Last year I was lucky enough to spend my birthday at the most famous restaurant in Britain – The Fat Duck. Along with Mr S and my brother and sister-in-law Niren and Mo, we embarked on a 40 minutes train ride from Paddington to Maidenhead.
Excitement levels were bubbling over along with tiredness (I’d only flown in from my birthday extravaganza in Vegas the day before, which you can read about here). Heston Blumenthal’s three Michelin star restaurant has been on my foodie-lust list for years. After a short taxi ride we arrived in Bray, a small village in Berkshire for a culinary voyage like no other.
Housed in a former pub, the plain white walls and exposed beams shouldn’t fool you into thinking no thought has gone into the interiors. The exact opposite in fact, the tanned hand-stitched leather bucket chairs alone cost £3,000 each. And the spotlight above the table, which changes its light density depending on the mood the dish is trying to convey. A reminder that the food you’re about to eat is on stage.
Once seated in those rather comfy chairs, in place of a menu you’re handed a map/itinerary and magnifying glass. And so the journey begins.
In pure Heston style the meal is more of a theatrical performance. The story. A journey of nostalgia from morning to night through his childhood holiday memories. In turn aiming to help bring your own wonderful memories to life through 16 courses! Good job he invested in those chairs, hey?
Before long a trolley is wheeled over for the first stage on the itinerary The day before we go: Are we nearly there yet? It all begins with a nitro poached apéritif. Guests have a choice of three different cocktails – Paloma, Campari soda, Pina colada, Vodka sour. Being my birthday they added an extra one to the list. Can you guess? Oh yes! None other than the espresso martini.
A squirted ball of mousse is lowered into a bubbling container of liquid nitrogen and by the magic of science out pops an alcoholic meringue. I mean why have your cocktail in a glass when it can explode in your mouth as an insanely delicious one-bite wonder? Bouche amused.
In preparation for the epic meal you’re presented with an aerated beetroot and horseradish macaroon. The palette cleanser was as exquisite as the plate it sat on. The super light appetiser immediately melts on your tongue with the spicy, sweet, mustard like flavour lasting seconds – and then vanishes, leaving you craving more. My best macaroon to date!
And as one quirky drink is not enough, the next was packaged up as a dish. Smoked cumin royale with jerusalem artichoke ice cream and finished off with a botanical tonic. Can you believe it? A gin and tonic in food form. I was already in complete heaven with this very light and refreshing dish.
Out came the waitress with a ‘Good Morning,’ signalling the second stage of the journey Morning: Rise and Shine, it’s breakfast time. We were served little glasses of ‘tea,’ as I was on the vegetarian menu mine was a mushroom type broth. One side hot and the other cold. Carnivores are treated to a rabbit broth. Mixing the temperatures as you sip is very clever, but essentially you’re drinking stock. It was probably my least favourite from all the courses.
Next came the most playful part of the meal with a nostalgic cereal inspired dish. It was during this course Mo received her surprise. The meal is punctuated with personalised touches for each diner, which leaves you feeling rather very special. The waitress presented the table with a variety pack of cereal boxes. The bowl came with scrambled egg custard at the bottom, the cereal contained truffled egg mousse, jellied tomato consommé, toasted bread cream and cereals. Loading spoonfuls of cereal, but tasting a full english breakfast definitely played with our senses. Oh and the surprise, a handbag and shoe made from Perspex. For her love of shopping
The third stop on our journey Mid Morning: First one to see the sea revolves around the award winning dish ‘The Sound of the Sea.’ Firstly you are given a conch shell with hidden ipods playing a soundtrack of crashing waves and seagulls. Followed by a wooden box filled with sand, on top of the glass lay various pickled seaweeds, samphire, oyster leaf, a vegetable and seaweed foam and tapioca ‘sand’ lightly flavoured with miso oil.
The non vegetarian version included sashimi. The multisensory course certainly bought the seaside to me for a few minutes.
How can you possibly follow a beach on a plate? Obviously with a pair of savoury lollies. The Waldorf salad rocket – walnut, celery and apple ice and a carrot, avocado and horseradish twister. Oh yeah, the carrot was salmon for the rest of the table.
And you can’t go to the beach without indulging in a ’99 made from crab and passionfruit. Mine was made out of tomato and passionfruit. They were interesting and certainly a talking point, but didn’t make it onto my favourite list.
Still at the seaside, we went rockpooling’ next. A crab shell made up of white chocolate and cocoa butter melts instantly when a veloute of white chocolate and sea vegetables is poured over. Releasing the cornish crab, smoked caviar and golden trout roe. The cornish crab was replaced on my plate with cucumber, fennel, daikon. The sweetness of the chocolate in a savoury dish was a strange but pleasant surprise.
The next part I loved. We moved onto the next chapter Afternoon:If you go down the woods today. A waiter came up and handed me postcard saying ‘the postman’s been’. It had a picture of the Dolomites, the exact scene from our recent summer holiday in the Italian mountains. Before the question ‘How did they know?’ could even finish forming in our minds…
…a large glass jar was placed in the middle of the table bubbling with liquid nitrogen. Eventually revealing a woodland scene with a carved wooden cow inside. It resembled a moment on our summer holiday, where four adults and three children (one in a pram) took a wrong turn on a hike and ended up surrounded in a field of cows. The attention to tailoring the experience to each individual table is mind-blowing.
Once we got over the flood of memories and chatter we tucked into a forest dish of mushroom, beet and blackberry, scented with fig leaf, meadowsweet, oakmoss and black truffle. The aromas, textures and earthy tones were spot on, along with the theatrics. A masterclass in pure umami magic.
Suddenly you’re transported to the whimsical world of Alice in Wonderland. A Mock Turtle soup is served in the style of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. A gold fob watch is placed into a pot of boiling water, similar to the Mad Hatter dunking his fob watch into a cup of tea. It dissolves and leaves behind the richest, pungent consommé with flecks of gold.
Slowly, it’s poured into a teacup prepared with a turnip mousse, designed to resemble a mock turtle egg topped with delicate enoki mushrooms.
The egg toast sandwich that accompanies the dish helped to give the dish some substance.
Finally we get to the main part of the journey Evening: Are you ready for dinner? I mean, it was a bloody good question when you’ve already eaten 10 courses! The vegetarian evening meal began with a starter which could have been mistaken for a piece of pork. I had to do a double take when it was placed in front of me.
In fact it was the most succulent and flavoursome king oyster mushroom I have ever tasted. The texture was so dense and meaty, I wiped the plate clean along with the Heston style piccalilli!
For mains I indulged in vegetarian bone marrow. Yes, it’s a thing in the world of Heston. Made from daikon, horseradish royale and marmite broth. The faux bone marrow was delicious. However, not being a fan of marmite the broth I could have done without. As they say you either love it or hate it.
Botrytis Cinerea. The name of our dessert. ‘Bot-what?’, which was my response. The waiter informed us the dish explores the flavours of a wine from the Bordeaux region Chateau d’Yquem, a Premier Cru Supérieur wine. I’m not familiar with the wine but it’s said to be the best sweet wine in the world due its grapes being attacked by botrytis cinerea or noble rot, hence the name.
There are a variety of deconstructed elements to the dish that represent the grape variety – A citrus sorbet, a white chocolate with pear caramel, a peach wine gum and plenty more. It all sits on a bed of savoury biscuits, crystallised chocolate, Parmesan and blue cheese powder, representing the soil. Mind-blowingly impressive! And that was just looking at all the techniques that went into one dish.
Now for the fun part. The digestif came in the form of whiskey wine gums. I’m not a major fan of the tipple, but the flavours really came through and I was revelling in my after dessert ‘tipple.’
Then came the magic with Bedtime:Off to the land of nod. A milky meringue is served on a floating pillow, hovering three inches above a plastic cloud.
The main part of the dessert featured malt, orange blossom, tonka, milk meringue, crystallised white chocolate and pistachio. All eaten with a heavy fluffy handled spoon smelling of Johnson’s baby powder. Supposedly a texture Heston is very excited by. The weight of the cutlery all plays a part of in making this dish help you feel sleepy. It’s all in the detail. The flavours and textures were superb and we really were ready for a snooze by the end of it.
Yes! We made it to the end of the journey And then to dream. The last serving of petit-fours.
A custom made £150,000 dolls house complete with a miniaturised version of Heston’s childhood bedroom delivers the sweets through self opening drawers – Oxchoc, caramel in edible wrapper, Queen of hearts jam tart and a mandarin scented aerated chocolate. Plus, the birthday girl received an extra treat, a wooden Curious Pixie key ring!
After the meal, I was lucky to enter the kitchen where all the fabulous food was created. We spent five hours on our journey and one of the last tables to leave, so the chefs were starting to get ready for the second service at 7pm.
It’s always amazing to see professional chefs at work especially in a three Michelin star kitchen.
Well, what a way to spend lunchtime on your 40th birthday?! Although I’d class it as more of an experience than just a meal and without a doubt some of the best food I have eaten in my life. Service was exemplary, the waiting staff are more like actors when they spin your personalised stories throughout the courses.
Tailoring the experience to each individual diner is impressive when you consider the restaurant has 30 covers and two services a day. Guests making a booking are asked to provide information which is how some of the memorable moments are created. They summed us up a treat! Mo the shopoholic, Niren the boxset nerd, Mr S the marathon runner and your one and only blogger the Curious Pixie.
Undoubtedly for many this is a once in a lifetime experience, partly due to the fact that the menu rarely changes. Repeating the same journey again would take away its uniqueness. Also, the tasting menu costs a staggering £255 not including drinks and service. Think of it this way, you could be there for five hours plus, so on a per minute basis it’s easier to reconcile.
No other restaurant pushes the boundaries between between theatre and food like Heston and his team. It makes for an utterly magical experience. For me, it will forever remain in my memory banks as spectacular meal with my loved ones celebrating a milestone in my life.
The Fat Duck High St, Bray SL6 2AQ
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