Heston’s Blumenthal’s famed Michelin 3-star restaurant, The Fat Duck, opens at Melbourne’s Crown Towers on Tuesday, February 3, for a six-month residency while the 20-year-old original in Bray, outside London, is refurbished.
A meal costs $525 a head and will last for around four hours with 13 courses, but if you don’t already have a booking, it’s too late – all the tables were allocated in a ballot last year.
When The Fat Duck’s season finishes, it will be replaced by the London restaurant, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.
Business Insider Executive Life editor Simon Thomsen has eaten at both Heston Blumenthal’s restaurants, and on the eve of The Fat Duck Australia, recalls what it’s like to eat seafood while listening to an iPod playing the sounds of seagulls and crashing waves.
LUNCH AT THE FAT DUCK was a bit like finally getting the chance to see the Rolling Stones in concert are years of listening to their music.
Heston Blumenthal’s snail porridge and nitro-scrambled egg and bacon ice cream, are the chef’s “Start Me Up” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” – hits everyone knows, which over the years have gathered their own mythology.
Self-taught Blumenthal knows how to strut the stage too, bringing a witty Willy Wonka-esque style to food that’s laced with surprise, delight and humour. The influence of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland adds a surreal edge to the experience too.
A meal at The Fat Duck is as serious as you want it to be, but more than anything it’s fun – part cabaret, part magic show and part roller coaster ride, but also deliciously funny. Blumenthal is an original thinker with an ability to defy conventions with a wry smile. His flavours dance, intrigue and entertain.
Even as a seasoned restaurant critic I was filled with excitement to eat at one of the world’s truly great restaurants. However, expectation and satisfaction often diverge paths once they meet. Not at the Fat Duck. It turned out to be every bit as amazing as I’d hoped, so ignore the naysayers who bag the $525 price of the meal (it’s still cheaper than some Stones tickets on their recent Australian tour) and go for it, if you’ve been lucky enough to score a ticket for Melbourne.
The Fat Duck, wherever you find it, is a restaurant everyone should have on their bucket list. It grabs haute cuisine by its over-starched collar to gives it a thoroughly enjoyable shake. Blumenthal’s food it rooted in classical French, but he adds a showman’s pizzazz, making his diners part of the performance, the waiter conjurers at your table.
And as clever and surprising as the food is, there’s also a sense of whimsy and yearning too. Blumenthal takes us back to our childhoods to explore memory with guileless jubilance.
You can expect the Melbourne meal to be something of a greatest hits – including some of the newer dishes, such as the “Mad Hatter’s tea party” with its dissolving watch.
My meal – I think we had about 15 courses, Melbourne is a 13-course tasting menu – began with another classic, the nitro-poached green tea and lime mousse – a sort of frozen meringue, made at the table that’s ethereal yet packed with flavour.
There was an oyster flavoured with passionfruit jelly and lavender that in theory, screamed wrong, wrong, wrong to me but was oh-so-right.
The sleight-of-sight in beetroot and orange jellies is another signature I hope is on the Melbourne menu, but I won’t spoil the surprise.
His homage to the famous French chef Alain Chapel was a bit like a Sherlock Holmes mystery with mist spilling across the table. It combined oak moss and truffle toast with quail jelly, langoustine cream, pea puree and foie gras parfait.
The iPod was a pretty new invention when I was at The Fat Duck (there were no iPhones to photograph our food with), so the ‘sound of the sea’ – a glass plate of malty tapioca ‘sand’, shellfish, samphire and seaweed, with a ‘surf’ foam – served with an shell containing a mini iPod, so you listen to the sea while you eat, seemed pretty novel at the time.
Blumenthal is keen to engage all the senses (after all, much of what we “taste” actually comes from smell), so adding sound is an intriguing and evocative experiment. I wonder if the dish would taste different listening to Katy Perry.
There was a pigeon ballotine and salmon wrapped in a licorice gel and the mind-blowing hot and cold tea among our savoury dishes before a pre-dessert of a small cornet of sorbet named in honour of the 19th century cookbook writer Agnes Marshall, who Blumenthal champions as the pioneer of ice cream cones. She invented the world’s fastest ice cream churn and even suggested, in 1901, using liquid gas.
Then came scrambled egg ice cream on French toast, with toffee ‘bacon’ and tea jelly – part of a ‘breakfast’ that begins with parsnip cornflakes and parsnip milk – realises her vision, when an egg is cracked into liquid nitrogen beside your table and served seconds later.
There was a sherbet, eaten by dipping a vanilla pod stick into it, which took me back to a childhood of buying Whiz Fizz with my pocket money.
We were left dazzled and delighted, having spend around $1250 for two on lunch. Yes, it was worth it.
If you scored a table to The Fat Duck, consider yourself Charlie Bucket and enjoy the ride in Blumenthal’s personal glass elevator.
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