The Fat Duck
1 High Street
Bray On Thames
The Fat Duck is located in the High Street of Bray On Thames, one of Englands most beautiful villages. Bray is home to several very nice pubs, a post office, a hotel and shed loads of very wealthy people with wads of cash burning holes in their gardening cords.
Heston Blumenthal, Fat Duck chef/proprietor, understood that these people were deprived in having only one internationaly renowned restaurant that used to be an old pub (i.e. The Waterside Inn), and promply opened another.
The inhabitants of Bray now have a choice of two venues at which to fritter away their childrens inheritance. Make no mistake, The Fat Duck is expensive as I found out when I ate dinner there in March 2001.
Blumenthal's cooking is school of scientific food writer Harold Magee, out of the Spainish surrealism of Ferran Adria via the ultra naturalism of Michel Bras. If a correspondent of the Chowhound site (see the links page) is right, Blumenthal is not just influenced by these left of field chefs, as he openly admits, but has in fact lifted a number of his menu items directly from their repertoires, which he does not. Naughty, naughty.
Much has been made in the press of Chef Blumenthal and his chums in the science lab. We however will not concern ourselves with the miraculous and mysterious processes that food is subjected to in The Fat Duck kitchen.
Rather, we will concentrate on what he actually delivers for the £55.00 a head he is currently charging, and if you should be getting as hot under the collar about it as some of our more estimed food critics have of late. The short answer to that question is an emphatic no. The emperor has no clothes on, and no one has told him. Until now.
The meal began with a trio of amuse bouche which proclaimed the out of the ordinariness of the restaurant:
- A Tea and Lime Sour, which arrived in the form of a shot glass of white foam and was described as a palate cleanser.
- Pea Puree, Pigeon Jelly and Crab Cream - a mercifully tiny cup with each element of the dish layered one on the other. This was verging on the unpleasant, and a warning signal that perhaps the meal was not going to be the gastronomic delight I was hoping for.
Grain Mustard Ice Cream in Red Cabbage Gazpacho - another tiny portion, pleasant, but quite sweet for the beginning of a meal. How different is this idea from the dreaded mid meal sorbet?
All were served with superb bread and butter.
Then came the first course proper. The undoubted highlight of the meal and the only dish that was truly successful: Crab Biscuit with Foie Gras and Marinated Salmon, Oyster Vinaigrette. It has been on their menu since they opened and it was easy to see why.
A small, but perfectly cooked slab of liver was sandwiched between the crab wafers and rested on some crispy seaweed and raw marinated salmon. The whole thing was finished with the shellfish dressing, which in fact did not taste in the least of oysters, but was fine never the less. A fantastic way to start a meal, and where I should have asked for the bill.
I chose the most "Blumenthalesque" sounding main course; a rather unedifying combination of sweetbreads cooked in a salt crust with cockles a la plancha and parsnip puree, on the basis of in for a penny in for a pound. It was a mistake. Again the portion was small, but this time I was glad. The offal was unpleasantly salty and the cockles added nothing to the overall dish. A non event.
Pre desserts of red pepper lollies and fennel sweets, were served before a badly prepared Tatin of Peaches with bitter and overcooked caramel. It came with Bay Leaf and Almond Foam , I never would have guessed, and some very nice vanilla ice cream. This was followed by petit fours of tobacco flavoured chocolates and whisps of bacon caramel (enough already with the queer gear). Coffee was excellent.
The wine list is an impressive document covering all areas of the globe in some depth. However, a good quarter of the bottles were unavailable on the night I dined. I chose a Jeffery Grosset riesling at £29.00 which didn't really do much for the food. But what, I wonder would.
The room is obviously a converted pub, but comfortable enough. Service is terrific. However, the overall experience is really of a local restaurant trying very hard, rather than a luxurious destination venue. The cost, as mentioned before is very much in accordance with the latter.
The Fat Duck simply fails to deliver the goods. At the risk of going on, inconsistancy of the product, whether that be in it's conception or execution, is unacceptable at these prices. The impression is of a dedicated and curious professional, experimenting on his customers. I for one don't intend to make myself a guinea pig again.
Andy Lynes March 2001
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