After much consideration and umming and ahhing about what to do for my birthday, Ads and I had a simultaneous brain wave.
“Let’s go to The Fat Duck!” we declared, then looked at each other with wild, wide eyes that meant a true brain wave had been struck upon. The brain wave then quickly fizzled when we checked out Heston Blumenthal’s website and saw that one needs to book a table at least two months in advance.
So, Ads picked up the phone, called the restaurant and said, “I know it says on your website that we need to book in advance, but is there any chance ….?”
And guess what?
They said yes.
Miraculously (no body ever cancels a table at The Fat Duck even if they are dying) there had just been a cancellation of a table for two, Thursday lunchtime which was exactly when we wanted to go. Was so happy. Suddenly felt that I loved The Fat Duck and Heston Blumenthal like we were old friends. Even thought I might pop out to the kitchen, say hello and give him a free copy of Grow Your Own Gorgeousness. Might suggest he comes and spend a week with us in the summer?
HOWEVER by Thursday my meant-to-be friendship feelings for Heston had given way to massive Posh Restaurant Anxiety.
Posh Restaurant Anxiety is similar to Nightclub Anxiety which is when you are planning to go to a nightclub that everyone raves about. The more you build it up in your head, the bigger the nightclub gets – and the smaller you become. By the time you get to nightclub night you are anticipating an epic monster, big as Wembly Stadium and more disorientating than a rodeo horse ride on a round about. Then you arrive at the venue and find out it’s actually quite small and chilled and friendly.
And you have a great night.
Exactly the same thing happened with the The Fat Duck. On arrival I discovered it was not the huge, glamorous, sprawling venue I had anticipated, but a semi detached cottage on the side of a narrow road.
And it was looking decidedly shut.
When we parked and went to the door, I was half expecting a house wife with Cath Kidson apron to answer and tell us “wrong town”, but no, I couldn’t have been more wrong. As we stepped through the low door, we were met by a flittering school of waiters who welcomed us like we were Heston’s oldest friends. We were gracefully ushered through the cottagey style dining room to our beloved, miraculous Don’t Ask, Don’t Get, Table For Two.
And there was no Cath Kidson in sight.
But there were lots of suits.
We weren’t wearing suits.
In fact we were decidedly unsensational in our smart casual.
Under normal circumstances smart casual would be fine, but when surrounded by tailored wealth of the “I’ll have the £3000 bottle of champers please, darling” kind, smart casual begins to look more like binliner couture. You know what I mean by that?
Luckily there is a mind trick you can use with yourself when in this situation. Always remember that if you are Truly Sensational, it doesn’t matter what you are wearing. It’s all about how gorgeous you feel. So, despite our scruffiness, I misted myself and the Ads in a Naturally Sensational With No Need To Wear A Suit Perfume. Immediately we emanated our right to be in such a world class establishment and we dived into our Don’t Ask, Don’t Get Heston Experience.
To begin we were presented with two dark red things, which were the size of cherry tomatoes.
They turned out to be dissolve-on-the-tongue …
When you placed one into your mouth …
And then …
Which ended in a rather surprising vanishing act …
Followed by …
NITRO POACHED APERITIFS
Vodka and Lime Sour, Gin and Tonic, Campari Soda
NB. You know when you go to visit a relative who never walks their dog and you take pity on the poor thing?
You go to the drawer where the lead is kept and call “walk-eeeeeees!” and the dog starts tap dancing around the kitchen. You always know an unwalked dog because they are particularly good at tap dancing. At this point the dog may let out a few little whinnies and excitable tail wags. Now imagine that you tell that dog (in dog language) that you aren’t just going to go on any walk, but a walk of such multi sensory sniffing and foraging that it thinks it has gone to dog heaven. Well, you know how swoony and blown away that dog would feel? THATS how I began to feel after the gin and tonic meringue aperaitif.
I think it did something to me.
RED CABBAGE GAZPACHO
Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream
What do Paul McKenna’s and red cabbages have in common? Both can cause a deep tranced out state that may effect your ability to drive. In the same way that Paul McKenna’s voice is strangely hypnotic, gazing into the labyrinth pattern of a red cabbage can put you into a space of deep relaxation.
I’ve even gone to the trouble of photographing one so you can see what I mean.
My red cabbage gazpacho did not cause me to fall into a trance or lead to enlightenment.
But it was angelically delicious all the same.
JELLY OF QUAIL, CRAYFISH CREAM
Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast
Now, now now.
Rarely do I get the urge to squeeze the waitress’ arm when she brings me food. However, on the next course the urge gripped me.
The waitress then picked up a jug.
The gel tab was like a Rowntrees fruit pastille after you have sucked it for ages and it has gone all flat. Except rather than being fruity, this Heston Pastille was decidedly woodsy.
Once the Woodsy Pastille had disintegrated on your tongue, you were able to begin an …
Being brought up as a country bumpkin and tree lover, the Woodsy Pastille and Truffle Toast was definitely one of my favourite courses.
Iberico Bellota Ham, Shaved Fennel
Ads kept insisting on referring to the delicious, tender meaty pieces in this dish as “snails”. I asked him to be quiet about the details and following that, enjoyed it very much.
ROAST FOIE GRAS
Barberry, Braised Konbu and Crab Biscuit
MOCK TURTLE SOUP
“Mad Hatter Tea”
“We shall now be entering Wonderland,” declared the waiter mysteriously. “Have you been to Wonderland before?”
“Once,” I nodded. “Or twice.”
We then watched, curiouser and curiouser, as a black case was revealed. The lid was opened we saw the glinting gold of two polished pocket watches.
Watched in total bafflement as our waiter ACTUALLY scooped up the pocketwatch, popped it in my cup of hot water and instructed me to stir. The gold leaf began to fragment …
We were instructed to pour the golden leafed, pocket watch stock into the dish before us.
SOUND OF THE SEA
Next we were silently presented with two large conch shells, within which were tucked a pair of MP3 Players.
SALMON POACHED IN LIQUORICE GEL
Artichokes, Vanilla Mayonnaise and Golden Trout Roe
So what WAS on the bowl? Well, it was this …
SADDLE OF VENISON
Beetroot Soubise, Risotto of Spelt and Umbles
It is rare that food can trigger feelings of religiousness, yet next course was like stepping into the Delphi Temple of Taste Bliss. Very strange as Satan’s Sweets (brussel sprouts) had managed to charm their way onto the plate.
On the side was a gorgeous risotto, covered in Maderia jelly and edged with what looked and tasted very much like Kellogs Sugar Puffs.
And on top was a delicious thing that turned out to be lamb sweet bread. Ads offered to explain this to me. I held up my hand and said, “no.”
HOT & ICED TEA
Caramelized Apple, Fennel. Rose and Candied Lemon
Black Forest Gateau
Am not usually a fan of Black Forest Gateau. Also was feeling pretty stuffed by this point. Under the gentle coaxing of Ads, though, I managed to try a little of this. And that’s when I realised it was potentially the most amazing thing I had ever put in my mouth. Was sold. I say no more.
WHISKY WINE GUMS
It was nearly all over now. Our Don’t Ask, Don’t Get Heston Experience was coming to a close. Finally (but one) …
“LIKE A KID IN A SWEET SHOP”
The final course was a pink and white striped sweetie bag filled with strange and wondrous treats. There was apple pie flavoured toffee in an edible cellophane wrapper, a playing card that tasted like the nicest bakewell tart ever, coconut baccy in a Fat Duck baccy pouch and lastly, a delicious aerated dark chocolate with mandarin jelly inside.
You know that weird sensation when you suddenly wake up after dozing off on a train? That’s how it felt leaving the Fat Duck. As we pushed open the door and waddled out onto the street of Bray, I felt like Alice climbing out of her psychedelic rabbit hole.
T’was a once in a life time experience and would never have happened had we not dared to ask.
So muchos gratitude God Of Food, Goddess of Tables For Two and Miraculous Moments of Luck!
PS. We did ask whether Heston was there because despite my Posh Restaurant Anxiety, I had brought a copy of Grow Your Own Gorgeousness and was fully prepared to pass it on to this creative, culinary genius. However, the man himself was at a cheffing convention in Spain that week, so I guess the only option is to email him and send him to link to this post and ask if he’d like a copy now. x