The Fat Duck – Bray
When people discover I am a ‘foodie’ this is THE restaurant I get asked whether I have visited. When the restaurant team returned to the UK following their stint in Melbourne I was first in the queue to get a table, and excited to be successful. If you did need reminding it was as the owner and executive chef of the Fat Duck Heston Blumenthal’s brand and reputation grew to the household name he is today. Nowadays with his other commitments he’s unlikely to be found behind the stove and it is Jonny Lake who’s the head chef in the kitchen. The notable difference following their antipodean adventure is the revamp of the menu as a journey and the promise of a personal touch.
I will talk through a few highlights from the meal rather than the entire menu as it is particularly lengthy. The Sound of the Sea is a classic from the Fat Duck, it starts with an ipod of coastal noises before the food even arrives. The dish itself really does bring the taste of the sea, fresh and salty foam and sea vegetables enhancing the delicate fish. The favourite dish of one of my fellow diners.
I would struggle to choose between 2 favourites. A forest floor of lots of little elements came together beautiful with earthy, leafy and mushroom flavours. A dessert was equally delicious but arguably more stunning. Spheres are various textures and tastes represented a bunch of grapes and the flavours of dessert wine. An unique and special dish. There was also the fun theatrical element which is ever present at the Fat Duck. On a few occasions the addition of dry ice or a floating pillow seemed superficial but there were times the playful touch worked well. A collection of variety box cereals were presented to us at one point, rather than obvious contents they housed a sachet of dried ingredients with the flavours of an English Breakfast.
So when it comes down to it why am I not fully lauding the praises of one of the most decorated restaurants in the world? Partly it could be that expectation is so high with the Fat Duck and Heston’s names so famous and admired. I expected more excitement, when they first became big and burst onto the scene there were many less restaurants in the country cooking exciting, innovative food. The new ‘journey’ from breakfast to bedtime is a nice concept but one that I could never fully buy in to. The service is clearly very good but I didn’t feel that the staff really got behind the philosophy and delivered the food quite functionally. The personal element (you get emails and calls asking for personal memories etc.) was pretty basic, the only reference was a postcard to the wedding venue of the couple that I was dining with…that I had mentioned by name on the call. A nice touch but simple compared to my expectations.
Overall it may come down to the price, including wine it is £400+ per person. At that price you cannot help but expect perfection. I could not tell you not to go to the Fat Duck, and I have no regrets but if I had to spend that money again 2 meals at the likes of Midsummer House, Nathan Outlaw or Sat Bains seem better value.
I have plagiarised all images in this from the excellent www.elizabethonfood.com as my camera decided to break just before this visit!
Restaurant website: http://www.thefatduck.co.uk/