August 23, 2009

A Foray to Bray & Fat Duck

So yesterday, 4 of us went trotting off to Bray in search of 3-star Michelin restaurant, The Fat Duck. After missing the first train, we caught the 1743h train towards Maidenhead. We passed through Slough and my companions informed me that it was one of the most unimpressive places in Greater London. Well, it was where The Office (remember Milton and the hole puncher?) was set. Yeah, it's quite depressing.

After a 45 min ride, we were finally in Maidenhead! We caught a cab to nearby Bray, the cabbie took one look at us and immediately said "Fat Duck or Waterside Inn?". Now, was it THAT obvious? Guess 3 chinese and a caucasian aren't that common sight there huh? We arrived plenty early for our 9 o'clock sitting and so we went traipsing the little village. The place is really very pretty and quaint, with small streets, cottages, flowering gardens and greenery all around as you can see from the pictures. There were also plenty of fancy cars, surely patrons of the fancy restaurants. We walked towards the Waterside Inn where we scored another reservation there for October. So we will be returning to Bray soon enough :)

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To while away our time, we chilled at the Hind's Head pub next to Fat Duck. The bartenders and waiters there all somehow had the Heston Blumenthal look - bald with metal frame glasses. Maybe it's a cult of gastronomers? We were kinda hungry, so we ordered some of the bar snacks, they were actually not bad, my first time having Scotch Eggs, which is an egg (quail's in this case) wrapped with sausage meet, breaded and fried. Yum.

Finally, it was time for our meal at The Fat Duck. The place is tucked away by the streetside with no obvious sign except for its logo hanging outside. The restaurant was full, as expected, and we were shown to one of the only remaining tables. The decor is understated, well really not much decor at all. It was converted from an old pub so it has low ceilings and has exposed wooden beams. We were seated and were asked if we had any allergies or dietary restrictions. Since there was only the Tasting menu (they got rid of the a la carte menu in July) with 13 courses, the only choice was whether you wanted the budget wines, mid-priced or high-end wines. My companions all opted for budget wines and I went for an organic apple-pear juice.

Before long, our waiter came by with some contraptions and proceeded to prepare our amuse-bouche. He had some liquid nitrogen in a pot, and he squeezed a dollop of egg white meringue onto a spoon, which he proceeded to drop into the liquid nitrogen. He then turned the meringue around a few times in the liquid and took it out, and sprinkled green tea powder onto it with a big puff. We were served one by one and told to put it our mouth whole as soon as we got it. The meringue was icy cold, tasted of lime and green tea and kinda melted/dissolved in your mouth leaving a tangy cool aftertaste. A worthy palette cleanser and it set our expectations for more theatrics to follow. Oh by the way, this menu is known as the Alice in Wonderland variation and here's the entire menu for reference -

LIME GROVE
Nitro Poached Green Tea and Lime Mousse

RED CABBAGE GAZPACHO
Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream

JELLY OF QUAIL, CREAM OF CRAYFISH
Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast (Homage to Alain Chapel)

ROAST FOIE GRAS
Gooseberry, Braised Konbu and Crab Biscuit

MOCK TURTLE SOUP (c.1850)
"Mad Hatter Tea"

"SOUND OF THE SEA"

SALMON POACHED IN LIQUORICE
Artichokes, Vanilla Mayonnaise, Golden Trout Roe and Manni Olive Oil

POWDERED ANJOU PIGEON (c.1720)
Blood Pudding and Confit of Umbles

TAFFETY TART (c1660)
Caramelized Apple, Fennel, Rose and Candied Lemon

THE NOT-SO-FULL ENGLISH BREAKFAST
Parsnip Cereal
Nitro-Scrambled Egg and Bacon Ice Cream
Hot & Iced Tea

CHOCOLATE WINE "SLUSH" (c.1660)
Millionaire Shortbread

WINE GUMS
Historic Trade Routes of Britain

"LIKE A KID IN A SWEET SHOP"

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Next up was the Gazpacho with mustard ice cream. The Gazpacho was really cabbagey, for lack of a better description, which I quite liked. But there were also some pickled vegetables and the pommery grain which I didn't really like, so overall the dish kinda tasted like Chinese pickles.
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This was followed by the next theatrical dish. You will notice this will be an over-riding theme for the restaurant, where the uniqueness and wonder is derived from the bells and whistles and the unusual ways of presentation, rather than the taste of the dish. Yes, so back to our next dish, which was a combination of crayfish cream, jelly quail and liver parfait with a piece of truffle toast. Before we got to eat though, our waiter brought out a bed of moss with these melt-in-your-mouth films, like the listerine mouthwash kind except that this tasted of erm... forest. He poured some liquid (nitro?) onto the moss which began to 'smoke' except I didn't smell anything though I definitely tasted forest. Only then were we allowed to eat our dish. The crayfish cream was really quite delicious, not unlike a lobster bisque except lighter, and there was some green cream at the bottom layer of my creme dish which I really liked. Oh, and the truffle toast was good.
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Next up was the foie gras. This was one of my favourite dishes in terms of taste. The foie gras was just nicely done, not too livery nor fatty and the crab biscuits and konbu seaweed were a nice touch that was different from the usual sweet fruit compote that foie gras usually comes with. Our only lament was that they could have given us a FULL piece of foie gras instead of that small half! Especially considering how much we were paying for the whole meal!

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The Mock Turtle Soup definitely wins for best presentation hands-down. Our waiter, in his thick French accent, told us the story of how in Alice in Wonderland the Rabbit dipped his golden watch into his tea. As you can see from the series of pictures below, we had a golden watch in our tea cup, and when hot water was poured into it, it began to dissolve and the gold flakes started to swirl around in the 'tea'! This was then poured into this beautifully plated dish, which I think consisted of steamed egg, some really cute tiny mushrooms, truffle and veg cubes and some pork slices, transforming our dish into the 'mock turtle' soup. I just can't get over how cute the small tiny mushrooms were! Don't let the pictures fool you, the eggy dome was only about 3cm in diameter. The 'tea' was in fact a savoury (chicken?) consomme and the pork slices with some fat in between was really quite yummy.
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The signature "Sound of the Sea" was next. We were presented with these shells which had an ipod tucked into it. We were to listen to it while enjoying our next dish. The sound was of the sea (what else?), with waves crashing and seagulls calling. The dish itself was also made to look like a scene of the beach, with tapioca and eel somehow made to look like sand (on top of the plate, not the below one, that's real sand), and different types of raw fish and sea weed and small ikan bilis with some seaweed foam as waves. I really enjoyed the 'sand' as it was part crunchy and part melt-in-your-mouth. The fish was so-so but I really liked the ikan bilis (hahah I'm cheap).
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The next 2 were main dishes, one was a semi-poached salmon in liquorice gel with a whole lot of other flavours on the dish, and a pigeon dish. I really didn't like either of these. The salmon texture was nice, like aburi salmon that you get in japanese restaurants but it was quite bland. Perhaps it was purposely made bland so that you can taste the ikura, vanilla mayonnaise and the artichokes (which were yum). It was kinda sweet, with a faint taste of liquorice and quite strong vanilla, which was strange for a savoury dish. And then the pigeon, which was my least favourite dish of the night. I'm not sure how they cooked it, while it was not bloody, the texture and taste was quite raw and gamey. Did not rock my boat. There was also some bloody pudding, which again, is something I'm not hot about. My favourite bit was the pigeon cracker. For a degustation menu with 2 main dishes, it was really quite disappointing that neither of them were substantial. We concluded that perhaps it was harder to do something special with main dishes than appetisers and desserts. I guess we all would have preferred a thick slab of wagyu.
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The next 5 dishes were dessert. First up was the Taffety Tart, with lots of goodness like rose, apple, lemon, a berry sorbet and thin tuile sheets. It was a tad sweet after a while, though the tartness of the berry sorbet did cut the sweetness a little.
Then came the famous Bacon and Eggs. This was part of a trio of the Not So Full English Breakfast. Our entertainer waiter came by again with his favourite ingredient liquid nitrogen. This time, he took out a couple of eggs and cracked them into the pot, poured liquid nitrogen over it then 'stir-fried' it and out came scrambled eggs! Except that this was scrambled eggs ice cream! We found out that it wasn't really egg inside the egg shell, they probably emptied the egg and refilled it with some egg custard and sealed it somehow. Ingenious. And I wonder how they get the texture of the ice cream to look like scrambled eggs as well! Other than that, the bacon strip was like a bacon flavoured candy, and it was served on french toast. It was also topped with some sweet pepper confit, which I wasn't really a fan of. This dish also came with hot & iced tea, which was a tea that was hot and cold at the same time! There was a cold denser viscous liquid suspended in hot jasmine tea, and when you drink it together you get both hot and cold sensations. Amazing. Think this was the crowd favourite of the night!
The other part of the breakfast was our Parsnip cereal. Well just some dried parsnip chips in milk. Nothing very wow but the packaging was really quite cute.
We're almost at the end! The next two desserts were the chocolate wine slush, and the wine gums. The chocolate wine slush is exactly that - a slushy chocolate wine errr slush, served with a really good dark chocolate shortbread. I liked the shortbread better than the slush haha. The wine gums were literally that as well, gums made of liquer from various parts of the world. They were placed along the respective countries they came from and we were supposed to eat them in order - Mead, Cognac, Madiera, Sherry, and Rum. Somehow this dish made us giggle a lot, we were all very high and happy from the wine (me from the slush and wine gums) and some of us had trouble following the numbered route. It was very fun peeling the wine gummies from the picture frame *giggle*
And now, for the last dessert and dish of the evening - Like A Kid in A Sweet Shop! We were all presented with a pretty gift bag with a variety of sweets and a explanation card that smelled like a sweet shop! Actually it somehow evoked a memory of Paris for me instead of a sweet shop. We were discussing what a sweet shop smelt like and Connie said that it should smell of old ladies and lavender, which prompted our waiter to burst out laughing. Smells aside, the goodies in the bag included an aerated orange chocolate (not great, I prefer dense chocs), a coconut caramel baccy (which tasted like gula melaka + coconut i.e. onde onde), caramel apple toffee (yum!) and a white chocolate + fruit compote Queen of Hearts (it was very exquisite, even the envelope seal was chocolate!).
We finished the night off with 2 pots of Yellow Tea (supposedly the rarest tea in the world), which cost 20 quid each - yeah so that's like SGD100 for both. It was kinda like Longjing, not terribly impressive.

I was impressed with the overall experience of the meal, of the thought put into packaging and presenting the meal, though not so much the taste of the food and flavours. It's more of a restaurant to be entertained rather than good food. They definitely do appetisers and desserts better than they do mains, since the salmon and the pigeon failed to impress. It was a positive experience nonetheless and I think we enjoyed ourselves. The wines (which I think Connie will write about) were mostly quite good, and that was just the budget wines - think of what the high-end wines must have been like! It's worth a trip at least once just to be thrilled and wowed by the cool liquid nitrogen stuff. I'm looking forward to the Waterside Inn, where it's not so strange food.

Other than the entertainment from our food, we were highly amused (and annoyed) by the table next to us, where a twat of an Eton boy (16 yrs) was dining with his father. Throughout the night, we were regaled with stories of how he (the boy not the father) loves to dine at posh places (he's apparently trying to get an El Bulli reservation) and other things that sounded like he was trying to impress daddy. He even tried to pay for the meal, which was dumb since his dad obviously would be paying for the supp card. Gosh, if you're eating at the best restaurants in the world at 16, where do you go from there?

Gosh, this review took as long to write and put up as it did to eat - 4 hours. As I was mentioing, Connie writes a food blog as well and she will most probably be putting up a review real soon as well! Check out her blog here!

I'm intending to do a eat-off challenge for the various Singaporean / Malaysian restaurants here in London i.e. go to each of them and compare some of the signature Singaporean / Msian dishes and see how they compare with each other. Stay tuned!

2 comments:

Yellowgiraffe said...

wow! thanks for sharing the experience! it's like living vicariously through you and it's GREAT! it sounded like a wonderful experience and food experience.

btw, is "tasting menu" all the rage in gourmet's world now? it seems many restaurants are going that way. i was at 53 two weeks ago, and while it was a small small small fraction of your experience, it was really good and interesting!

Steph said...

omg! YUM! Wish I was there!!!

Hey, is it a special programme that you use to group your photos together like that? =)

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