"It's not much but it's ours"

Sunday, July 30, 2006


It's deep beneath the skin
It's what I major in
It's what I do

Just over a year ago, in a stunt by a catering trade magazine, The Fat Duck was voted Best Restaurant In The World. It’s not of course, but it is very good. People who have eaten more widely than me and whose judgement I trust say it’s as good as you are going to eat in the UK.

My last visit was about four years as part of a large group of foodies and I remember having a good time though not a great deal about the meal (oh, yeah, there was the blindfold, the restraints and and strange things being inserted into my mouth …or am I confusing it with the private party at Madame Jojo’s later that evening…) so when I was invited by some friends to join them for lunch I thought it a good chance to reaquaint myself with Mr Blumenthal and his works.

Bray is a picturesque village by the Thames spoiled only by the life-threatening 4x4s using it as a rat run between two A-roads, the high rate of car crimes (a friend’s car was broken into on my last visit) and people who live in villages like this who most likely own the aforementioned 4x4s (they come in so handy for negotiating those for not changing difficult gradients in Waitrose).

Incongrously every other person you come across will be dressed in chef’s whites. This only makes sense when you realise Bray is home to two (count ‘em) 3* restaurants. The other being The Waterside Inn, which is five minutes from the FD. Plus Heston Blumenthal’s take on pub grub, The Hinds Head.

Let me say up front that I am usually deeply suspicious of food like this. DH’s MO for dining is usually based on the traditional Spanish model: several titbits leading up to a big piece of meat (or more rarely fish) with no accompaniments save for a bottle of a big red wine, followed by ice-cream/flan, strong coffee and even stronger aguardiente. But now I know there is another way.

First the moans. They seemed to have doubled the number of tables in the restaurant. If you don’t like having to coordinate your arm movements with the person sitting on the adjoining table this place is not for you. The service was perfunctory at best and and supercilious at worst. It just didn’t have that Michelin starred sheen.

Now the good part. Even with a full restaurant, all ordering the tasting menu, the food was superb (and fun). It constantly engaged the senses and provoked lots of discussion as we discovered different flavours and new combinations (yes, really). Highlights for the neophytes would include the palate cleansing Nitro-Green Tea and Lime Mousse, a long standing favourite, which is made at the table by the waiter by immersing a desert spoon of mousse in liquid nitrogen. After a few seconds you are served with a small orb which you should pop into your mouth. The whole disintegrates leaving the palate cleansed. Well, that’s the theory anyway. Sardine on toast sorbet, ballotine of mackerel 'invertebrate' was another winner for me along with Roast Foie Gras, Almond Fluid Gel, cherry and chamomile. The only weaknesses came with the ‘main course ’ dishes when I felt the quality of the ingredients wasn’t it at its best. Still, you want to taste the state of the art in British cooking, the Fat Duck would be a good place to start.

By the way don't worry about getting hungry, there is a copious supply of decent bread (brown or white) with superb unpasteurized butter and ther's always the Hinds Head if you have a chips jones after the three star experience.

After nearly four hours we eventually bade farewell to the FD and went for a quick post-prandial stroll around the village (think sounds of leather on willow, wood pigeons and 4x4s being gunned).

After a short hop back to London we fancied a drink so we stopped off at Borough Market for a mini wine crawl that included a a bottle of Albarino and a plate of Joselito Jamon at Brindisa. But that, as they say, is another story.

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