I once got an e-mail via Friends Reunited asking, “Are you the Fraser with gorgeous hair who could swallow a large sausage whole without gagging?”. I had to admit that I was, and looking back, these regular feats of epicurean stupidity are some of my strongest memories from college. Another trick was to show up at my campus canteen, collect a plate of shepherds pie and a serving of apple crumble, nonchalantly combine them in the same dish, then cover with custard and get stuck in, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
This wasn’t an attempt to push the boundaries of culinary experimentation, of course – I was just showing off – but the regular looks of horror on the faces of my fellow diners seemed to suggest that I’d broken some kind of ancient gastronomic taboo. To me it was obvious: I like shepherds pie. I like apple crumble. I like custard. Is there any reason, apart from conventional kitchen wisdom, why I shouldn’t enjoy the three together?
I’m not suggesting that it’s solely this kind of simple reasoning that drives chef Heston Blumenthal and his team at the Fat Duck – his approach gets far more scientific – but it is the perceived mismatches of ingredients which have, for better or worse, become his trademark. This is a pity, because there’s much more to The Fat Duck – the official best restaurant in the World for 2005 – than the infamous snail porridge and the equally-so bacon and egg ice-cream.
The restaurant is situated in the obviously well-to-do village of Bray, Berkshire, 40 minutes west of London by train followed by a five minute cab ride. Inside it’s surprisingly cosy – low wooden beams and only 45 seats. It’s also very relaxed – nearly every diner is dressed casually, and there’s none of the stuffiness often associated with more expensive establishments. We arrive early, but are seated immediately and served quickly. We opt for the Tasting Menu, 16 courses of bite-sized splendour.
Nitro-Green Tea And Lime Mousse
Oyster, Passion Fruit Jelly, Horseradish Cream, Lavender
Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream, Red Cabbage Gazpacho
Jelly Of Quail, Langoustine Cream, Parfait Of Foie Gras
Snail Porridge, Jabugo Ham, Shaved Fennel
Roast Foie Gras, Almond Fluid Gel, Cherry And Chamomile
Sardine On Toast Sorbet, Ballotine Of Mackerel “invertebrate”, Marinated Daikon
Salmon Poached With Liquorice, Asparagus, Pink Grapefruit, “Manni” Olive Oil
Poached Breast Of Anjou Pigeon Pancetta, Pastilla Of Its Leg, Pistachio, Cocoa And Quatre Ã‰pices
White Chocolate And Caviar
Mrs Marshall’s Margaret Cornet
Pine Sherbet Fountain
Mango And Douglas Fir Puree, Bavarois Of Lychee And Mango, Blackcurrant Sorbet
Carrot And Orange Tuile, Bavarois Of Basil, Beetroot Jelly
Smoked Bacon And Egg Ice Cream, Pain Perdu, Tea Jelly
Leather, Oak And Tobacco Chocolates
It’s fantastic. Every moment is a surprise, from the steaming bowl of liquid nitrogen that theatrically accompanies the first course, to the wafer-thin pieces of white chocolate covered with caviar we’re instructed to let melt on our tongues. Each course is accompanied by a small glass of wine chosen especially to best compliment the taste of the food – a SavenniÃ¨res from the Loire Valley, or a cold Junami Ginjo sake from Japan, each time presented with a story – where it comes from, what it tastes like, and why it works with the dish we’re about to start.
Everything is immaculately introduced with a mixture of pride and playful glee, and the results are nothing short of sensational, each bite a moment of near-sensual pleasure. I imagine the entire experience could only be improved with the introduction of large-breasted maidens offering executive relief from beneath the table.
Any complaints? The snail porridge didn’t seem to elicit the same, joyous, laugh-out-loud reaction that almost everything else on the menu did, and I did have a ‘Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup’ moment after a tiny bug dive-bombed into my Manzanilla en rama. I’m happy to say that the glass was replaced immediately, and without fuss.
So is it worth the money? By any normal criteria, obviously not.
I’ve flown to New York for less than my share of the bill, which came in at about the same price as my monthly grocery spend. For the same kind of money I could have bought 467 Mars Bars. Or 83 pints of Guiness. Or fed a hungry African child for close to five years. It’s ludicrous, and it’s crass, but I don’t begrudge spending a penny of it. I doubt whether I’ve ever eaten so well or been fed so graciously, and it’s unlikely that I ever will again.
Unless, of course, I get funding for my next project, a movie called Supersize Moi, in which I document how my body reacts to eating at The Fat Duck for an entire month.
But right now I’m off to the kitchen to start experimenting. I have a helium-filled goat placenta I’m going to infuse with lentil extract, then serve on a bed of chewing gum in a rhubarb jus.
That service charge is fucking cheeky, seeing as you’ve already paid the mark up on the wine and it’s on top of the bill including VAT but I don’t think the actual cooking is overpriced.
Who did you go with, you stylish roue?
Everyone should have an obscenely extravagent meal at an incredibly fine restaurant at least once in their lives.
I was at the Fat Duck this Thursday, and I’m still having nightmares about the credit card bill. I’m also lying to all my friends about the true cost of the meal (ever so slightly more that Fraser’s) due to guilt – I’m a student after all!. I should be spending money on books and beer. However, I agree with you and ladygoat that it had to be done at least once in my life. The food was amazing. I wasn’t too keen on the salmon which you have pictured above, but everthing else was stunning. The Bacon & Egg Ice cream was by far the best thing I have ever tasted, especially with that wonderful Greek desert wine that came with it. I will never forget the experience. To anyone thinking of going, you must!! This is a chef at the height of his success. Just take a credit card and don’t look at the prices.
You’re a student? Christ. It took me to the age of 39 to decide I could afford this kind of once-in-a-lifetime experience. Agree with you on the ice-cream, though. Best. Thing. Ever.
Thanks fraser. I was really keen on going to the Fat Duck and this was a truly useful review. My main problem is not with the credit card bill, but convincing someone else to dent their card!
I will start on the 8 month psychological barrage needed to convice my mates. Go on, go on, go on, go on!.
It’s worth noting that the service charge is *optional*.
How much?!?!?! My God man – do you know how many Bernis that is?
I can’t believe that receipt! But I totally agree that these things need to be tried, so thanks for sharing your experience.
I saw Heston on telly the other day sharing his snail porridge recipie…he seemed like a really nice bloke and it didnt look half as bad as what I assumed, but I can’t help think that snails are pretty useless without their tasty trimmings?
I’d love a description as to what his caviar & white chocolate is like, as my budget only stretches to imagination at the moment!
Why not try to make some oversized Snail Porridge?
…with giant sea snails, presumably.
The duck-fat sounds marvellous. Doubt I’ll be going any time soon though.
Wow, I’m so jealous. But I have to admit to having a rather big Yorkshire “Fuck me!” at the size of the bill.
I’m against service charging, you make your profit from your mark up and your wages should be included in that.
It might be worth asking whether the service charge goes to the restaurant or to the staff in the form of tips, I make a point of NEVER paying a service charge that is kept by the owners.
I really want to go to the Fat Duck, I once managed to get through Â£240 on dinner for two in Rome and thought we’d really pushed the boat out, it just hurts when you convert that bill back into hours of work done in your own establishment, I’ll have to sell a lot of bacon butties to get there.
I am eye-stabbingly jealous. But then again, if I don’t go then I can afford my rent. Swings and roundabouts, innit?
I’m with you on the service charge. The Fat Duck’s website claims it to be optional, but the bill doesn’t mention this. Having said that, the service was supurb – discreet yet efficient, and extremely knowledgeable – people who’d chosen waiting as a serious profession as opposed to a means to an end, I guess – they were all French. And I suspect they’d get more than the averaqe 12% if the the charge wasn’t included.
Does your place have a website, Yorkshiresoul?
This meal looks and sounds amazing. I will go.
My most expensive, to date is Gordon Ramsey in Chelsea. About the same cost and still the very best value meal I’ve ever eaten. Laugh-out-loud and tears-in-my-eyes moments aplenty.
The waiters, in particular the sommelier, were true professionals who added so much to the experience. Such a shame that other places don’t realise the impact poorly trained or unmotivated waiting staff have on their reputation. Many times I’ve asked for details of a dish, only to be told they don’t know!
I don’t have a website for the business, I’m the catering franchise holder for Ilkley Golf Club, I think I get a mention on their site.
Crikey. I think I’ve actually had lunch there, about eight years ago. I had a girlfriend whose dad was a member. Might not have been Ilkley, but it does sound very familiar…
I’ve only been here 5 years, and we’re not exactly Fat Duck standard.
I always thought Sketch (off Regents St) was the most expensive restaurant in the country, 65 quid for a starter and a couple of hundred for a main – but ducky pisses all over it in terms of quality.
Fraser, this food looks terribly yucky! it’s abstract art straight out of some unrealeased Tintin album. And it’s not even french, blimey.
I was interested to read your comments about your recent visit to the Fat Duck. I have just left the restaurant, after working there for a month in their kitchen. As I think the pictures and some of your comments testify- Heston Blumenthal and his team put in a great deal of hard work in to the creation of the dishes available. I accept that this is an expensive experience and one that cannot be afforded by many of us (including myself). However, the labour and food costs involved do justify such prices, let alone the opportunity to dine in what is, surely, one of the most innovative restaurants in the country.
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE make “Supersize Moi”. It’s such a brilliant, funny idea. A budget of 7,500 pounds would cover you eating there for 30 nights – maybe they’d let you do it for free anyway if you’re making a film! I laughed for an hour thinking about it.
Surely “Supersize Moi” should be about the effects on your wallet as much as on your body?
Great post and great blog, btw.
Doesn’t look or sound very appetising I’m afraid. But I suppose that’s why it’s so expensive: keeps normal people out, so the masses can’t find out that it’s not as good as the hype suggests. Same with all these ‘top’ chefs really.
For Â£460 I’d expect more than a few tiny morsels splattered about on a plate, I’d expect a meal that was so big it came in a skip.
Â£52 service charge? For writing some things on a piece of paper, and taking some plates to a table? Good work if you can get it. That works out to be about a thousand pounds an hour by my calculations. On that wage you could afford to eat there!
Can you skip the service charge and have the waiters’ wages taken from the bill if you get the plates yourself?
For a ‘once in a lifetime experience’ I might be tempted if the food looked even remotely appetising. Why can’t he do some chips or a nice kebab, like real people eat? Does anyone actually like asparagus? Tastes like plants to me.
On another note can anyone tell me what the following words mean:
Almond Fluid Gel
Cornet Pine Sherbet Fountain
How do you order if you don’t know what any of it is?
reply to Joe:
seriously if you expect the world’s best restraunt to serve chips then you should really not be eating it.
and if you’re picky even with asparagus then you should obvoiusly NOT be trying out any new food
and seroiusly if you dont know what any of those words mean, you obviously have never cooked food. possibly never eaten anything above and beyond chips
and no… not everyone eats oily fatty chips. infact i lychee is such a common fruit in asia, pancetta such common meat in europe
you can’t miss foie gras if you even watch food tv shows..
and no not many people eating foie gras would consider chips too tastey
I would pay double that to get the privilege of eat such fine food from a great Chef you are lucky you have the opportunity to eat in such places as The Fat Duck, Gordon Ramseys and other Restaurants of this standard. Get over it.
Wow all u guys r so lucky to have been 2 da fat duck ok i know i’m only 14 but i really want to go!!!! I hope to be a chef when i’m older and i believe that it is good to try stuff even if u dont like it! And Joe (Above) i do know the meaning of all your listed foods i recomend you look them up in a recipy bk or watch “Shrek” for the meaning of parfait!! lol
After looking at those photos, not to mention the bill, I would say that a trip to the market, and then returning home to open a good bottle of red, while cooking a love filled meal for my closest friends… is a far more rewarding and valuable experience than wasting a penny making ‘The Duck’ any fatter!
The menu is a shambles of flavours, the presentation is a laughable journey back to the seventies, and quite frankly, I fail to see the attraction.
hello everyone, I do see the issues many would have with the price and diverse style of cooking. Being a student my diet mainly consists of the aformentioned kebabs and chips (mainly pizza actually) but recently i had the absolute pleasure of going to visit the fat duck. The service was ludicrously brilliant and food stunning and at 250 a head you would hope so too.
It is a once in a lifetime thing, dont think I’ll be able to go again till i’m retired but if you enjoy food go. if you dont know your foie gras from your parfait go, if you dont think it’ll be worth it still go in fact the only thing holding me back is actually not having enough to my name to afford it.
joe… oh dear, oh dear – keep eating your kebab & chips mate…
we’re going this week and i expect it to be amazing…
All this talk of high priced food and overrated taste has left me despairing for the meaning of food. A gastronomical assault is not a requisite to a financial overhaul when it comes to happy dining. You can aliken the experience to foreign films, in that the presence of subtitles are no guarantee of a great movie. Matt, whatever happened to the days of good old fashioned home cooked persian eggs and caviar? Where have they gone? And by the way, where have you gone?
Food is meant for survival. What has been presented in the menu and the plating of the restaurant is fine dining. As for opinions they are just that. Personally, myself being a culinary student, I would love to try dining at The Fat Duck. It is an extremely unique menu which is exciting. As for the service charge, It is acceptable if the service is quick, not as if to rush you out, but as to meet your current needs, not to mention explanations on wine parings and so on. I am being taught not only to cook, but to accept cooking of all shapes and forms. Open mindedness is the way to go. So cheers to those who do enjoy pricey meals not just for the cost of dining, but the atmosphere, service, tastes, and experience deserve a pat on the back.
As for the chef to be, good luck, its a great experience.
The usual cliche applies, life is too short, one’s gotta experience a 3 star establishment no matter how limited one’s budget is. Went for lunch yesterday, despite the a la carte menu appearing more tempting, like everyone else going for the first time the tasting menu is the raison d’etre.
After 4 hours, I was left not bloated nor hungry, in fact because of all the lingering after tastes I didn’t have any appetite for dinner. The star dishes were: Jelly Of Quail, Langoustine Cream, Parfait Of Foie Gras; Roast Foie Gras, Almond Fluid Gel, Cherry And Chamomile and as Michael Winner would put it, the Poached Breast Of Anjou Pigeon Pancetta, Pastilla Of Its Leg, Pistachio, Cocoa And Quatre Ã‰pices was ‘triple historic’. Totally disappointing was the remarkably bland Salmon Poached With Liquorice, Asparagus, Pink Grapefruit, â€œManniâ€ Olive Oil. The much reported Snail Porridge, Jabugo Ham, Shaved Fennel didn’t exactly raise any goose pimples and the Douglas Fir Puree reminded me of a lavatory cleaner.
Service was exemplary and friendly, except for the rather incomprehensible description of the dishes from the stunning female waiting staff. Ambience was relaxed and not at all icy like most other 3 star joints.
All in all, it’s worth it, shall be going back for the a la carte.
Well, we went and it was, as expected, amazing. You cannot put a price on good food, and this was exceptional; from the moment we sat down and experienced the waiter preparing nitro-mousse, actually in liquid nitrogen at the table, to the after dinner cereal box and the hot and cold tea (which has to be experienced to be believed!), the 4 hour dining feast was exceptional and probably difficult to rival the world over. I have to agree with Bellaphon, the only slight disappointment was the Liquorice Salmon, which was still excellent, but not as â€˜mind blowing\’ as the other courses\’. The Fat Duck is definitely worthy of the 3 Michelin stars, the attention to detail for the whole evening was second to none, even down to the paper used for the menu! I cannot recommend this highly enough. (P.S: Joe, Unfortunately for you there were no kebabs and chips on the menu so you\’d better sit this one outâ€¦!)
I liked your review of the Duck, but mine is even longer (anticook.blogspot.com)
The Fat Duck IS an expensive meal but having eaten there, it is like no other culinary experience I have ever had. I would gladly pay Â£230 once to experience it than have 10 rubbish Â£23 meals. Sure most restaurants are a fraction of this price but the Fat Duck has passion and excitement that simply isn’t found from a Â£10 microwaved meal served by a Â£6 / hour bored teenager in a chain pub.
Comparisons between price is just missing the point. It’s like saying why would you WANT to drive a ferrari when you can buy a lada…sometimes life has just got to be enjoyed once.
I know Joe said that he would ‘expect more than a few tiny morsels splattered about on a plate, I\’d expect a meal that was so big it came in a skip.’, but the amount of courses in the taster menu simply wouldn’t allow big plates. I came out of the meal full, satisfied, amazed and albeit a little lighter financially. This place is for people that think meals aren’t just about having chips with something!
Just for the comparisons on price i’m sure that you can get into many ‘cheeky girl’ gigs for the price of a david bowie ticket…
For the price, you would think that this restaurant could manage the least little bit of graciousness.
We had made a reservation for two several months in advance. The day before we were to dine our host in Lausanne, Switzerland, asked if he could join us. I called the Fat Duck to inquire and was told that although they were fully booked it would be worth the risk for our third to come all the way from Lausanne.
When we arrived we were told that they would not in any way accommodate our third. Given the restaurant’s policy of requiring full payment on a reservation, our third headed over to the inn also owned by the same management thinking that the restaurant would manage to find a way to accommodate us.
To say that the restaurant made no effort whatsoever to accommodate us would actually overstate their hospitality.
Although the food was tolerably good I thought the whizz-bang presentation sophomoric at best. Mr. Science needs some schooling in good manners.
As long as there are assholes willing to pay that kind of money, they ridhtly deserve to be treated like assholes.
Like in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, you are all just pompous pricks to vain to see the truth.
Pompous, perhaps, but at least we can manufacture a sentence that an adult might comprehend as English.
regardless of any mark ups or high prices the waitor has to pay a tip out to the bar bussers and usually host staff on our total sales, usually 3% to 6% of sales regardless of how much that you tip.
example if our sales are 100 dollars then we have to tip out at least 3 dollars and if your cheap ass left 5 then i made 2 dollars, when i should of been tipped 20 dollars so i would of made 17.
i think that a service charge should be on every ticket, at least a 15% to 18%