UK- The Fat Duck- ✪✪✪

Heston Blumenthal occupies a quasi-mythic status in the fine dining world, so let's start with that. His Big Idea is to recast fine dining as an experience in storytelling rather than eating, but not in a boring, let-me-tell-you-where-the-chef-found-this-particular-lobster kind of way. More like a multisensory memory walkthrough from childhood, with lots half-serious yet artful emulations of Alice in Wonderland to boot. While charming, be prepared for lots of instruction, long anecdotes, and windy explanations recited like memorized lines as well as service staff might be expected to recite. Some of those lines are charming. Some are teeth-grindingly awkward. Also expect an extremely leisurely pace; we clocked in at over 4.5 hours. 

 The Fat Duck's "Coat of Arms"

The Fat Duck's "Coat of Arms"

As you approach his building, you confront a prominent bronze plaque emblazoned on the outside. This is Heston Blumenthal's coat of arms, so to speak, representing the senses—lavender for smell, a lyre for hearing, apple for taste, a hand for touch, etc. Quite tellingly, the motto at the bottom reads, "Question Everything." 

 Heston Blumenthal. Credit: CNN

Heston Blumenthal. Credit: CNN

Returning from their successful stage in Melbourne, Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck immediately regained its 3-star status in the 2017 Michelin guidebook. Since not much of the equation that has made them so famous hass changed, it's unsurprising that they should be immediately welcomed back. I would group The Fat Duck alongside Bo Innovation in Hong Kong and Alinea in Chicago as, without question, the three most creative and showmanship-oriented 3-star restaurants in the entire world. Years ago, Heston publicly disavowed the term "molecular gastronomy" in favor of his preferred nomenclature, "modernism." However described, after spending an evening at his restaurant he in inarguably taking fine dining in a new and much more engaging direction. 

BRAY, UK

SERVICE: 8.0/10

FOOD: 8.0/10

PRICE PAID: $410PP (INCL. WATER, TAX, TIP- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 7.5/10

FINAL SCORE: 8.0/10

 Fat Duck Place Settings

Fat Duck Place Settings

 Fat Duck Dining Room

Fat Duck Dining Room

 Upstairs

Upstairs

 Fat Duck Dining Room

Fat Duck Dining Room

 Fat Duck Dining Room 

Fat Duck Dining Room 

The interior decoration of this building was really something to behold... "Whimsical" doesn't even come close. Each room has a light cannon sitting the table above that modifies the color of illumination based on what course is being served. As we first enter, you can see in the photos above that everything is quite red, representing sunset on the day before our journey. More to come on that in a sec. 

 "The Map" - Menu

"The Map" - Menu

A map is brought over to our table and unfolded with great drama. We are told at enormous, ponderous length that this map is a map of our journey to come. Broken up into chapters like a book, and with teeny-tiny course descriptions underneath for those actually interested in what they would be eating. A great deal of care and craftsmanship went into creating this map, and I daresay it looks incredible. "As you look at this map, can you imagine how your journey will unfold?" We are asked, somewhat open-endedly. Heston's staff needs to work on how much they talk down to patrons who are clearly meant to be absolutely and completely fucking aghast at how amazing this is. It's pretty great, don't get me wrong. But it's not quite as amazing as they think I should feel. 

 Course 1A: "A Change of Air," Frozen Aperitifs, 8/10

Course 1A: "A Change of Air," Frozen Aperitifs, 8/10

Next, up rolls a charming liquid-nitrogen aperitifs cart. The options for frozen-solid drinks included:

  • Paloma with tequila
  • Vodka sour with lime
  • Campari soda
  • Piña colada

I went with the Piña colada. Sorry for the red light effect, it was shining pretty strongly at this point. 8/10.

 Course 1B: "A Change-of-Air," Beetroot + Horseradish, 8/10

Course 1B: "A Change-of-Air," Beetroot + Horseradish, 8/10

This next morsel, designed to accompany the aperitif as a two-part dish titled titled "A Change-of-air," was a macaron of beetroot with spicy horseradish cream. Super light, spicy, and airy. The freeze-dried beet texture is particularly excellent. Crispy and delightful pairing of flavors. 8/10.

 Course 2: "Just the Tonic We Need," Gin + Tonic, 9/10

Course 2: "Just the Tonic We Need," Gin + Tonic, 9/10

Another charming yet lengthy story opens this course. This time, the server regales us with the stresses of traveling all the way to Cornwall: kids in the backseat whining, car trouble, missed directions, etc. The first drink one's parents would want after such an experience, we are told, is a G&T. This dish is basically a deconstructed version, with lots of hot and cold, green wheatgrassy flavored broth, and a touch of gin ice cream in the middle brings everything together perfectly. 9/10. 

 Course 3: "Excuse Me, My Tea Seems To Be Cold... And Hot," 8/10

Course 3: "Excuse Me, My Tea Seems To Be Cold... And Hot," 8/10

Moving on to "chapter 2" of the menu, "breakfast"—some tea which is hot and cold at the same time. It's really a mid-blowing effect, but despite appearing to have a homogenous constitution, this beverage is quite viscous and feels like two opposing flavors at once. 8/10.  

 Course 4: "Why Do I have to Choose Between A Variety Pack and a Cooked Breakfast?" 10/10

Course 4: "Why Do I have to Choose Between A Variety Pack and a Cooked Breakfast?" 10/10

The next course was, hands down, one of the most interesting and fully-executed ideas I have ever come across in fine dining. Six shrink-wrapped mini-cereals fashioned in the fake-brands of Heston Blumenthal's imaginary journey, each complete with cover art, nutritional information, and actual cereal. 

 "Brisk Bites" 

"Brisk Bites" 

 ... Complete With "Nutritional Info" 

... Complete With "Nutritional Info" 

 Course 4: Inside the Cereal Boxes

Course 4: Inside the Cereal Boxes

Included in each box were precision-cut puzzle pieces that could be fashioned into a coin-holder. Referring back to a survey I answered before attending the meal, the restaurant had decorated one of the pieces with the likenesses of my two dogs. Totally charming. 10/10 just for the creativity alone. 

 Course 4: Cereal + Milk Curd, 10/10

Course 4: Cereal + Milk Curd, 10/10

The milk curd and cereal were excellent; like those last sugary bites at the end of the bowl that you remember from when you were a kid. 10/10.

 Course 5: "The Sound of the Sea"

Course 5: "The Sound of the Sea"

 Course 5: "The Sound of the Sea"

Course 5: "The Sound of the Sea"

The next dish—"Sound of the Sea"—is precipitated by a seashell with headphones. Pumping out the ear buds is a relaxation-CD style sound of ocean waves, brought to you by the iPod shuffle seen on the right. 

 Course 5: "The Sound of the Sea,"

Course 5: "The Sound of the Sea,"

The meal itself is served on a "plate" with a drop shadow of sand. On top of the glass surface are Yellowtail, mackerel, vegetable stock foam, octopus, and coriander seed. 10/10, zingy-fresh and a delightfully constructed dish. 

 Course 6A: "Can I Have Some Money For An Ice Cream?" 7/10

Course 6A: "Can I Have Some Money For An Ice Cream?" 7/10

Next, a "rocket" and "twister" ice cream bars; I suspect those brands mean more to UK residents than to this American. The rocket is Waldorf salad. On the right is salmon smoked jasmine tea, horseradish avocado mousse. Avocado and smoked salmon is strongly flavored. Maybe too strongly flavored; it overpowers the delicateness of the Waldorf rocket pop. 7/10.

 Course 6B: "Can I Have Some Money For An Ice Cream?" Crab + Passion Fruit Ice Cream, 9/10

Course 6B: "Can I Have Some Money For An Ice Cream?" Crab + Passion Fruit Ice Cream, 9/10

As a follow-up, we are brought small cones of crab ice cream with passion fruit and a chocolate stick. The incredibly rich crab pairs perfectly with the sweet, tropical passion fruit tones. 9/10.

 Course 7: "Then We Went Rockpooling," Crab + Caviar, 9/10

Course 7: "Then We Went Rockpooling," Crab + Caviar, 9/10

The trick of this next dish is the "Melting crab" served with caviar. As the broth is poured over, the "skin" of the crab melts away, just as the skittish sea creatures one might try to capture disappear beneath the waves. Caviar and tiny pieces of Cornish crab remain, along with golden trout roe. The underlying sauce is made from white chocolate and seaweed, giving it a Very Very Rich profile. 8/10, if only because it's too ungodly rich.

 Course 8: "Damping Through The Boroughgroves," Biodome presentation

Course 8: "Damping Through The Boroughgroves," Biodome presentation

An enormous biodome-like container arrived next on our table, along with a very long story about hiking through the forest. We are asked to reminisce about the smell of the forest just after rain.

The server poured liquid in, and immediately strong after-rain smells/smoke poured out of forest diorama.

 Course 8: "Damping Through The Boroughgroves," Mushroom + Beet + Blackberry, 8/10

Course 8: "Damping Through The Boroughgroves," Mushroom + Beet + Blackberry, 8/10

The biodome is removed, and the dish itself looks like a forest floor, even down to the  little grubs. Beets. Earthy, rich, granules of dirt. Made with fig leaf, meadowsweet, melilot, oakmoss, and of course black truffle. 8/10. 

 "The Mock Turtle's Story" 

"The Mock Turtle's Story" 

We then got to a rather confusing part of the meal titled "... We Discovered the Mock Turtle Picnic." First, we were presented with a small and somewhat depressing brochure on the story of Mock Turtles, that is the faux-turtle protein made of veal.

 Course 9: Tea Kettle

Course 9: Tea Kettle

 Course 9: Meltable Clock

Course 9: Meltable Clock

This next course got a little complicated, so please excuse the panoply of pictures. First, we were brought clear glass pots of "Tea," which had a hot veal consommé. Then, a small jewelry case with gold clocks, and each with tiny paper anchors like a tea bag would have.

 Pre-Clock

Pre-Clock

 Post-Clock

Post-Clock

The clock melts, revealing tiny cubes of ham. the gold portions break apart, further enriching the soup. 

 Course 9A: Veal Soup + Ham Cubes

Course 9A: Veal Soup + Ham Cubes

... The resulting mixture, stirred together and served hot, was rich, warm, beautiful. 9/10. 

 Course 9B: "Tea Sandwich" Egg + Toast, 10/10

Course 9B: "Tea Sandwich" Egg + Toast, 10/10

... The mock turtle tea was followed up with a simple, incredibly tasty toast sandwich. The amazing part about the sandwich was the hard-toasted bread layer in the middle; it was dense and crispy, contrasting beautifully with the soft layers around it. I truly loved this course. 10/10.

 Kitchen Visit

Kitchen Visit

At this point in the meal, we took a break from the action for a kitchen visit. Chefs from all over the world were busy plating some of the delicacies we had just enjoyed; I even witnessed a member of staff sound-check every single conch shell with ocean wave recording before it left the kitchen. An impressive dedication to quality. 

 "The Menu" cover

"The Menu" cover

 "The Menu," Opening page

"The Menu," Opening page

 "The Menu" 

"The Menu" 

When we returned to our seats, we were presented with another menu as though we had arrived at a new, utterly separate restaurant, complete with new art, style, and typography (Heston employs a font expert to develop these experience-within-the-experience touches, so as to best evoke memories of childhood). Along with the new menu, we are brought bread and butter and told, once again a bit too theatrically, "Welcome to the restaurant." 

 Course 10: "Scallop Anna," 6/10

Course 10: "Scallop Anna," 6/10

The "appetizer course" is brought out first; a beautifully-plated scallop dish with black truffle and King Oyster mushrooms. The interplay of colors is beautiful, but this dish is way, way too salty. 6/10.

 Course 11: "Alows of Beef," 8/10

Course 11: "Alows of Beef," 8/10

 Raddicchio Salad

Raddicchio Salad

And now on to the "true" main course, titled "Alows of Beef." A thick, salty slab of Wagyu beef is accompanied by some hearty slices of grilled onions, lettuce, and mushrooms. 

To the side, some crispy red radicchio salad. 8/10.

 Course 12: "Botrytis Cinerea," 8/10 

Course 12: "Botrytis Cinerea," 8/10 

This next dish is flavored like the famous "Botrytis," or Noble rot, often found in fine white wines. This is accomplished through some sugary preserved fruit jellies as well as fizzy pop rocks that explode upon contact with your mouth. A neat dish; the full emulation of the noble rot flavor is impressive. 8/10.

 Course 13: "Whisky Gums," Before

Course 13: "Whisky Gums," Before

 Course 13: After, 8/10

Course 13: After, 8/10

Lastly, as a "digestif" to this mini-menu, we are brought a framed map of Scotland with some candied Whisky gels, titled "Whisky gums." The gels themselves taste exactly like the whiskies originating from that part of the country. The Islay Scotch, for example, reveals the word "Laphroaig" upon removal, and sure enough has the distinctively peaty, sea-salty flavors of Laphroaig. 

 Course 14: "Bedtime, Off to the Land of Nod"

Course 14: "Bedtime, Off to the Land of Nod"

This next course was, not kidding, presented on a floating pillow... Suspended with a jet of air, it appeared to sit in space as if by magic. 

 Course 14: Ice Cream, 9/10

Course 14: Ice Cream, 9/10

Imbued with baby powder, the spoons we are handed have fur handles to enhance the sensory experience of comfortable sleep. The ice cream is made from tonka, milk, meringue, crystallized white chocolate, and pistachio. 9/10. 

 "The Sweet Shop" 

"The Sweet Shop" 

 Sweet Shop Cubbies

Sweet Shop Cubbies

"A visit to the sweet shop," likely the high point of Blumenthal's showmanship, is the final course. Designed and built custom for the restaurant at a cost of around £150,000 you insert the coin that you received during the cereal course into the side of the machine and all sorts of acrobatics ensue. It's impossible to describe articulately, so check out the video:

 Sweet Shop Bag

Sweet Shop Bag

 Course 15: Petit Fours, 9/10

Course 15: Petit Fours, 9/10

The output is a placed in a custom-printed sweet shop bag, which you get to take home with you full of delicious petit fours. A creative and beautifully presented final gift. 9/10.