Friday, May 06, 2005

Restaurant Voyeurism at The Fat Duck

As a follow up to the post on 50 world’s best restaurants, here’s an entry on the current heavyweight champion THE FAT DUCK. Unfortunately I wasn’t present to give you my low down on the restaurant, but my friends with their roving forks have decided to take up the task of doing a joint entry on their experience at the fat duck.

The Fat Duck
High Street
Berkshire SL6 2AQ

After winning so many awards, featured in so many magazines and consistently being ranked in the top 10 restaurants of the world, the Fat Duck came into the 'must try' category. The key issue floating in my head was whether it could live up to all the hype. Be forewarned, this restaurant is not the most accessible of places, but not too difficult to find. The decor of the place did resemble that of a rustic cottage(which did look a lot like the French Laundry when I saw it on TV) and I did quite like the wooden beams that were scattered all over the restaurant. Distance between tables was just about right, where you could feel comfortable within your own space while not feeling aloof and still being able to look around the restaurant, checking out what everyone is having/the buzz of the place.

Service was really prompt yet informal with plenty of small talk that helped you feel comfortable and take away the formalness of the whole setting. We decided on having the dégustation menu and were eager in anticipation for a true food experience after reading so much about this place. I must add that the sommelier was really helpful in helping us to choose 2 bottles of wine which were really good. But I digress, on to the food:

I will attempt to evaluate the food not just on taste but perhaps what I call the 'food psychology' to it.

Prepared in this huge metal bowl containing Liquid Nitrogen where the green tea and lime mousse was tossed around till it was a white puff before serving on a plate and being told to eat it straight away. It tasted incredibly light, almost like tasting a lime flavoured cloud/mist that was very cold. I thought it was a great start to the meal, not just as a palate cleanser but it gave the 'wow' factor in your face for the first amuse bouche and kept you thinking about the next course.

Came in an oyster half shell and was consumed in one mouthful. I must say apart from the passion fruit jelly, it looked quite ordinary. But tastewise, it was really good as all the flavours seemed to blend together really well which was probably the chef's intention. Certainly something different as a lot of places do pair oysters with sashimi/caviar so it was a welcome change to see it being paired with vegetable elements.

Came in your customary huge plate with small serving area... It arrived with just the mustard ice cream on its own before the servers came in to pour in the gazpacho. As they were serving the gazpacho, the only thought in my mind was that it looked so much like liquid bubble gum and how foreign it looked which im sure was another one of the chef's 'shock tactics'. Tastewise, took us all a little while to believe that the ice cream actually tasted like mustard since it tasted so real. The red cabbage gazpacho was also a lot better tasting than it looked. Nice course in the form of screwing your mind in 'what the hell am I eating' and yet delivering on taste.

Arrived in a egg cup shape thingy which looked like an inverted study lamp. Dish was nice with very strong flavours and well executed but nothing memorable. If anything, hearing the server tell you what it was made you wonder how the quail/langoustine/foie gras would taste when put together.

SNAIL PORRIDGE Jabugo Ham, shaved fennel
One of the signature dishes of the restaurant. On first impression, you are wondering what is the porridge made of since you can see token pieces of snail there which are there for texture rather than taste. Turns out the porridge was made from fennel in snail broth. Flavours were very clean but lacked any impact; perhaps in a larger portion it would be better. Personally, i thought that temperature wise, if it was served warmer, it would have been tastier. For all the hype about the innovative dish, this didn't live up to its hype.

ROAST FOIE GRASAlmond fluid gel, cherry and chamomile
How can you ever diss a Foie Gras dish unless the chef totally screwed it up. Interesting use of almond gel which gave a nice change of taste between slices of Foie Gras. The chamomile mousse/espuma also turned out to be very complimentary to the richness of the foie gras. Foie gras was perfectly roasted, crispy on the outside, with the yummy creaminess in the inside. Dish was not really unconventional but it was very well executed. Brought a smile to everyone at the table. Only complaint would be a larger piece of foie gras!

SARDINE ON TOASTSORBET Ballotine of mackerel ‘invertebrate’, marinated daikon
Yet another Fat Duck Signature dish. This one is definitely out to mess with your head. Came in a plate with with slivers of daikon that tasted a lot like ginger with a piece of raw mackarel on one side and the sardine on toast on the other. Think the greatness of the dish is how he manages to capture the essence of sardine into sorbet. Not for everyone's palate but I definitely liked it and appreciated what he was trying to do. Raw mackarel was very strong in the 'fish' taste and was in this dish to help you authenticate your brain to tell you that the sorbert you ate was indeed sardine. Slivers of daikon helped to cleanse the palate. Flavours were very strong and I suspect this dish would get mixed reviews across many reviewers but i thought it lived up to its hype.

SALMON POACHED WITH LIQUORICE Asparagus, pink grapefruit, "Manni" olive oil
Arrived with a piece of salmon totally wrapped in liquorice with two asparagus heads. Crazily enough, I think the tastiest bit of this dish was the asparagus heads. Perhaps liquorice was a nostalgic British flavour but i never really liked it. So i did not really enjoy eating the liquorice 'wrapping' of the salmon. I must give credit to the fact that the salmon was perfectly cooked, almost like medium rare just that with consistent texture as opposed to tataki. However, the liquorice did permeate the salmon and thus could not really enjoy this dish. Well executed but I would give it a miss purely based on personal taste. Could be a winning dish if liquorice was substituted for something else.

POACHED BREAST OF ANJOU PIGEON PANCETTAPastilla of its leg, pistachio, cocoa and quatre épices
This probably was the star of the meal. Nothing terribly innovative or special about its flavours but it was just good solid execution. Pigeon breast was cooked to perfection, providing just the right texture and intense flavour.( I suspect it was probably cooked in 50-70 degrees oil). Was accompanied with a samosa of sorts with pigeon leg inside which tasted just as good. Came with pistachio nuts with gave a nice variety of texture and the espuma(which i forgot what it was, also forgot what vegetables it came with) was completely moped up by everyone at their table. Very well done. thumbs up.

Exactly what it was: a piece of white chocolate with caviar on top of it. This was another bit of food psychology as you would never associate chocolate and caviar together. Tastewise, it was interesting to see how sweet and salty could actually blend into a overall pleasant taste. Interesting combination.

Was kept as a surprise by the restaurant since we tried to enquire what this was. Arrived with a tiny pamphlet about Mrs Marshall being the first person to invent the edible ice cream cone. It arrived as a tiny cornet with some ice cream in it, served with an edible rose petal. Rose petal tasted surprisingly quite nice, though the ice cream or the cornet was quite forgettable, to the extent I can't even remember what it tasted like. A bit too gimmicky with the pamphlet and it being a 'surprise' so from an expectation's standpoint, totally fell flat. I can't help but think that this is a rip off from Thomas Keller's French Laundry since one of his signature dishes is the salmon tartare cornet.......

Came in this tiny paper container containing very fine powder with a vanilla stirrer of sorts. Was instructed to just take a swig and let the powder reside in the mouth. Did as instructed and there was a lot more powder than i expected. Must say that the power is very fine and just melts in your mouth leaving a very sweet taste. To this day, have no idea what it actually was; but it sure did give everyone a suger high of some sorts.

MANGO AND D0UGLAS FIR PUREEBavarois of lychee and mango, blackcurrant sorbet
Presentation was very bizarre I must say since there was a mango bavarois(gelatin and whipped cream dessert) with a dash of mango puree by its side and another dollop of mango puree somewhere else that resembled an egg yoke. This was accompanied with a sorbet of blackcurrant sorbet and tiny jellies of mango and blackcurrant. Tastewise, the bavarois was once again rather forgettable but the sorbet and the puree were well done with clean flavours.

Essentially was a carrot and orange lolliopop meant to show the pushing of the boundaries of cooking. Nothing exceptional tastewise

Bavarois of basil and beetroot jelly arrived together and were told to eat the bavarois before the jelly. The bavarois was very strong in terms of its basil taste with a creamy texture which wasn't really to my liking personally. Similarly, the beetroot jelly was very strong in its taste but the texture was slightly more chewy and I thought this was very nicely done.

This was just a little too over the top for me. It came in a small Fat Duck cereal box with Fat Duck wrapping with the parsnip cereal inside. There was a small container of parsnip milk to be poured into the bowl with the cereal. After all the fanfare, it tasted quite horrible to be honest. This would be the best example of trying to be too creative for creativity's sake. Big thumbs down from me.

The last of the signature dishes of Fat Duck and definitely one to screw your mind with. Not only was he playing with the flavours of ice cream but he deliberately chose to use a breakfast theme at the end of the meal: starting with the cereal and ending with 'bacon and eggs' and tea jelly. Arriving on the plate was smoked bacon and egg ice cream, french toast and caramel. Most of the attention was on the ice cream, and rightly so, since it was probably culinary brilliance to produce something that tasted so close to the real thing.(Regardless of whether you actually like bacon and eggs as an ice cream) French Toast was well executed and pleasant, careful not to steal the limelight from the ice cream. The caramel was incredibly concentrated and intense which i liked considering I do have a sweet tooth. Tea jelly came in this half cracked egg shell container which was nice aesthetically and the tea jelly was nice and refreshing especially with the intense flavours on the plate. On the whole, i do appreciate the whole breakfast theme of dessert which was interesting but apart from the smoked bacon and egg ice cream, I don’t think I found anything else memorable(From White chocolate and caviar to this course). Perhaps it was personal bias but i was hoping for desserts that were a lot more assertive in flavour and perhaps something more conventional to give a nice, sweet end to the meal.

The food psychology continues with unconventional flavours for chocolates. Call me old fashioned, but I like my chocolates the way they were. The leather chocolates were quite alright actually with a nice subtle 'leathery' after taste to it. The oak one was quite similar, though you could not really make out the oak taste. The tobacco chocolate was just wrong, the less said about it, the better. Innovate they definitely were but i think a this is a classic example of trying to be clever once again.

Tartlet was very rich in taste and provided a sweet end to the meal which probably was the intention of the chef.

Overall, it was definitely a pleasant dining experience, enhanced by having really good company (thank you ladies, but we still have unfinished business in the form of French Laundry by 2010), service and wine. This meal was supposed to be about food nostalgia and I'm not sure whether it was achieved, possibly also because of cultural differences. My main criticism would be that the amuse bouche were really good and played up my expectation of the upcoming courses which were good but did not live up to the highest expecatitons that I set. Also, some of his courses were hit and miss, but that could be due to personal preferences and with such a large menu, it would be difficult to please everyone's palates with such 'controversial food'. However, is no doubt that Heston Blumenthal is one of the most creative culinary artists, and as a foodie, I would consider this is a 'must try'. Whether you like it or not, at least you can claim to have tried such nouvelle cuisine.

Scribbled by: Justin Low


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderfully thought out post. The foie gras and piegeon did me in. Thoughts still lingering in my head. Why was there no mention of the wonderful white wine? It was definitely a Baron Reisling right? Only thing I would change is to order a proper Chateauneuf.

7:31 AM  
Blogger Amanduh said...

So who went to eat this? Man! I would love to have a meal there, sounds really interesting!

2:21 PM  
Blogger joone! said...

The brother! I wished i was there. Boo.

3:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ya lor some pple all so rich =p
next time anyone got S$500 to spare I'll go =)

5:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there!
Wow, what an informative and interesting read. I aprecciate your brother's honest evaluation of all the different dishes - he didn't seem to be intimidated by the place's reputation ;)

12:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice review, however I think you have totally missed the point with the ice cream cornet. America claimed the first edible ice cream cornet at a worlds trade fair (forgive me i forget exactly which year), but was then discovered that this lady margaret marshall had done the very smae thing 15 years earlier, it is merely homage to this lady that this dish resides on the menu as we are all too quick to dismiss some of our history, incidentally she also was the first person to discover how to make ice cream with liquid air(nitrogen) a mere 8 years after they first managed to liquify it.

6:25 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

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1:35 AM  

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