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The Fat Duck Review: Gordo Judges Blumenthal

The big man takes time out to tuck in at the UK's most famous restaurant

Published on July 18th 2011.


The Fat Duck Review: Gordo Judges Blumenthal

The first time Gordo met Heston Blumenthal was at the Manchester International Festival 2007. The MIF guys thought it a good idea to get him to stand behind a stripy wooden hut doling out small measures of his ice creams, including the now famous egg and bacon. It pissed down for two weeks.

That palate of course is Heston Blumenthal’s. No matter how clever he is and how hard he works, he couldn’t do this if it wasn’t for his super-human attention to olfactory details.

Gordo had taken a handful of the students he was mentoring from one of the livelier schools in one of the harder areas of the city; it had been a great academy for training young people wishing to enter the pharmaceutical industry. The Fat One had been given an interview opportunity, along with the lads, with the culinary equivalent of Brains from Thunderbirds. 

A question was raised. 

“What’s the difference between having two Michelin stars and three?” asked one of the lads, whose pal had been shot dead in one of the few green spaces in the area, aged around fifteen.  Heston and Gordo looked at each other, taken aback.

Heston then told us that he was at a conference in Barcelona when he was told. 

About his third star. 

Apparently he was struggling to make a profit, had invested every last penny in the business to get the second star which still hadn’t brought the monetary rewards he was expecting. He was, quite literally, wondering how in hell he was going to pay the wages that Friday. Within an hour of being told, he had an offer of £160,000 on a book deal and his problem had been solved. 

Heston hasn’t looked back since. He has bought the Hinds Head next door which has been turned into a very well respected ‘gastro pub’, set up his restaurant-laboratory round the back, and has put Bray-on-Thames on the foodie map, much, apparently, to the irritation of the locals.  He's also opened the phenomenally successful restaurant Dinner in Knightsbridge (click here for review). 

The experience of that first interview sold Gordo on Heston, the man, but left him luke warm on Heston, the ice cream maker. Gordo just didn’t get that bacon and egg ice cream at all. Over the years, watching Heston on TV, reading him in papers, magazines and books it became clear that this Tigger of a chef was a master of PR and self promotion. 

Gordo knows what motivates the man to come up with a dish called ‘snail porridge’. It ain’t the flavours my friend, it’s the lazy press on a Monday morning desperately looking for something to hang five hundred words on. Then along comes an email from Blond-and-Brunette PR Ltd saying ‘Snail Porridge at Heston Blumenthal’s wizzy little restaurant’. They giggle. The grateful hack takes the bait and the next thing we find Brains on breakfast TV. 

The only thing that could better that one was Blond-and-Brunette PR Ltd delivering hungover hacks the news that Brains was making the punters listen to the sound of waves crashing on the sea-shore via an Ipod stuck inside a small conch shell, when having the fish course. 

Earlier this year Gordo took a table for six at Dinner. It was good, so he decided that it was about time he did the trip to the Fat Duck to see what all the fuss was about. 

It’s a hefty price: £160 per person without a tip (it goes up to £180 in the autumn) and Gordo had promised to take his pals, Sara Huck and Jo Edwards, both Confidential heroes and a great laugh, as well as his date for the day, Nicky Rybka-Goldsmith, part owner of the excellent Thomas restaurant in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. We made for an eclectic bunch of foodies. 

Eclectic TeamEclectic Team

The restaurant fronts directly onto the main street and HB makes the best use of space; it’s small for a three star. But immaculate. Whites and greys give the dining room a very cosy feel. The welcome itself has that certain Michelin-starred fairy dust sprinkled over it; warm, friendly and professional. The tables are covered in white linen a centimetre thick, the chairs would bring life to a four-day corpse. 

We are initially attacked by the champagne trolley; don’t fall for this trick folks, it’s a really bloody stupid way of doing it. Take a bottle of the perfectly good Tattinger Brut Reserve at £65 the bottle, mess about with those champagnes by the glass and you can finish up paying double. 

There is no menu choice, it’s a 14 course extravaganza with many dishes that you will have seen him cook on the telly, or written about by those previously mentioned hacks. I’ve had to cut and paste it for you lot, here you go. By the way, 'Please allow 4 hours for this menu'.

NITRO POACHED APERITIFS

Vodka and Lime Sour, Gin and Tonic, Campari Soda

RED CABBAGE GAZPACHO

Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream

JELLY OF QUAIL, CRAYFISH CREAM

Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast

SNAIL PORRIDGE

Iberico Bellota Ham, Shaved Fennel

ROAST FOIE GRAS

Barberry, Braised Konbu and Crab Biscuit

MOCK TURTLE SOUP (c.1850)

"Mad Hatter Tea"

"SOUND OF THE SEA"

SALMON POACHED IN A LIQUORICE GEL

Artichokes, Vanilla Mayonnaise and Golden Trout Roe

LAMB WITH CUCUMBER (c.1805)

Onion and Dill Fluid Gel

HOT AND ICED TEA

MACERATED STRAWBERRIES

Olive Oil Biscuit, Chamomile and Coriander

THE "BFG"

Kirsch Ice Cream and the smell of the Black Forest

WHISKY WINE GUMS

"LIKE A KID IN A SWEET SHOP"

Yes, readers, I heard all those ‘blimeys’, so I am going to concentrate on three of the above, otherwise we'll be here all day.

Let’s start with the aforementioned utterly daft Snail Porridge. Well, it wasn’t actually daft. Brains has deconstructed the familiar French snails in their shells, with parsley and garlic butter mopped up by bread.

He has chosen a variety of snail called Helix pomatia which has been around since Roman times; breeding snails was a speciality of theirs by all accounts. They are chubby, not chewy and a bit of a dandy when it comes to flavour.

Porridge oats, to which a good portion of parsley had been introduced, giving it a pleasant green colour and flavour, are used in a similar way that rice is used in a risotto, to which has been added some earthy Jabugo ham and topped with paper thin strips of fennel, giving a great aniseed background. Gordo should be treated badly for thinking this was all PR; it is absolutely fabulous.

The Fat One cannot think for one minute why chefs all over the country aren’t trying out oats instead of rice for this type of dish. They are a much lighter, creamier option as a platform for flavours that risottos are usually asked to carry.

Snail PorridgeSnail Porridge

Readers, a little prayer at this stage…

Dear Lord, please keep Gordo alive long enough for him to have saved up and managed to book a table at the Fat Duck just to eat this again. Please. Amen.

Next, salmon poached in a liquorice gel looked like Josephine Baker, the black American dancer in the thirties; stunning visually, but what next? Then she started dancing. This dish was the same; visually stunning, then you start eating...

The coating of the salmon is in itself a bit of genius; the liquorice gel was not as brutal as it looked, having been lightened to a point where it was a gentle tickle of a flavour dancing with the purity of a piece of salmon gently cooked and perfectly seasoned. Small pearls of grapefruit cut the sweetness and the asparagus worked far better within the flavours than I would have thought.

Then a dabble with the vanilla mayonnaise delivered the ‘coup de grace’. This is a faultless dish, apparently first introduced into the mix in 2003 and refined, little by little, from someone with a palate far better than mine.

That palate of course is Heston Blumenthal’s. No matter how clever he is and how hard he works, he couldn’t do this if it wasn’t for his super-human attention to olfactory details. As well as an obsession with flavour and texture and the marriages that go with it. Beautiful.

Mock Turtle SoupMock Turtle Soup

Finally, the BFG.

That is, Black Forest Gateaux. Brains has chatted up Gordo’s favourite pudding of his early teens and taken advantage of her. I saw him do this on the telly. Admittedly, it looked pretty good, but was it as good as Mr. Pollyanski’s chef at the Legh Arms in Prestbury thirty years ago? Well yes, it was.

The main affair sat proud on top of a small wooden board, like a furry monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. What was it going to mean for Gordo, a cake lover? Well it was crunchy at first, then your spoon slid all the way down to the base.

Let Gordo blow out your brains with what that spoon was sliding through. A dried vanilla cherry stem. An Amerino cherry. Dark chocolate mousse. White chocolate mousse. Griottine cherry. Chocolate sponge. Aerated chocolate. Flocage. Kirsch ganache. Almond base.

Over to the side was the ‘ice cream’, made from kirsch and sour cream. Gordo closed his eyes and was transported back to being fourteen and a kitchen porter in the aforementioned Legh Arms. It was as if someone had soothed away the pain of living another thirty years in a cruel world. 

Across the rest of the courses, there was nothing but squeals of delight, thoughtful silences and nostalgic feelings. The only questionable dish on the menu was the sound of the sea. It’s a bit silly is all, that Ipod business.

The tragedy of this type of cooking is that it does not marry well with wine, there are far too many things going on. Stick to champagne in Gordo’s opinion. However, he did order a very good white Rhone, Saint-Joseph, Vieilles Vignes, Domaine de la Côte Sainte-Epine (£52). This was a fantastic wine which stood up to the latter courses from the roast foie gras onwards. However, Gordo isn’t one to listen to his own advice and the table took three glasses of red; Olpaio, a Tuscan, at the eye-watering price of £17.50 per glass. Heston’s wine waiters really should be kitted out with fucking balaclavas with their horrific wine mark-ups.

So, all hype and no trousers?

Not at all. Blumenthal is a genius. Simple as that.

You can follow Gordo on Twitter here @gordomanchester

ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL. £1000 to the reader who can prove otherwise, and dismissal for the staff member who wrote a review scored out of twenty on a freebie from the restaurant.

The Fat Duck Garden
High Street, Bray, Berkshire, SL6 2AQ, 01628 580333

Rating: 23/20
Food: 12/10
Service: 6/5
Ambience: 5/5

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away.

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23 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

FurFoxAcheJuly 19th 2011.

"Heston’s wine waiters really should be kitted out with fucking balaclavas with their horrific wine mark-ups."

Ha ha excellent.

I've always wanted to go but its hard to justify £160 a person. The way I've tried to explain it is that it is no different from an "experience day" that people always seem to buy for birthdays and the like. You spend 5 minutes driving around Silverstone in an Aston Martin for £150. This is 4 hours of pure culinary indulgence.

paulJuly 19th 2011.

Can mere mortals eat 14 courses did all of it get gobbled up ?. or is it a man v food job with all day planning and no lager.I would hate to spend all that and leave some.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousJuly 19th 2011.

Yeah, it's really well balanced - we thought we might be stopping off the way home for some supper after the first couple of courses but we didn't need to at all - it was perfect. Would recommend against doing the matched wine - we were absolutely hammered about three quarters of the way through.

paulJuly 19th 2011.

I had the four course at Joel Robouchon in Vegas I was to frightened to order the 16 course at the risk of wasting $395 ea. the bread trolley was also fantastic Maybe I am just a Light weight But I did over hear some people on the 16 job to not have the bread by the waiter.

RayJuly 19th 2011.

Yes, they can, Paul. whie I have not dined at the Fat duck, a 13 course dinner at L'Enclume was doable - just (I felt full at the end though). My fiancee has dined at Bulli (lucky so and so) and that was 30 courses.....

1 Response: Reply To This...
paulJuly 19th 2011.

30 Wow I can just about do the six at the Nuttery

Phillip CooksonJuly 19th 2011.

I just couldn't justify that sort of price on a meal, no matter how good it is.

Nicky Rybka-GoldsmithJuly 19th 2011.

A truly remarkable experience, one which I will never forget! Exceptional food and fantastic company, there was never a dull moment throughout the day ....... a massive thank you !

Richard HJJuly 19th 2011.

I'm getting a hint of the The Addams Family from the photo. Is that all part of the experience for the other diners? If so, Heston truly has excelled himself. Trebles all round.

AnonymousJuly 19th 2011.

Gordo my darling (and other such sycophantic phrases), can I be one of your friends and go with you next time...................? x

GordoJuly 19th 2011.

of course anonymous, but you have to be not anonymous

cping500July 20th 2011.

The Tuscan is £11+ Vat duty + carriage which apparently comes to £24 retail which is £8.00 per glass (Gordo would drink no less). The Rhone appears to be £335 per case retail which is £28 approx. The markup is therefore approx 50%. Another eatery charges £42 for the same wine and vintage. The extra is I suppose a Blumie premium for the 'intimacy' of the place.

How much, Gordo was the Sauterns on you previous venture into Blumenthal's Fantasy Land? It's £9.50 a half retail.

1 Response: Reply To This...
GordoJuly 21st 2011.

Well researched, the White Rhine wasn't too bad, but the Tuscan at £17.50 per glass was horrific in my opinion, £105 a bottle.

RayJuly 20th 2011.

50% Markup? That's cheap. Choice restaurant in Castlefield will relieve you of £65 for an £18 Cloudy Bay Sauv Blanc.....

AnonymousJuly 20th 2011.

What was in the Mock Turtle Soup? Looks crazy!

NorthernGeezerJuly 20th 2011.

Wonders if the big fella came away with the shits, if not from the food then from the f****** bill!!!!

Andrew BulmerNovember 1st 2011.

I went last week with my wife and had an amazing time there. The food was amazing, staff very friendly and would highly recommend it to anyone. Treat it as a 'once in a lifetime experience' and save up the pennies, it is definitely worth it!
PS DO have the paired wines, they compliment the courses superbly

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