The word I use most to describe my experience at The Fat Duck is ‘insane’. Closely followed by ‘mind boggling’. It’s by far the most amazing and surreal dining adventure I’ve ever experienced. People ask me if it was worth the $550 and my reply is always ‘worth every penny’.
We arrive at the Crown for our 7.45pm date with Heston Blumenthal (well, not literally) on a Wednesday, unaware that we’ll be finishing close to 1am on this chilly Melbourne evening.
The wine menu is heavy as heck. It’s like a huge bible. Eric goes for the matched wines, but the rest of us decide to have a bottle of wine instead (mostly because we didn’t wanna fork out $200, $600 or $1k for wine). Our pick is a German Riesling, and it’s beautifully fruity without being too sweet.
So here we go, let’s talk about all 16 of these crazy Heston courses.
First course: aerated beetroot
We’re off to an awesome start. This little sphere of aerated beetroot is light as air and has a spicy horseradish cream in the middle. Needless to say, it’s gone in a second.
Second course: nitro poached aperitifs
We’re allowed to choose from three apertif options: vodka and matcha, tequila and grapefruit, or gin and tonic. I go for the tequila and grapefruit because I love sour and tangy flavors. I love the sense of drama and multi-sensory theatre that’s woven through this degustation. The aperitif is made to order with an iSi gun. A spoonful of foam from the gun is submerged into liquid nitrogen, and you get a frozen globule of deliciousness on a plate. Such a wonderful palate cleanser.
Third course: red cabbage gazpacho
I loved this. The Pommery grain mustard ice cream with the deep purple gazpacho is such an unexpected and delicious combination. The gazpacho is poured into the bowl at the table. There was also some kind of pickled vegetable at the bottom, adding texture. As always, I’m a huge fan of textural plays in one dish.
Fourth course: savoury lollies
The savoury lollies course is SO FUN, YOU GUYS. Three sticks that look like popsicles are erected on a wooden box of fake grass. First is the Waldorf rocket, a colorful icy pole imbued with the flavors of a Waldorf salad. The most distinct flavors were celery, apple, and walnut. It’s playful and likeable, but it’s not the most memorable one of out the lot.
The salmon twister looked flawless. Fine horseradish and avocado creams twist around the smoked salmon. This one really played a number on me. Like an ice block at first glance, but savory and soft to bite.
The Feast was my favorite of the three. Mind you, I’m not sure if Australians even had access to Feast ice cream, but I ate Feasts growing up in Indonesia. I guess an equivalent here would be the Golden Gaytime from the aesthetics of the exterior. Anyway, long story short, it’s of course not ice cream. It’s chicken liver parfait with a gel coating and a nutty touch. This was fantastically delicious, creamy and perplexing all at the same time.
Fifth course: jelly of quail, marron cream
For this course, a rectangular vessel of oak moss is placed in the middle of the table. Upon it are Fat Duck Films. We’re instructed to put these on our tongues just like a breath freshening strip. Instead of minty freshness, this has an earthy, oaky taste. I’m not convinced it really added much to this course, though I dig that we got to keep the Fat Duck Films box as a souvenir.
Then it’s time for some smoke action. Smoke escapes the box of moss, flooding over our table. It’s a bizarrely dreamlike moment. And the fact that the smoke has a foresty smell is pretty surreal.
And then it’s actually time for the food: the jelly of quail, marron cream, and caviar sorbet is a whack of umami-ness in my mouth. We’re advised the best way to enjoy it is to have a spoonful of it, and then alternate with a bite of the crispy truffle toast resting to the side. The depth and power of flavor is ridiculous.
Some house-baked bread and butter is served between courses. It’s freaking amazing. I work for a bakery, so I appreciate good bread. The sourdough is quite dark with a nutty flavor. I devour it right away with the creamy housemade butter.
Sixth course: snail porridge
This probably sounds like a bad example in a Writing 101 class, but the porridge tastes vividly green. There’s a grassiness to it, reminiscent of spinach. There’s also fennel, oats, and lardo in there for good measure. It’s actually my first time eating snails because rubbery, bouncy textures creep me out a bit. But I’m pleasantly surprised. The snails are chewy, yet there’s no rubberiness at all. Hallelujah.
Seventh course: roast marron
The marron course is as pretty as a picture (Writing 101 is kicking in again, soz everyone). For most people, the sweet roast marron would be the highlight of this dish, but as I’m not a seafood enthusiast, the hero for me was in fact the crunchy sheets of seaweed. Anyway, the marron is “cooked to perfection” as they say on TV (but perfection is expected here, really). It’s perched atop squares of shiitake and confit kombu. A saucy strip of caramelized onion gel is laden with umami flavors and garnished with sea lettuce. Black sesame and plum gel is dotted in the middle.
Eighth course: Mad Hatter’s tea party
The Mad Hatter’s tea party is one of the most elaborate courses of the night. First a bookmark is placed in front of us, embossed with excerpts from Alice in Wonderland.
Gold pocket watches are displayed in a watch case; they’re taken out, and dangled into a transparent teapot containing hot water. The watch (clarified beef stock, which takes two weeks to make and is set in gold leaves) dissolves, and we’re left with a liquid that looks like tea, plus gold leaves. This is then poured into a teacup containing a mock egg, baby enoki, and tiny cubes of cucumber, ox tongue and turnip surround the egg. And that makes up the mock turtle soup!
But a tea party isn’t complete without finger sandwiches. We get two toast sandwiches each. Why is it called a ‘toast sandwich’? Because there is toast between slices of toast. INCEPTION. Playing on the Victorian tradition of wedging burnt toast in between white bread to add texture, this is the fancy Heston version. There are layers of truffle, bone marrow, white egg mayonnaise, egg yolk mustard, cucumber, egg, and house made ketchup. These were seriously awesome. I gobbled them up with glee.
Ninth course: “Sound of the Sea”
Appealing to more senses than just taste is Heston’s forte. For the Sounds of the Sea course we’re given seashells containing an iPod. And when we plug in those earbuds, we’re transported to a beach with the sound of waves and birds bringing seaside serenity to our dining experience.
While we listen to these sounds of the sea, we’re served a clever seafood dish on glass – underneath is a layer of sand. There’s raw seafood, salty foam, seaweed, succulents and even a grainy sand-like mound. Heston added an Australian touch by including dead man’s fingers (black things that look like, you guessed it, dead fingers, but are in fact a type of fungus). This is the only dish I didn’t really eat, but don’t worry, it didn’t go to waste – the others finished it for me. Even though I loved the sounds of the sea, I’ve never really been someone who loved tasting the sea, so this course was a bit lost on me.
Tenth course: salmon poached in a liquorice gel
I love how the salmon course looks like meat, but once you cut through that gel layer, a crazily tender salmon is revealed instead. The dots of vanilla mayonnaise add a sweet flavor profile that I enjoy. As does the roasted endive. Golden trout roe and pomelo (or grapefruit – I can’t be sure) add pop.
Eleventh course: The duck
Long, airy duck chips get this duck course started. But the main plate is a thing of beauty. The presentation is like a work of art. The duck is cooked sous vide; the fat is scraped off, and then the skin glued back on. Talk about effort.
Blood pudding cream in the shape of long teardrops are smeared across. Chicory drapes one side of the plate. On the other side a line of duck heart, cipollini onions, and caper leaf soldier on.
As a side, we’re also given a duck neck cigar. This is some full-on stuff. Even though the crisp cylinder is light as a feather, the duck interior is dense and heavy as hell (I assume hell is heavy, dense and dark? I dunno). I tried, but couldn’t finish it. Close, but no cigar. (har har har)
Twelfth course: hot & iced tea
It might look simple, but this was one of the highlights of our night. The placement of this little glass of tea was perfectly executed so that when you drink it, it’s hot in one side of your mouth and cold in the other. The sensation is something I don’t think I’ve experienced – EVER. This was a dish where we just burst out into giggles because of its playfulness. The way the amazing chefs pull this off is using a divider between the two liquids. And to avoid the hot and cold liquids mixing a gelling agent is used.
Thirteenth course: botrytis cinerea
The plain beauty of this dessert was mindblowing. The crazy textures, the plethora of flavors, the detail – it was overwhelming. It looks kind of like a bunch of grapes, and that’s not an accident. This dessert is an embodiment of botrytis cinerea, a fungus that rots plants but when it comes to grapes in particular, it can produce sweet wines.
Fruity flavors from citrus to grape are buried in this dessert. Everything from chocolate spheres, citrus sorbet and sugar balls to churro stalks, these delightful treasures are here to be dissected and enjoyed. Texturally there are gums, gels, crumbles and creams. This was definitely my favorite of all 16 dishes tonight.
Fourteenth course: the not-so-full English breakfast
The next dessert rewinds to breakfast nostalgia. A mini cereal box on a plate are presented. Inside the box is a sachet of cereal, a puzzle piece, and a piece of paper with an explanation about the giant puzzle we all become a part of.
The cereal packet isn’t your regular ol’ bag of cornflakes; it’s actually vegetable chips. We pour this into our bowl, and then pour parsnip milk into it. I really loved this. Firstly because I love cereal, and there was definitely some nostalgic cereal gratification happening. Secondly, I love root vegetables. Thirdly, I love crunchy stuff. Bottom line, I totally get this dish.
We then add our puzzle pieces; we’re lucky because we’re here on the fourth last night of The Fat Duck’s Melbourne stint, so the puzzle wall is almost complete anyway.
Then it’s time for the second part of our breakfast. Eggs are cracked and whisked before our eyes. But wait! It turns out to be ice cream. Ice cream that tastes like bacon and eggs. These ‘eggs’ are then served atop a beautifully soft brioche French toast, and a crispy AF piece of pancetta. Breakfast, but not as you know it.
We also get a tiny jar of marmalade to accompany this egg breakfast. Turns out the red and white checkered lid is EDIBLE. It’s made of white chocolate. Is this real life?
Fifteenth course: whisky wine gums
I’m not a whisky drinker, so this course wasn’t my thing. I loved the texture of the gums, and I appreciated the idea. The gums are stuck on a map to represent the origin of each whisky. A Tasmanian whisky was added to localize this course. The map was numbered to guide us through the order of which ones we should eat first. Each one got stronger and smokier as we downed these bottles.
Sixteenth course: “like a kid in a sweet shop”
We’ve come to the end. These petit fours are a playful set of sweets that we end up taking with us and proceed to eat in bed the next day. Even the menu smells like sweets. The oxchoc is a chocolate bar containing wagyu nougat and a Guinness and beef caramel. It’s sweet, savory and soft.
Unsurprisingly, the aerated chocolate with mandarin jelly was light and tasted like jaffa. The apple pie caramel was awesome and tasted exactly like it sounds. And the edible wrapper reminded me a bit of White Rabbit milk candy.
The Queen of Hearts card was presented inside a wax-stamped envelope. The innards of the white chocolate card tasted like a strawberry tart and had gooey bits.
So there you have it – the peak of my existence, the height of whimsy, and the best of the best. It was the best service I’ve ever encountered in a restaurant (lifting and presenting things were timed so that every waiter did it at the same time – I can’t even comprehend the amount of work that goes into their service). But most importantly, I don’t think there will ever come a time again where I find myself laughing with awe and enjoyment at the food that’s placed in front of me.
We dined at The Fat Duck on Wednesday, 12th August 2015 at 7.45pm. Three nights later was the last service for The Fat Duck in Melbourne. The space will soon transform in Dinner by Heston, and The Fat Duck is returning home to England.