Monday, January 16, 2006

Fat Duck, Bray

I tried and failed to get a table at the Fat Duck on my last visit to London, so when a friend of mine rang me up and asked if I would join him there for Sunday lunch, I dropped everything and booked a flight. We arrived in Bray quite early on Sunday morning, straight from the airport.

Bray, a small village on the Thames river outside London. Bray, winner of a flower prize of sorts in the 2005 Britain in Bloom awards, is not quite like other small villages. In addition to The Fat Duck, it sports yet another 3 star restaurant, The Waterside Inn. The Waterside is run by Michel Roux, the grand old man of fine dining in Britain. My last visit to Bray was to the Waterside 12 years ago. We toured the small village and found the Waterside to be closed for redecoration, but the small glassed hut by the river where we drank a memorable calvados post lunch 12 years ago, was still there.

Anyway, we had a few hours to kill before the Fat duck opened, and used the time to locate all restaurants, pubs, shops and museums, which was quick, and for a very long walk.

We where quite famished when we sat down for lunch at the Duck around noon. Selecting the tasting menu paired with a carefully selected wine menu was easy. The alternatives was to eat a la carte or from a smaller menu, but for us that was never an option. Heston Blumenthal has quite a reputation, and is known for his scientific approach to cooking, and our expectations where high.

A waiter appeared with a silver flask, and poured liquid nitrogen into a container. A mousse of green tea and lime was deposited on a spoon and put into the container where it was immersed in the liquid nitrogen. When it reappeared, we were asked to eat it in one piece. Sensational taste, hard and cool on the outside and soft and liquid within.

We continued with other small teasers, all incredibly delicate and intelligent creations . An oyster with passion fruit jelly, horseradish cream and lavender. Red cabbage gazpacho with mustard ice cream. A jelly of quail with langoustine cream and a foie gras parfait. The appetizers where paired with a Manzanilla en Rama, Barbadillo, a perfect match.

We moved on with snail porridge. This was a porridge of oats with an intense parsley pureé, snails, thin strips of joselito ham topped with thinly shaved raw fennel. It is difficult to describe just how good this dish was, it blew us away to put it mildly. The wine was 2004 Vins du Pays de la côte Vermeille, la Goudie, Domaine de la Rectorie. This wine, red and served cold, seemed to be made to drink with exactly this dish.

We continued with roast foie gras with almonds cherry and chamomille. Elegant and light. A dry 2002 Tokaji Furmint Kiralyudvar was perfect with this.

Sardines on toast sorbet and a ballotine of mackerel both set on top of marinated japanese daikon radish, stunning, I am lost for words. The sake that accompanied this was a match made in heaven.

Next, we were served salmon poached with liquorice, the fish was wrapped in a jelly made with the stuff. Fanstastic. A red La grola from Allegrini in Veneto paired surprisingly well with this exotic combination.

Then followed a poached breast of piegon. The leg had been made into confit, and was shredded and within a lighly fried pastilla. The dish was flavoured with cocoa, pistachios and quatre épices. The meat was cooked to perfection and the sum of all the components was quite impressive. The Côte Rotie from Domaine Duclaix (2002) was again a very good match.

The time for desserts. First, a small ice cream cone (Mrs Marshalls margaret cornet). Mango and douglas fir puree, bavarois of lychee and mango, blackcurrant sorbet, carrot and orange tuile, beetroot jelly.

Then the infamous smoked bacon and egg ice cream with pain perdu and tea jelly. It sounds strange, but it is really quite fantastic and unlike anything else I have ever tased.

The menu ended with a refreshing bucks fizz, a few ristrettoes, some chocolate and a marc de bourgogne.

One of the best meals I have ever eaten, Heston Blumenthal is a genius indeed.

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