat Duck Cookbook) and my assume they make extras to cover when things go wrong but if you add an extra diner (and the number of covers is small) the risk of a foul up rises that you can't fix and you cant have if you aspire to perfection.

However that said, your contact with the restaurant was not not good. It would be better for the staff to explain the reason rather than just giving you a response that you experienced as offensive or arrogant.

I certainly agree with your comments about the intricacy of the food and I'd imagine the number of covers they choose to do is carefully calculated. My friend had called well in advance of the reservation and been told no. But I think he hoped to give them the sad puppy dog look in person to garner some sympathy. :raz: I actually thought it might work, too.

And your latter point is exactly mine -- it wasn't so much that she said no, but how she said it, and even more importantly how it negatively affected her attitude towards us the rest of the afternoon.

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I don't, but my guess is...

He called the liberty to call it a ballotine because it was boned, poached, and served in cylindrical pieces.  Of course, I'm not sure it was poached, but look at the fried bread crumbs it was apparently rolled in after cooking, to add the crispy texture that would have been there if the skin had been left on and the bird had been roasted instead of poached.  Just a thought.

In his book he says he calls it a ballotine since he's rolling together the two breasts. They're cooked sous vide, brushed with spiced juices, and then rolled around in the crumbs.

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I don't, but my guess is...

He called the liberty to call it a ballotine because it was boned, poached, and served in cylindrical pieces.  Of course, I'm not sure it was poached, but look at the fried bread crumbs it was apparently rolled in after cooking, to add the crispy texture that would have been there if the skin had been left on and the bird had been roasted instead of poached.  Just a thought.

In his book he says he calls it a ballotine since he's rolling together the two breasts. They're cooked sous vide, brushed with spiced juices, and then rolled around in the crumbs.

AEK - thanks for that confirmation.


“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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I don't, but my guess is...

He called the liberty to call it a ballotine because it was boned, poached, and served in cylindrical pieces.  Of course, I'm not sure it was poached, but look at the fried bread crumbs it was apparently rolled in after cooking, to add the crispy texture that would have been there if the skin had been left on and the bird had been roasted instead of poached.  Just a thought.

In his book he says he calls it a ballotine since he's rolling together the two breasts. They're cooked sous vide, brushed with spiced juices, and then rolled around in the crumbs.

Nice. Putting an end to the speculation with some facts. :raz: Thanks!

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agree with everything u.e. just said. hopefully nobody else arrives late to the party to re-discuss issues that have already been elaborated on.

can we talk about that fantastic foie gras dish? later reading leads me to think that apricot stones (which also share the compound benzaldehyde) played some part in that dish as well. do you remember them being present, u.e.? or does anyone else here recall?

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agree with everything u.e. just said.  hopefully nobody else arrives late to the party to re-discuss issues that have already been elaborated on.

can we talk about that fantastic foie gras dish?  later reading leads me to think that apricot stones (which also share the compound benzaldehyde) played some part in that dish as well.  do you remember them being present, u.e.?  or does anyone else here recall?

Ameretti. The amerreti cubes.

Ameretti is made from stone fruit pits.


“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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agree with everything u.e. just said.  hopefully nobody else arrives late to the party to re-discuss issues that have already been elaborated on.

can we talk about that fantastic foie gras dish?  later reading leads me to think that apricot stones (which also share the compound benzaldehyde) played some part in that dish as well.  do you remember them being present, u.e.?  or does anyone else here recall?

Ameretti. The amerreti cubes.

Ameretti is made from stone fruit pits.

For what it's worth, here's what I thought of that (fantastic) dish:

I have always thought almonds, especially almond extract, tasted like apples and cherries. Thanks to Heston Blumenthal, I now know why. Our seventh course, “Roast Foie Gras “Benzaldehyde”” taught me that C6H5CHO is a chemical compound common to almonds, cherry pits, apricots, and apples.

Actually, the food didn’t teach me anything; almonds and cherries had failed to do so for nearly thirty years. But the name of the course did prompt me to ask our server, who explained the association.

The square of roasted foie gras (like the oyster, it had been pre-cut into three sections) was dusted in chamomile and topped with a snowy tuft of shaved almonds. It was accompanied by a swatch of each almond “fluid gel” and dark cherry puree, a macerated whole dark cherry, and three tiny cubes of ameretti gel.

Of all the m.g. dishes I’ve encountered, this one has come the closest to achieving what I think should be the ideal m.g. experience. Taking one known quantity (foie gras + sweet = good), Blumenthal added to it another (a shared chemical compound among various ingredients) to make something that was both delicious and intellectually gratifying.

In this course, the foie gras was uniformly cooked, exhibiting the same supple consistency inside out. There were no pockets of grease or shades of looseness and firmness. The most analogous substance would be soft (not quite silken) tofu. For me, it was the most perfect version of cooked foie gras I’ve ever had (a very close second would be the “steamed foie gras lardons” in the “Velouté de Cèpe“ at l’Ambassade de l’Ile). As discussed and ordained by Mother Nature, all of the accompanying elements worked in harmony. My only disappointment with this dish is that I thought there could have been more ameretti – the three tiny cubes barely offered enough for one to get a proper sense of its contribution to the whole.


“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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I have always thought almonds, especially almond extract, tasted like apples and cherries. Thanks to Heston Blumenthal, I now know why. Our seventh course, “Roast Foie Gras “Benzaldehyde”” taught me that C6H5CHO is a chemical compound common to almonds, cherry pits, apricots, and apples.

In case it helps - Almond, Cherry, Apricot, Apple all belong to the same plant Family 'Rosaceae' so some characteristics are shared.

Apple is in the Genus 'Malus'. Almond, Cherry, Apricot, Peach, Plum are in the Genus 'Prunus' so their stones are similar in appearance and construction.

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Has anybody heard anything about a problem with the power at the Fat Duck.

We have a table for four booked for Thursday with friends. We are flying in from Ireland especially. Accommodation and babysitter booked locally. Phone call to my mate today from the Fat Duck to say that their power isn't working and the reservation is cancelled.

We are gutted. Whole point of the trip was to go to the Fat Duck.

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Has anybody heard anything about a problem with the power at the Fat Duck.

We have a table for four booked for Thursday with friends. We are flying in from Ireland especially. Accommodation and babysitter booked locally. Phone call to my mate today from the Fat Duck to say that their power isn't working and the reservation is cancelled.

We are gutted.  Whole point of the trip was to go to the Fat Duck.

A woman left a comment on my site about that recently, actually. I'm just surprised it's a problem they've not yet been able to remedy!

Sorry to hear about that.

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Should be open tomorrow thursday at the latest apparently. Of course the announcement did spark rumours along the lines of has the fd gone bust.


you don't win friends with salad

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Thanks guys

Gary, was there a public announcement about it? If it is back open Thursday then we won't cancel B&B etc. but it would be good to know the likelihood of them fulfilling our booking on Thursday night.

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Oh that happened to us a few years ago. Had just got to the nitro lime mousse thing when the power blew. In the end we went back to Ickenham for a Chinese takeaway.

They comped us the wine though. Knew we should have gone for the Petrus.

J


More Cookbooks than Sense - my new Cookbook blog!

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