The Fat Duck
|The Fat Duck|
The Fat Duck, photographed in 2009
|Head chef||Heston Blumenthal|
|Food type||Molecular gastronomy|
|Rating|| Michelin stars
|Street address||1 High Street|
The Fat Duck is a restaurant in Bray, Berkshire, England. It is run by chef proprietor Heston Blumenthal, and was first opened in 1995 in a 16th-century building which had previously been used as a public house. Despite first serving food similar to that of a French bistro, it has become well known for serving dishes using molecular gastronomy principles. The number of staff in the kitchen has increased from two when it first opened to 42, resulting in a ratio of one chef to one customer. In 2004 it was awarded three Michelin stars. In 2009 the restaurant suffered from the largest ever recorded norovirus outbreak with over 400 diners falling unwell.
The restaurant is known for its menu of unusual dishes, created following the principles of molecular gastronomy, and including egg and bacon ice cream, an Alice in Wonderland inspired mock turtle soup involving a fob watch dissolved in tea, and a dish called the "Sounds of the Sea" which includes an audio element. Blumenthal dislikes the molecular gastronomy label, and prefers to think of his food as a combination of cooking techniques and tricks on diners' perceptions. The restaurant has an associated laboratory where Blumenthal and his team develop new dish concepts. Reviews of the restaurant have been mixed, with some critics disliking particular dishes such as a mustard ice cream in a red cabbage gazpacho soup.
The Fat Duck is located in Bray, Berkshire in the High Street. It is run by chef proprietor Heston Blumenthal, who has owned the premises since it opened at the location in 1995. It is not the only Michelin three-star restaurant in Bray, which is also the site of Michel Roux's restaurant The Waterside Inn, a remarkable fact considering there are only 4 restaurants in the entire United Kingdom with 3 Michelin stars. Blumenthal had only previously worked for a week at Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons in Oxfordshire, having previously been a trainee architect.
Until permission was granted in 2010 to extend the kitchen space, to the former small size of the Fat Duck's kitchens, additional storage was available in rows of garden sheds in the garden behind the restaurant. After permission for the rebuild was granted, the kitchen was rebuilt with a lower roof and additional internal storage. The restaurant has thirteen tables, and can seat 42 diners. It has a very high proportion of chefs working at the restaurant, 42, equating to one chef per diner. Much of the menu is developed by experimentation, for example the egg and bacon ice cream came about following Blumenthal investigating the principles of "flavour encapsulation". A research laboratory where Blumenthal and his team develop dishes is two doors away opposite the Hinds Head pub, which is also owned by the chef. It was where the majority of the laboratory scenes for the television series Heston Blumenthal: In Search of Perfection were filmed. The lab equipment includes a centrifuge which is used to make chocolate wine, and a vacuum oven. The restaurant takes reservations up to 2 months in advance, and in 2011 it was receiving some 30,000 calls for reservations per day, although that figure also included people who couldn't get through and were redialling.
Blumenthal was inspired as a teenager by trips to Michelin-starred restaurants in France and the work of Harold McGee. McGee's work in particular led him to question traditional cooking techniques and approaches which resulted in combinations which may at first appear unusual. Blumenthal incorporates psychology and the perception of diners into his dishes, explaining, "For example, eat sardine on toast sorbet for the first time, confusion will reign as the brain will be trying to tell the palate to expect a dessert and you will therefore be tasting more sweetness than actually exists." He sees this as an extension to "traditional" molecular gastronomy, although he dislikes the term, as it makes the cooking sound "elitist". Menu options at the restaurant include a fourteen course tasting menu.
Dishes served include palate cleansers made of vodka and green tea, frozen in liquid nitrogen, a snail porridge that was described by one food critic as "infamous", and ice creams of both crab, and egg and bacon, each of which resulted in increased media attention for the restaurant. The mock turtle soup has an Alice in Wonderland theme, where a fob watch formed of freeze-dried beef stock covered with gold leaf is dropped into a tea cup and has a beef stock "tea" poured over it that dissolves the gold and the watch. A plate of ox tongue and vegetables is served alongside it to place into the soup, and an "egg" made from turnip custard. It had been developed for an appearance on Heston's Feasts, and was afterwards added to the menu at the restaurant. Dishes are served with additional sensory inputs, such as "Sounds of the Sea", a plate of seafood served with a seafood foam on top of a "beach" of tapioca, breadcrumbs and eel. Alongside the dish, diners are given an iPod to listen to crashing waves whilst they eat. Other additional sensory components include "The smell of the Black Forest" that accompanies a kirsch ice cream.
The Fat Duck is located in a 16th-century cottage that was further modified in the 19th and 20th centuries. Prior to the restaurant opening in the location, it was a public house called The Ringers. The building was Grade II listed by English Heritage on 2 May 1989. When the restaurant opened in 1995, the kitchen was staffed by owner Heston Blumenthal and one other employee. At the time the restaurant was serving meals in the style of a French bistro, such as lemon tarts, and steak and chips. Blumenthal later said that science had already begun to influence the cooking at this early stage, as already on the menu were his triple cooked chips which were developed to stop the potato from going soft.
The restaurant came close to going bankrupt, Blumenthal sold his house, his car and many of his possessions in order to keep the restaurant afloat. After four years, the restaurant was awarded its first Michelin star in the 1999 list. Blumenthal worked with Professor Peter Barham of the University of Bristol, and developed a menu of dishes using the principles of molecular gastronomy through experimentation such as slow-cooked lamb which avoids shocking the fibres in the meat and causing them to seize. By 2000, techniques were being used such as cooking vegetables in mineral water after discovering that the levels of calcium in tap water causes their discolouration, and freezing cuttlefish to break down the molecules in them in order to increase their tenderness. In 2001 it was awarded a second Michelin star, and was also named Restaurant of the Year by The Automobile Association.
In 2004, the restaurant was awarded three Michelin stars, becoming one of three restaurants in the United Kingdom to hold that level of recognition alongside the Waterside Inn, also in Bray, and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London. It was the fastest that a restaurant had gone from one to three stars in the UK. During the same year, the restaurant was ranked second in the world behind The French Laundry by The World's 50 Best Restaurants. The following year the listing ranked The Fat Duck as the best restaurant in the world, At the first Front of House Awards in 2007, the restaurant won the awards for Overall Service and Front Desk of the Year.
In 2008, Blumenthal published The Big Fat Duck Cookbook, following his BBC series Heston Blumenthal: In Search of Perfection. On 27 February 2009, he closed his restaurant temporarily after a number of customers reported feeling unwell at different times. A spokesman for the restaurant said, "All this leads us to believe that it [the health scare] has not come from the restaurant and we expect to be given the all clear." On 6 March it was reported that 400 people had stated they had felt unwell after eating at the restaurant. The restaurant reopened on 12 March 2009. The cause of the illness was later given by the Health Protection Agency as norovirus, which was thought to originate from oysters that had been harvested from beds contaminated with sewage by Colchester Oyster Fishery Limited. The virus was spread further after being contracted by staff members. It was the largest norovirus outbreak ever recorded at a restaurant.
On 19 November 2012, British citizen Ivan Aranto Herrera Jorge and Swede Carl Magnus Lindgren, two senior members of The Fat Duck restaurant, were killed on Chai Wan Road, Hong Kong in a traffic accident when their taxi was hit by two buses. They died along with the taxi driver, Wong Kim-chung. A further 56 people were injured in the accident. Blumenthal had been in Hong Kong and was travelling in a separate cab at the time of the crash.
Fodor's describes the restaurant as "extraordinary" and "one of the best restaurants in the country". Frommer's gives the restaurant three stars, grading it as "exceptional". Harden's gives the food and service a score of two and the ambience a score of four on a scale of one to five where one is high.
In September 1996, Ben Rogers ate at the restaurant for The Independent before it had gained any Michelin stars or the awards it has today and while it was still using something close to its original menu. Even so he discovered that Blumenthal was cooking foie gras in sherry in order to give it a nutty flavour, although Rogers wasn't sure if the nutty flavour was warranted in the dish itself. He did think that a jambonneau of duck was worth praising, describing it as "delicious", but also thought that another dish of monkfish was rubbery in texture. He described the menu itself as "awkwardly written, badly punctuated, and at points quite impenetrable". Following the first Michelin star, David Fingleton visited the restaurant for The Spectator, and said that the experience was "beyond reproach; unsullied pleasure from start to finish". Terry Durack reviewed the restaurant in 2001, also for The Independent. He was initially hesitant as he expected tricks straight away and was surprised to find a bowl of normal green olives on the table as he arrived. He didn't think much of a mustard ice cream in a red cabbage gazpacho soup, but described the restaurant as "great" and gave it a score of seventeen out of twenty. Following the third Michelin star, Jan Moir of The Daily Telegraph visited the restaurant but disliked it, saying that "while many of the flavours are politely interesting, the relentless pappy textures of mousses and foams and creams and poached meats really begins to grate". She also thought the restaurant was overpriced, calling it "The Fat Profit".
Matthew Fort reviewed the restaurant for The Guardian in 2005, he said that "there is no doubt that the Fat Duck is a great restaurant and Heston Blumenthal the most original and remarkable chef this country has ever produced". A. A. Gill for The Times recommended that people should "eat here at least once to find out what is really going on in your mouth". Also in 2005, German food critic Wolfram Siebeck visited the restaurant complained of the delays in service and of several of the dishes, described the mustard ice cream in a red cabbage gazpacho soup as a "fart of nothingness", while chef Nico Ladenis said of the restaurant, "Someone who makes egg and bacon ice cream is hailed a genius. If you vomit and make ice cream out of it, are you a star?" Tony Naylor of The Guardian enjoyed his trip to the restaurant in 2008, and afterwards criticised those who thought that spending £323.13 on a meal for two at lunchtime was too much. Food critic Andy Hayler visited the restaurant in May 2010, and gave it a score of nine out of ten overall. He was particularly fond of the mock turtle soup. He gave that particular dish a full score of ten out of ten on his scale, which means "It is extremely rare that a restaurant can achieve perfect dishes on a consistent basis".
The restaurant has spent nine years on the list of The World's 50 Best Restaurants, including in 2005 when it was listed as the best. It has been ranked second best on numerous occasions, first behind The French Laundry and then behind El Bulli. In 2012, he was ranked in thirteenth place. In 2010, it was named the Best UK Restaurant in the Quintessentially Awards, a scheme run by the Quintessentially Group.
In 2009, it was the only restaurant to be given a top score of ten out of ten in the Good Food Guide. The editor of the guide, Elizabeth Carter, explained the reason for the score, "It's extremely rare that a restaurant cooks perfectly on a consistent basis, but we've had so many superlative reports that we're delighted to recognise The Fat Duck as the best restaurant in Britain." It retained that top score through to the 2013 edition of the guide, where for the first time another restaurant was also given an equal score when Simon Rogan's L'Enclume also received the top marking.
Gallery of dishes
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- Wallop, Harry (10 September 2009). "Fat Duck: sewage-infested oysters to blame for illness says official report". The Daily Telegraph (London).
- "Infected staff worked at Fat Duck". BBC News. 20 March 2009. Retrieved 16 May 2009.
- Beatrice Siu (21 November 2012). "Celebrity chef identifies taxi victims". The Standard.
- Sam Masters (20 November 2012). "Two Fat Duck chefs killed in Hong Kong". The Independent.
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- Rogers, Ben (14 September 1996). "Out for a duck". The Independent. Retrieved 21 September 2012. (subscription required)
- Fingleton, David (6 March 1999). "Restaurant: The Fat Duck and Chez Bruce". The Spectator. Retrieved 21 September 2012. (subscription required)
- Durack, Terry (2 December 2001). "Eating Out: Thinking man's crumpet". The Independent. Retrieved 21 September 2012. (subscription required)
- Moir, Jan (31 January 2004). "Are you ready to order? This week: Fat Duck". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
- Fort, Matthew (19 April 2005). "A humble pub's extraordinary journey to gastronomic greatness". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
- Gill, A.A. (17 April 2005). "The Fat Duck". The Times. Retrieved 21 September 2012. (subscription required)
- Harding, Luke (18 June 2005). "Fat Ducks, farts, foaming green tea and the man from Die Zeit". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
- Naylor, Tony (22 January 2008). "Fat Duck, big bill". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
- "Food Rating System". AndyHayler.com. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
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- Vines, Richard (26 April 2010). "El Bulli, Fat Duck Face Challenge". Bloomberg. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
- Butcher, Craig (1 May 2012). "13th: The Fat Duck, Bray, UK". MSN Food. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
- Vines, Richard (2 June 2010). "Nobu Berkeley Wins Best Bar, Fat Duck Triumphs in U.K. Awards". Bloomberg. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
- Singh, Anita (27 February 2009). "Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck closes over food poisoning scare". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
- Hookem-Smith, Kim (17 August 2012). "Heston’s Fat Duck retains top slot in Good Food Guide 2013". Yahoo! Lifestyle. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Fat Duck.|
- Official website
- Food Scientist Rachel Edwards Stuart investigates the molecular make up of flavours for Heston Blumenthal