Monday, November 27, 2006

Culinary Alchemy at The Fat Duck, Bray, UK

As you walk through the sleepy village of Bray, nestled on the River Thames in Royal Berkshire, you would not necessarily be aware of the gastronmic delights contained within its boundaries. Bray is home to two of the UK's three 3* Michelin restaurants, The Waterside Inn, owned and run by the Roux family, and The Fat Duck, owned and run by Heston Blumenthal.

The Fat Duck is just a few miles from the Queen of England's castle in Windsor and was named as 'the best restaurant in the world' in 2005 by Restaurant magazine. It has now slipped ever so slightly to number two after El Bulli in Spain but that just leaves room for further improvement...perfection needs to be challenged every now and then, and Heston Blumenthal no doubt relishes the competition.

Brits today take an average of 27 minutes for a lunch break and spend £ me, you'll spend longer and a lot more on lunch at The Fat Duck...but enjoy every mouthful.

The biggest hurdle, apart from the financial shock of spending upwards of £80 a head on a meal, and that's without wine, is that you'll have to book months in advance and don't expect to take a huge party; the restaurant is small and the largest table seats six. As you walk through the village past Mr Blumenthal's other enterprise, The Hind's Head, you could be forgiven for walking past one of England's finest with no visible name and only the licencee's name plate giving away the secret of what is housed behind the door and solid walls of this former country pub. Modestly decorated with clean, simple and unpretentious furnishings, you are greeted by the multi-national waiters and from there on in the culinary journaey begins.

An invitation to a glass of champagne from a selection is issued, without a price guide I hasten to add, and then the menu is presented. There is a tasting menu at £97.75 which includes some of Heston's infamous dishes, such as 'snail porridge' and 'egg and bacon ice cream' cooked in front of you in liquid nitrogen. The a la carte, however, offers three wonderful courses supplemented by a number of taster dishes in the interludes between courses. Examples of the sampling morsels offered include 'mustard ice cream in a red cabbage gazpacho', 'oyster in a passion fruit jelly on a bed of lavender salt', 'carrot and orange lollipops' and 'beetroot jellies'. One of the main courses, 'sole veronique', was served with a 'parsley foam', a 'champagne gel' and simply the best chips I've ever tasted - the secret is apparently the type of potato and that they are cooked twice. For dessert my friend received a pleasant surprise with her space-dust infused chocolate desert sending her back to her childhood as mini-explosions took place in her mouth.

Heston Blumenthal has created his niche by specialising in what is termed 'molecular gastronomy' combined with an interest in the psychology of eating. Over the past ten years or so he has worked with leading food scientisits to break down the barriers of both our perception of food and the way food is both cooked and combined. He examines flavour and cooking processes in their minutae and likes to play with colour, expectation and taste. He has even established his own Fat Duck laboratory in Bray. This innovative approach to food has lead to Blumenthal being named as one of the world's most influential chefs.

The meal we enjoyed took 3 hours and cost just over £110 each with wine and coffee. Above the national average in every sense but truly a magical experience...a masterpiece of culinary alchemy.

The Fat Duck
High Street
Tel: 01628 580 333

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