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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 28 February 2015
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 28 FEBRUARY 2015 21 FOOD The verdict Neos Kosmos’ Angela Costanzo reviews the Australian Fat Duck dining experience I'm told by those who have dined at The Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire that a large part of the overall sense of occasion is the anticipatory train journey to the picturesque countryside and the scenic walk that leads one to the 16th-century building that houses the restaurant. However, there is no less a sense of occasion as I meet my Melbourne Fat Duck dining companions for a pre-lunch drink, clad in our best Melbourne black. Before making our way 'down the rabbit hole' and into the light-filled dining room, there is a palpable sense of excitement. And that's really what you want from a dining experience that's going to set you back more than $500 - excitement. With its Crown Casino tenure lasting only six months while the UK restaurant is refurbished, and with a ridiculously over-subscribed ballot last year that will see just 16,000 diners 'win' their place in the 45-seat venue, the thrill is what it's all about. The food, of course, is the major drawcard, but as we have been advised to allow four-and-a-half hours for our lunch, there is also the expectation of theatre. It starts with a tiny but gorgeous mouthful of aerated beetroot, but it is with the Nitro Poached Aperitifs, fashioned at our table, that the meal hits its stride, and I am reminded of food critic A.A. Gill's recommendation that people should "eat here at least once to find out what is really going on in your mouth". It's not so much the mouth but the brain that is engaged with some dishes - the Savoury Lollies are gorgeous, meticulous miniatures of the ice blocks we ate as kids, but the Waldorf 'Rocket', salmon, avocado and horseradish 'Twister' and a 'Gaytime' fashioned from chicken parfait create a head-on collision between what your eyes are seeing and what you are actually tasting, as does the 'Hot and Iced Tea' that confounds perception. Highlights include the Mad Hatter's Tea Party - a gold-leafed fob watch dissolves to make mock turtle soup to pour over tiny, whimsical mushrooms and paired with delicate sandwiches, snail porridge topped with clean slivers of fennel and served with lashings of house-made bread and butter, and the famous 'Sound of the sea', all salty foam, sand and crunchy sea succulents, that comes with its own soundtrack. Botrytis cinerea is a clear winner for me. Inspired by the flavours of Sauternes, globes of pure sensation are fashioned into a bunch of grapes, each 'grape' offering something different - creamy indulgence, popping candy, frozen sorbet, muscatel jelly. It looks and tastes gorgeous. I also loved the whisky wine gums, five noticeably different whisky flavours that you peel off a map showing their places of origin. Clever and fun. Not all dishes fire on all cylinders; red cabbage gazpacho with its dollop of grain mustard ice cream fails to excite the senses, and I could have lived without the Not So Full English Breakfast's 'cereal' with parsnip milk, but not if it meant foregoing my liquid nitrogen scrambled eggs perched on top of a perfect bacon strip and sweet brioche. The Fat Duck is exciting, it's inspiring, and most of all, it's fun. The pleasure isn't just in the food but the whole experience - service is perfect, with staff pushing their intriguing trolleys like elegant, magical tea ladies - and it's obvious that thought has been put into every aspect of the experience, from the silverware and crockery that has been brought from its UK home to the quiet, satisfied hum of the dining room that is randomly punctuated with gasps of delight. As we settle the bill after our six-hour extravaganza, leaving with the giggly, giddy exhilaration of a child who’s been to the circus, neat type at the bottom of the receipt invites us to 'Please come again'. I wish I could, Heston, I really wish I could. The world’s most luxurious ‘tea bag’? This gold-leaf fob watch transforms into a spectacular mock turtle soup. Globes of joy: Botrytis cinerea Don’t trust what your eyes are telling you with this savoury dish. Mad Hatters Tea Party - one of the stand-out dishes at The Fat Duck. Frequently asked questions answered ANGELA COSTANZO Isn't it too expensive? Yes, it's expensive, but in the same way that a vintage Jag is more expensive than a city runabout, or going to Tuscany is more expensive than a trip to Tasmania. You are paying for a vastly different experience. I will remember this meal a lot longer than any number of steak dinners. I'm not saying you should put yourself into debt to go there, but if you are able to do so, do it. And if you can afford to splash out on the matching wines, so much the better. Sommeliers exist for a reason. Is the food really that good? It's not just the produce at work The Fat Duck manager, Dimitri Andreas Bellos. here, but the ideas behind it. Things made to do something they’re not meant to. Quite often it's truly inspired, whimsical, playful. If you had told me salmon would work well encased in a liquorice gel and with the flavours of pink grapefruit and vanilla before now, I probably wouldn't have believed you. It's the complete antithesis of what we are used to in a dining experience, in that often the produce is the star. Here it is the method. That said, I also had the most tender lamb and the best bread and butter I have ever eaten in my life. Don't people do it just to show off? Some probably do. On the day we went there was a broad spectrum of diners. Some had been to the Bray restaurant and wanted to relive the experience. Some had truly made it a destination restaurant by combining it with their overseas holiday. Some were Heston fans who had scraped together enough for the meal and were probably going to live on lentils for months. Some (our table, and probably others) happily snapped a plethora of photos as a shared experience to remember a special, unique afternoon. Is it really worth it? For me - yes. A lot of people spend silly money on their passions; some love spending time on their boat or restoring an old car, some see upgrading to business class as an essential part of travelling, others buy season tickets to the opera or spend thousands following a performing artist around the country. I spent a large amount of money on a meal that I will remember for years to come, and I enjoyed every fat minute of it.
21 February 2015
7 March 2015