I’ve been waiting for @missvansfood to open and now they finally have! Come down and grab a banh mi or a bowl of pho. Yum!
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Head Chef: Jonathan Lake
Here is my cautionary advice, if you are lucky enough to get the chance to dine at The Fat Duck I would not read this post.
Let yourself have no expectations or previews and just immerse yourself into the world that these talented culinary experts have created for you to experience. I went in with little or no idea of what was going to happen other than I was going to get an iPod to listen to somewhere during lunch but that was it and I was surprised, impressed and amazed every step of the way.
I am not known to be a person to get to places on time but I wasn’t surprised that we were 30 minutes early to our midday reservation at The Fat Duck in Melbourne. It allowed enough time to take obligatory selfies with the sign, instagram it to the world and tell other foodies about where I was. We were the first ones loitering around but it wasn’t too long before other patrons arrived, took their selfies and waited near us. I must admit, I was getting rather excited but cautious at the same time as I felt that this was all too good to be true and maybe TimmyC’s work friends who actually got the table, were playing a cruel elaborate hoax or something.Precisely at midday, a well dressed woman approached us and said it was time to commence lunch and told us to walk on through. I didn’t realise in our excitement that we had walked straight past her and entered into a dark hallway, until we didn’t quite know what to do or where to walk to next. The wooden path was getting narrower as we moved up the hallway and at the very end there was an electronic screen displaying a small door, which gave the impression that the room was getting smaller. Just as we approached the small door, a sliding door on our right opened to reveal the bright dining room of the restaurant and several other well dressed women waiting to show us to our table. We were just like Alice falling down into the rabbit hole.
I didn’t know to do next when we were approaching this tiny door, I just kept taking photos! As soon as we stated the name we were booked under, they knew instantly without referring to any books or hesitation that we were the four lucky diners to be seated at the chef’s table during that lunch service. Before we were shown to our seats, they gave us a quick tour of the dining room as we wouldn’t really get to see it because we were seated in the kitchen. My eyes darted everywhere between the gorgeous curved lounge booth seating, the giant fob watch mounted on the wall counting down the days of the restaurant’s time in Australia and the huge puzzle consisting of 19 500 pieces spanning the whole side of the wall.
Just under halfway of their time left in Australia for this ‘pop up’ restaurant. We were getting a little history lesson and a feel for the Bray location, it is so small by comparison. The chefs are enjoying an expanded kitchen space while it lasts. We were told that the Fat Duck restaurant in Bray gets 250,000 calls a day and there is a three year waiting list!We were eventually shown our table, it was very spacious lounge with a big wooden (and we were also told very expensive) table inside the kitchen. The table setting was very basic, a water glass and a looped napkin with subtle text “The Fat Duck Heston Blumenthal” across it.This was our view, service hadn’t officially started yet but soon after the kitchen was bustling with cooking and plating. The chef’s life isn’t so glamorous when your day starts at 8:30/9am all the way through to 1am.We were introduced to Andrea the sommelier and Matt the head sous chef who said if there were any questions do not hesitate to ask.
This was their drinks menu, it was massive!
We were asked if there were any allergies, dietary preferences or specific tastes that we didn’t like; some of us didn’t love the taste of licorice and beetroot but we were all willing to try the menu as it was intended. What surprised me was because they have this one set menu, everyone, regardless of allergens or dietary preferences will get the same dishes. They have learnt to adapt every dish for a specific dietary requirement; they could make the whole thing vegan if requested.
We were advised not to leave it too long before putting this morsel into our mouths and letting it dissolve on our tongue. The texture of the ‘ball’ was surprisingly like pressing your finger in florist foam and as it dissolved on our tongues, it released a subtle beetroot flavour followed by strong horseradish after taste which paired really well together and despite the different degrees of flavour, it all balanced out.
I had a smirk on my face, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.“
We all chose one each and it was the beginning of food theatrics as we all watched our server prepare our palette cleansers in front of us with a little help from liquid nitrogen. The taste of my vodka lime and sour was clean, cold, precise and left my tongue feeling like I had had a quick lick of an iced metal pole. My mouth was refreshed, cleansed and yearning for the next course.A quick photo of the meringue made with liquid nitrogen before TimmyC quickly popped it into his mouth and started breathing out ‘smoke’ through his nostrils.
The red cabbage gazpacho was strong, the mustard ice cream was also intense but when eaten together they were a perfect marriage. My brain just could not comprehend.
Only at The Fat Duck could you have ‘sweets’ at the beginning and end with bacon and eggs for dessert. We were advised to eat from left to right. The first savoury lolly was in the shape of a small ‘rocket ice block’, which was really layers of walnut (top), celery and apple (middle) and I don’t remember what the bottom was supposed to be, but together they simulated the taste of a Waldorf salad with the texture and temperature of an ice block. I couldn’t stop smiling while licking this.We were all visually deceived that since all of them looked like ice creams that they would all be hard and cold. The second ‘lolly’ was surprisingly really soft as it was a delicate piece of salmon carefully rolled in a ‘sheet’ of intricately piped sauce. I really enjoy salmon so I particularly liked this lolly.Last but not least was a ‘Gaytime’ that was made from chicken liver parfait. I am not one for offal bits and pate so I was quite hesitant on trying this after enjoying the salmon so much. I took a big bite and was pleasantly surprised (yes I’ll use the word ‘surprised’ a lot throughout this post) how creamy, smooth and light the texture was and the taste was just intensely salty in a good way. It really boggles your mind to eat something so savoury while staring at a mini ice-cream. All gone 😦
We were invited on a journey, a journey of the senses through a thick forest.
We each opened the film box that was sitting on a bed of moss, placed in on our tongue before being asked to take bites of our truffle toast and then a scoop of all the layers of the jelly. While we were eating, we were told to smell the fog coming off the moss which blanketed the table, it made our faces damp and smelt like we were walking amongst oak trees. Entertainment value was 10/10 but I wasn’t fully sold on the savoury jelly which I forced myself to quickly finish so I could end on the delicious truffle toast.
My friend joked not to fill up on bread but I didn’t think they would serve bread and butter here. When we were given a slice of sour dough bread, we were told a lot of perfecting went into it before they were happy with the end result. The bread itself was soft, the crust was crunchy but not chewy and the butter was also made in-house.We all ended up eating two slices of bread because we used the second slice to mop up the rest of the sauce from our snail porridge. It is hard to describe the taste of this as a whole, but you can really taste the parsley soup, the refreshing crisp of the fennel and some crunchy salty bits at the bottom. None of us was put off by the snails but I didn’t love this dish as much as the previous dishes that we had before it. I used this opportunity between courses to quickly duck to the bathroom. The panels all look like walls so it was hard to find where the actual door was. Inside the bathroom they even had ‘Fat Duck’ soap and lotion!
They had adapted this dish from the Bray menu to show off the flavours of Australia’s seafood. Our server told us that their research suggested that a lot of Australians don’t really eat that much seafood and they found this difficult to cater for, but I’m glad that they didn’t omit it completely.
Marron is a crayfish from WA, the meat is not as sweet as scallops and mud crab but it almost has that same texture. They have paired it with sea lettuce that is washed 5 times to get rid of the salty ocean taste and then dehydrated which gave a nice crunchy texture. I found that the flavours of the shiitake and kombu were quite robust comparatively and almost over powered the dish.
There was a tea party and we were all invited.
We were asked to read our cards while our Mad Hatters sandwich tier was being put down along side our tea cups and a glass teapot each. I squealed with excitement when I saw how cute our mock turtle ‘island’ was with little enoki mushrooms poking out from our mock egg.
We were shown the pocket watches inside the box which had a loud ticking sound. We were told that they don’t keep good time and we were going to lower it into our teapots and swirl it until it completely dissolved and we were left with nothing but a stock soup and gold leaves which we poured into our tea cups. It takes over a week just to make the pocket watch alone, it is made from a heavily reduced stock that a senior chef is in charge of because of the timeline and how many steps are involved.
Mock turtle soup!I don’t know what else that they put into our sandwiches except the piece toast in the middle. It might sound weird to put toast in sandwiches but it gave it a really great crunch like we were biting into a schnitzel.
We were instructed to put on the headphones and the dish served next will be explained after we ate it. We were each handed a big shell with a iPod shuffle tucked inside with Bose headphones. The soundtrack playing was the sound of the waves washing up onto the shore before being pulled back again into the ocean, there were seagulls in the background and in the distance you can hear a ship horn. It was playing loud enough to drown out the background noise and fully immerse you into a beach side area, far far away.
Our bespoke ‘plate’ was placed in front of us, it looked beautiful. The plate itself looked like we were eating at the beach, the flavours were salty and lemony while the food itself mimicked a beautiful shoreline with lots of foamy bubbles. There were two types of fish and some abalone tucked amongst some native succulents, fingerlimes and some sweet and savoury ‘sand’ that was made from tapioca and dehydrated anchovies. I love how much sound and visual effects can really take a meal to a whole new level.
The flavours of licorice were subtle if not non-existent, the salmon was extremely delicate and the roe was big and juicy like the pink grapefruit, while the vanilla mayonnaise blew our minds. No trickery in this dish, it was just the chefs showing off their skills with unusual flavour pairings that work well, beautifully plated together.
They gave us lamb across two dishes. The first was a savoury jelly and mint puree served with a quinoa crisp and lamb heart/loin/leg. The savoury jelly was like the solidified lamb juices at the bottom of a roasting pan which served as a really salty flavour off set by the mint and quinoa. I could tell you based on texture which part of the lamb I was eating, but taste wise it was all the same. The next dish was a continuation from the first, this time using the saddle of the lamb served with charred cucumber that I found extremely refreshing. As the red meat portion of the meal, I found the lamb to be quite underwhelming despite the cavier giving it a salty ooopmf. Or maybe it was because other dishes were so amazing that I didn’t think this one really could compare.
This took me by complete surprise. At first as I was just sipping hot tea, until my friends tell me to turn my glass. I turn my glass slightly clockwise and my next sip was truly magical. Half of my mouth was drinking hot peachy/lemony tea and the other half peachy/lemony iced tea, there was a complete division right down the middle! I was expecting a cold iced tea with chilli infusions that warmed the mouth but this was truly remarkable.
I asked the chef if he wouldn’t mind getting me next time this was being prepared. A few minutes later he asked me to come to the pastry team area where I watched a chef simultaneously pour both hot and cold tea in a glass with a silicon divider in the middle that was lifted just before serving. There is a little bit of gelatin in mixture to allow the halves not to mix instantly. Pastry team hard at work, that is a lot of plated desserts! Removing the silicon divider right at the last moment before serving.
This was visually stunning. Everything on the plate was completely edible; from the stem, the gold spiral spun from sugar, down to the leaves that looked like they were made from glass.
They had encapsulated all the complex flavours of a dessert wine and turned them into different components of this dessert. The meringue tasted like saffron, the sand had blue cheese and parmesan, the ‘stem’ tasted like fried pastry, there was a jelly ball that tasted alcoholic, there were apricot flavours, fresh fruit, grapes, dried fruits, every note of the wine was on this plate.
There were so many components to this dish, I was surprised that one of the ‘grapes’ which were ever so delicate, once cracked open contained crunchy bits and popping candy. There was so much complexity to this dish, it was mind blowing.
We were each given a bowl, a box of cereal with a ‘toy’ inside and a cute little bottle of milk. I loved how we were eating breakfast for dessert!
What it really was was a piece of the 19 500 piece puzzle outside where each guest plays a part in assembling, a clear pouch of dehydrated slices of vegetables and popping candy to go with some parsnip milk. TimmyC playing his part in the puzzle. While we were eating, they started settling up a cooking station on the table. No breakfast is complete without bacon and eggs! Our server begins to tell us a story that they have special chickens which were purely fed on bacon sandwiches, they in turn have laid eggs that have been branded with the Fat Duck stamp.
It was amazing to see the bacon crème anglaise being turned into ‘scrambled eggs’ with the help of liquid nitrogen, which was then served with candied pancetta and a sweet bread with a crunchy toffee crust. We were also given a Fat Duck marmalade to go with it all and you could eat the lid of the jar! I couldn’t stop giggling throughout the whole course. Fat Duck special chicken eggs.Bacon and Eggs made the Heston way!
Wow, for someone who doesn’t usually drink I was SOOOO impressed with this. After taking a million photos, we had to enquire about what to do next. We were instructed to peel off each wine gum in sequential order and place it on our tongues.
I thought it was awesome that these gums were just stuck to the side of the glass in the frame! I placed the first one on my tongue and as it dissolved, the taste of whisky flooded my mouth, I could feel the warmth going down my throat, my nostrils cleared and with some of the gums I could even sense some oak flavour in there.
If I didn’t think Heston was a genius before, I did now!
1) Glenlivet (12 yr) 2) Oban (14 yr) 3) Highland park (18 yr) 4) Lark distillery – damn this was so strong 5) Laphroaig (10 yr)
We were each given a striped bag filled with sweets. It was a sad departing gift like when you get a lolly bag at the end of a birthday party, but we knew that this experience had to come to an end, after all it had been almost 5 hours already.
Inside the bag was instructions, of course we needed instructions because throughout the meal we had been unsure what to eat, how to eat it and what to do next. At first we had to smell the card, it was perfumed to smell like you had just entered a lolly shop, I couldn’t stop sniffing it! It then sort of described the rest of the sweets without giving too much away.Aerated chocolate Mandarin jelly. This was like biting into an aero bar with a jelly, definitely a must for those who like to pair citrus and chocolate.Apple pie caramel with an edible wrapper (no need to unwrap). I couldn’t really taste the apple pie side of things but I loved how the wrapper dissolved away to reveal a rich caramel flavour. The wrapper itself apparently takes 4 days to make, which is such a shame when it dissolves so fast in your mouth.The Queen of Hearts she made some tarts… There was a mini envelope and the waitress said we could eat the seal which tasted like white chocolate. Inside was a Queen of Hearts playing card which you could bite into and it tasted like white chocolate with a filling.Oxchoc Wagyu Nougat, Guiness and beef caramel. I didn’t read what this really was until I ate it, I wouldn’t have picked it to have beef fat in there, it just tasted like a delicate layered truffle with some salty hints in it.
Fat Duck Juice (200mL $15.00)
Orange – squash. It was really hard to describe the taste. I could taste orange and something else but I wouldn’t have picked it was butternut squash.Apple – blood plum. I thought this tasted like eating a whole handful of pink nerds but a less intense sweetness. I thought this was more interesting than my orange – squash juice. When the sommelier was describing the process of making this juice it sounded really complex.Romano pepper – strawberry infused with mint and ginger. It had a strong smell of roasted capsicum and when you had a sip you can really taste roasted capsicum but towards the end, the flavour lifts to reveal a sweet strawberry after taste.Tea there was a unique tea menu that included a $75 pot of Puer Tea from the 1970’s. I just went with Iron Buddga Oolong tea (Fujian, China $15.00) where the tea setup was elaborate and the tea was steeped for exactly three minutes.Wine pairings ($200.00 per person) One of us went for the tasting wines that matched our 15 courses. He enjoyed it every glass of the way and was pleasantly surprised by the show sparkling shiraz and was keen to get his hands on some himself. He said that each wine course matched perfectly with the food.
2013 Gruener Veltliner Federspiel, Loibner, Weingut Knoll (Wachau)
2013 M3, Shaw and Smith, Adelaide Hills (South Australia)
Sake Junmai, Tengumai, Yamahai Jikomi (Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan)
2014 Watervale, Mount Horocks, Riesling, Clare Valley (South Australia)
2004 Show sparkling, limited release Shiraz, Seppelt, Grampians (Victoria)
2012 Tout Pres by Farr, Pinot Noir, Geelong (Victoria)
2012 Noble Rot Semillon, Henschke, Eden Valley (South Australia)We probably finished the menu tasting in 5 hours, the last hour was spent really checking out the kitchen, talking to Matt the head sous chef, other chefs who were cooking and Jonathan the head chef when he eventually came in towards the end of the meal to see how things were going (he was stuck in meetings all day). Even between courses Matt encouraged us to wander through the kitchen and check things out. Everyone was super friendly, focused, passionate and you can see in some photos they are also a little cheeky.Before we left, we were handed an envelope that contained our menu which was sealed with wax. We asked if we could eat this seal too but apparently it was really made out of waxAs we left, the little door in the hallway appeared to be opened and inside was chef busily working in the kitchen.So what did I think? I thought the whole experience was absolutely amazing! Yes not all flavours appealed to me but it would be impossible to get a menu to cater for everyone’s palette. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience, I was constantly amazed and I would do it all over again in a heart beat.