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31 reviews of The Fat Duck in English
I have a long personal relationship with the Fat Duck in Bray. I grew up just over the river in Dorney Reach and my grandparents lived in Bray. So from aged about 8, I used to cycle on my bike along the river, over the ‘motorway bridge’ and along Monkey Island lane to where they lived. In the village itself was a pub called ‘The Ringers’ where my Grandpa used to go for a whiskey and to smoke his cigar. It was always really smokey and run by a massively huge landlord who would never let me in there so I had to stay out the back or in the garden..
Cut forward a few years and the same landlord used to allow me and my friends in there for a cheeky pint now and again even though strictly speaking I wasn’t old enough. I loved The Ringers and spend many happy times in there.
Then forward a few more years and after years at University I came back to the area to be told the Ringers was gone, replaced by a ‘fancy restaurant’.
So over the early years I went there quite a lot, with my girlfriend and friends. It wasn’t a particularly brilliant place, just bistro food but the main thing seemed to be that whenever I went in there, there was a famous person in there too. This is because Bray is a favourite home to many stars of UK entertainment.
One time Chris Rea was at the next table and the waiting staff fawned around him so much that we ended up walking out as we couldn’t get any attention for ourselves!
Over the years though, the rep of the Fat Duck has got better and better. I went in about 1996 with some work colleagues and it was easily the best meal I had ever eaten.
Then two years ago I went, and to be honest the whole experience was so incredible that it has more or less ruined my dining enjoyment for every other place I go to.
Not sure if it is still seen as the World’s Best anymore but for me I cannot think of anyway they could improve. It’s a shame you have to book to far in advance however it’s a pretty small restaurant (part of the magic) so there isn’t much you can do about that.
Well, I finally made it.
Or, should I say, “made it back.”
12 years ago, when I was just a wee nipper, I visited The Fat Duck with my family. I read my book the whole time, and the only thing I can remember about it is that there were pig’s trotters on the menu, so on the whole I have to say, it wasn’t exactly a memorable experience.
Over a decade later, things seem to have changed a bit in this small locale in the middle of picturesque Bray. Not in the least the addition of 3 Michelin Stars.
But what of the food, I hear you cry?
Now, everyone knows it’s going to be good. Everyone knows that the gastronmic wizadry of Blumenthal’s Fat Duck includes ipods, gold watches, and snail porridge.
But was it great?
Now, I have to say that I have never had a meal like the Fat Duck. I have never experience such theatre, such inventiveness, such impishness in a meal.
I am sure this is going to incite outrage from foodies the world over, but I have to say that without the “theatrics”, I find it hard to say that the food blew me away. A lot of the ingredients were of the norm – liquorice, salmon and grapefruit may sound a strange combo, but are easily attainable – and many of the cooking styles were a take on traditional french.
Having visited Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume a year previously, I had been astounded by the twists and turns his menus contained – cod “crispy yolk,” douglas fir milkshake, sea buckthorn a pudding…every course delighted, but honestly, and without hiding behind smoke and mirrors.
All-in-all, an amazing show, but not necessarily one I’d see more than once
This place is absolutely INSANE the food is everything you could have imagined and more. It’s like eating at Hogwarts, really. They gave me a great goodie bag of sweets to take home including coconut tobacco and every detail was taken care of. I’m not sure I have words to describe the food, I wish I was a real restaurant reviewer! All I have to say is that you must eat here. The food is unique, delicious, and made with crazy ingredients you would never usually think of trying… but don’t be squeamish just eat it! You’ll be so glad you did.
Simply put, the greatest meal I've ever experienced and worth it, despite the h-i-g-h price.
OK, here's the detail:
For my job (and hey, because I'm a foodie) I've eaten in some swanky joints. To my view, many of these places are often filled with braying posh morons who are there to show off their wealth. If you smoke a cigar before your starter, you've just demonstrated you have no understanding of taste buds - I am looking at you Mr-average-clientele-of-Rick-Steins-every-time-I-have-been. There was none of that at The Fat Duck. The setting, staff and nature of cooking combine to quieten down the poshos - they're actually far too busy enjoying the experience. And the restaurant often has many "normal" people (like me?!) that have saved up for the event - and are thus really savouring everything.
The staff are exceptional - individualistic and not too formal, but at the same time psychic as to your needs and delicately melding themselves to your table's personality. Posh where they need to be, matey elsewhere, but knowledgeable and helpful always.
The food isn't as uber-experimental as it's made out to be. For that, go to El Bulli. I haven't been, but I'm reliably informed by mates who have that it alternates awesome with evilly foul - it was too experimental. There's nothing at The Fat Duck that will give most people terrors. If anything, Blumenthal tends towards a kind of quaint English nostalgia - the seaside as a theme appears on the main tasting menu. What the food does do, that I'd say is pretty much unique, is deliver combinations of flavour that are always greater than the sum of their parts. So, the spiced puy lentils are amazing, the peach sauce they float in is beautiful, but somehow, against expectations, the combination of the two is even better. I'm not a big big fan of things on a bed of blah, in a jus of something, with a tuille of ziggedy-do. But here it works - simply put, each flavour is individually superb, together it's a symphony, never discordant.
I'd also add, that I am vegetarian - and the veggie tasting menu was spectacular, stunning and every bit as inventive as the "normal" one other people around me were eating (and they reported similar experiences to me). For once, I didn't feel like I was being treated as a second class citizen - with less inventive cooking.
Finally, on top of the great food and great service, Blumenthal really does know how to sprinkle on the drama. Liquid Nitrogen mousses, iPods with the sound of the sea etc. all do actually serve to transport you into a magical food land where you realise a great dining experience is about more than just taste.
1. Portions are small - but there are something like 17 courses including all the amuse bouches etc. So you will be stuffed by the end.
2. It's a long sitting. We arrived at 7.30 pm and left at 1.30 am!
3. I'd personally recommend the matched wine. It doubles the price of the meal pretty much, but the results were amazing. And again, the Sommelier, a) matched wines specifically to the veggie menu, rather than just using the "normal" matched wine list b) topped us up all too often and c) the wines both surprised us and complemented the dishes they were matched to beautifully.
4. Do what we did and stay outside Bray (it's posh and pricey) - the Chilterns are nearby, lots of little b&bs and pubs. Go for the weekend and do lots of long walks to work up an appetite, then eat not just at The Fat Duck, but Blumenthal's excellent gastro-pub The Hinds head too (mm, triple cooked chips!).
In short, if I could only ever eat out once every five years, but got to eat at The Fat Duck, I'd probably take that deal.
Anyone who considers visiting The Fat Duck for dinner really needs to know, up-front, what they are getting themselves into. It is exceptionally expensive. The food is decidedly experimental (although obviously very well-practiced). From what I can tell, there is only one menu -- the dozen-or-so course tasting menu -- which will take the best part of four hours. You won't get much success asking them to "knock up a sandwich" for you. The portions will, for each course, be small (although, after a dozen courses, you're likely to be quite satisfied).
If you don't like the sound of the above aspects of the restaurant, for goodness sake don't go. Save your money, or go somewhere else.
For everyone else, I would not hesitate to recommend this restaurant, as a truly memorable and utterly unique experience.
And I think the word 'experience' is important here. I left the place with a huge, wide-eyed grin on my face, aware that I hadn't really "gone out for a meal" -- it felt more like an immersive and stimulating theatrical experience. With food. Amazing, incredible, absurdly elaborate, intensely flavourful food.
I could probably write a couple of thousand words on the food. But others have already done this, and I doubt that I could add much to what has already been written. Suffice it to say, each course was flawlessly executed, but we all had our different favourites from the lengthy menu.
However, The Fat Duck is really not just about the food. It really is about the experience, mixing taste, smell, presentation, sounds (including one course which the diners were encouraged to eat whilst listening to sounds of the sea from an iPod hidden inside a conch shell) and psychology.
It's that latter element, the subtle psychology of how some of the courses were delivered, that I realised afterwards truly sets this restaurant apart from others. The meal was delivered in a way that provoked genuine curiosity and excitement, very cleverly executed.
We chose not to drink too much wine -- a couple of bottles, shared between six people, over four hours -- for two reasons. Firstly, the wine is really very pricey indeed (although quite excellent). Secondly, and I can't imagine saying this about many restaurants, drinking too much would take the focus away from the amazing food.
The service was, in my experience, unparalled. Everything was delivered with flawless precision by a host of smart, courteous, pleasant waiters. All dishes were delivered to the table in unison -- three waiters per table taking care to place the dishes in front of us at exactly the same time. Each course was explained to us as it arrived, often with a nod towards the theatrical (including, for example, references to Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter's tea party, when serving the Mock Turtle Soup).
Finally, I was pleased to see that the 'little touches' did not disappoint. They did not charge for bread, butter and still/sparkling water. (Sure, when you're paying £160 for a meal (without wine), you really wouldn't expect them to charge for these, but some pricey restaurants still do.) We were given souvenir menus, in delightfully tactile envelopes, to take away with us. The packaging of the final course (Kid in a Sweet Shop) was delightfully well put together, to the extent that I also took some of that home. The cutlery and glassware was all excellent. And so on.
For me, it was an unforgettable experience.
Incredible food - kind of a Disney Land for grown ups. The lunch with a wine pairing option did certainly set us back a few quid, but the whole experience was worth every penny. I'm sure most people could find worse ways to spend that kind of money.
The service was impeccable, the food was out of a fairy tale, and we had an amazing time eating ourselves through the 13 courses.
You'll probably not be surprised to know we went for a quite light meal that evening...
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It maybe the best food I've had, or certainly amongst the best. But without doubt it is a great theatrical experience. Cooking using liquid nitrogen, aroma of moss as dry ice spreads over the table, the surprising tasty 'snail porridge', the sounds of the sea into headphones as you eat sushi - a real event. It's only the size of the bill that brings you back down to earth!
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I think Blumenthal is a culinary plagiarist and mountebank. He didn't invent molecular gastronomy as he would have you believe, It was championed by Nicholas Kurti and Herve This back in 1969. The also pioneered low temperature (80C) cooking). He has been taking you all for a ride - worse than B Liar
Then I wouldn't pay nearly £1000 for 7 courses with wines, champers and double coronas not even on anothers tab - couldn't stomach it.
What I would like hear is votes for the best value for money. Anyone can go and blow their dough but it takes skill to find that special balance of quality with value
Some people know the price of everything but the value of nothing (Eastenders)
Comment 2 comments on this review
cardiffandy, 27 May 2011:
Whereas you don't even know the price of the Fat Duck, which is about £800 less expensive than you appear to think.
Also Blumenthal has regularly tried to avoid the 'molecular gastronomy' label in favour of 'modernist' cuisine.
Finally, why are you purporting to review a restaurant you apparently wouldn't even contemplate going to? Why not review a place you do like?
davehaste, 23 June 2011:
Is this really a one-star review from someone who has not visited the restaurant? How astonishingly silly.
Okay sums it up! Amazing food and only one small hiccup in service. However the atmosphere was slightly dissapoiting, but enjoyed the night!
There are some huge descriptions of the food here, so I won't try to describe in detail the Magic of the food that self-taught chef Heston Marc Blumenthal OBE brings to the table at his 3 Michelin starred Fat Duck restaurant in Bray.
The 4-hour “Tasting Menu” is something you experience, not just eat. The attention to detail over the food, and the presentation of it, firmly puts it in the fine dining category, as does the pricing! Eating at the Fat Duck is more like a theatre experience with food, rather than just dining, so prepare to be wowed!
If you can afford it, and if you can manage to make a reservation, I can only suggest you try it: you will either love it (like I did) or perhaps be overwhelmed by the Pantomime of it all, it is perhaps 50% theatre!
Booking is essential and very difficult as it is nearly permanently fully booked. They accept reservations by phone up to two months in advance and online reservations open a week after the phone line reservations.
Very expensive but novel experience, the fat duck does not advertise it’s vegetarian menu, but I was very pleased upon inquiring to discover they do one (they also catered for my boyfriend, a nut allergy sufferer)
Firstly though, I was suckered in a little when agreeing to a glass of champagne on arrival, realising a little too late it wasn’t compliantly but £18 a glass – that said it was the nicest glass I’ve ever had, a beautiful Rose with a lot of depth.
The bread and olives presented whilst we waited for the first course were lovely, light and fresh.
First course was a Nitro Poached Green Tea and Lime Mouse, the was a real little piece of theatre, one of the waiters prepares the course at the table, spooning a dollop of the mouse in a nitrogen bath, it is then served with a dusting of tea green powder and eaten immediately. A real treat, the mouse just melted in the mouth, we were told this course was designed as a palate cleanser.
The next course was a red cabbage gazpacho with a pommery grain mustard ice cream, a gorgeous little course, the red cabbage gazpacho was very distinctive and worked really well with the mustard ice-cream.
Next Michael had a jelly of quail, crayfish cream, chicken liver parfait, oak moss and truffle toast, whilst my veggie option was jelly of smoked mushroom, truffle cream and tea (with the oak moss and truffle toast). This was my favourite course, the smoked mushroom jelly was so sweet and rich.
Next Michael had the snail porridge with jabugo ham and shaved fennel, and I think was a little jealous of my parsley porridge with fennel and would have preferred the veggie option himself.
The next course was Roast Foie Gras, Rhubard, braised konbu and crab biscuit for Michael and Roasted Aubergine, with aubergine puree and braised konbu for me – another great course for both of us.
Next up, Mock Turtle Soup based on the mad hatter tea party. We were served a cup of “tea”, Michael’s contained a gold watch which dissolved when stirred, whereas mine just contained the gold pieces I guess as the watch was held together with gelatine. The tea was then poured into a soup bowl containing various little morsels – this was the only dish I wasn’t too keen on, I felt lacking a little flavour - Michael tasted both and decided his meaty version did contain an extra depth.
Next we had sounds of the sea (or more sounds of the forest for me), this was served with a large shell containing an ipod, so you listen to the sound of the waves gently crashing as you eat. Michael’s was obviously seafood, and he was particularly pleased with the baby eels. Mine was made up of lots of different types of mushrooms, and seaweed. This was served with ‘sand’ made from tapioca and crunchy grape nuts – much tastier than it sounds!
Next up, Michael had one of his favourite courses, salmon poached in liquorice, whilst I had cauliflower risotto served with little chunks of chocolate jelly .
And there’s more! Next up was powdered pigeon for Michael and vegetarian bone marrow for me! That was a fun dish, made from palm hearts which were stuffed with a sweet sauce and served in a marmite broth – lovely!
Next we had hot and cold tea, and the deserts Taffety Tart and Black Forest Gateau.
Unfortunately there was one course a vegetarian option could not be provided for – Whiskey wine gums which are made with gelatine which was a tad disappointing. Although I understand it would have been difficult to create a veggie version, I would have thought something would be offered (even a glass of Whiskey) as I was paying the same as the carnivorous guests. As a result I asked for them anyway and Michael had two portions – which may have been a mistake as they were quite boozy!
Stuffed to bursting, we took our final course with us to enjoy later that evening, this was a paper bag of various sweets, my favourite being the edible queen of hearts playing card.
Overall, not something I could afford to do often (the final bill with wine tasting menu and service was approx £570 for two), but a fantastic bit of theatre and a great experience – highly recommended.
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