Monday, July 04, 2005

the fat quack

It was our anniversary a couple of weeks ago; I was in Japan so we had to wait until yesterday to celebrate. We were going to do something on Saturday night, but opted to watch Live8 with Simon and Claire – best moment; Mariah Carey asks in the most diva-like way 3 times for the mike stand ... getting more frustrated each time she was denied, you felt like a tantrum was moments away. Yesterday we went to the fat duck restaurant in Bray, Berkshire. We have wanted to go for ages, but have never been organised enough to make the reservation.

I'm naturally way to cool to take a photo in a restaurant ... check out the greenery in Bray though

The fat duck is run by Heston Blumenthal; half chef, half scientist. Its menu is as diverse as it is tasty. We had the tasting menu:

- Nitro-green tea and lime mousse with vodka. This is a palette cleanser. The tannin in the green tea is said to open the pores on your tongue, the acid of the lime to stimulate them and the vodka to cleanse the fats. It is cooked at your table in liquid nitrogen.
- Oyster, passion fruit jelly, horseradish cream, lavender.
- Pommery grain mustard ice cream, red cabbage gazpacho on cucumber. One of the first savoury ice creams on the menu. The gazpacho is excellent and retains the red cabbage flavour.
- Jelly of quail, langoustine cream, parfait of foie gras served in a porcelain egg shell.
- Snail porridge. This is probably the signature dish. The porridge is made from parsley, garlic, butter and oats.
- Roast foie gras, almond fluid gel, cherry and chamomile. A great dish, the cherry is incredibly strong.
- Sardine on toast sorbet. Ballotine of mackerel, marinated daikon. My favourite, the taste of the sardine is incredibly concentrated. The daikon absorbs much of the fish flavour.
- Salmon poached with liquorice. Asparagus, pink grapefruit, ‘manni’ olive oil. Great advice from the sommelier was to combine the vanilla mayonnaise with salmon in order to enhance the flavours.
- Poached breast of Anjou pigeon pancetta. Pastilla of legs, pistachio, cocoa and quatre epices.
- White chocolate and caviar. Mrs Marshall’s Margaret cornet.
- Mango and Douglas fir puree. Bavarois of lychee and mango, blackcurrant sorbet.
- Carrot and orange tuile, beetroot jelly.
- Smoked bacon and egg ice cream. Pain perdu and tea jelly. This forms the ‘breakfast’ part of the menu, served with parsnip flakes from a small cereal box and parsnip milk.
- Praline rose tartlet.

The fat duck was recently voted the world’s best restaurant. I wouldn’t even presume to discuss that, but there are a number of reasons why it is one of the best all-round dining experiences I’ve had in a long while:

- Getting out of London into Bray; a forgotten land of rivers, swans and stone walls.
- An incredibly relaxed environment; there is a fun loving atmosphere and the noise of conversations and laughter.
- A relaxed, smart staff that is willing (and able) to joke with the customers. We bumped into Rut, a friend of Blanca’s from El Bulli Hotel who is now the assistant sommelier. She is extremely knowledgeable and brought us back to the kitchen to meet the man himself.
- The sight of Blanca trying to convince Heston to come into books for cooks to do some signings and recommendations on what should be in his next book; how he should write about the reasons he changed from being a solicitor to chef.
- Clifford and Cecile at the table beside us who put up with us chatting to them for about 3 hours on topics ranging from Japan to Italy, Claudia Roden to Jeremiah Tower. Thanks for the glasses of pinot noir by the way; we’ll return the hospitality in Spain sometime.
- A 10 year old girl at the table opposite us who greeted every course with delight and eyes wide open. She took the menu around the entire waiting staff for signatures.
- The tasting menu is given to all the diners. This saves the hassle of having to steal it; either way it was going with me.

- Rut will kill me for saying this, but if you book early, ask for the Sunday lunch with an early time (say noon or 12.30); you can take your time and enjoy the whole afternoon as they don't rotate the tables.
- And the food …

Now we’re back in London a world away, a town of tube congestion, starbuck’s coffee and gyms – “I said, give me a damn mike stand!” …

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