Perhaps I should start by telling you that I've wanted to go to The Fat Duck for about 3 years. Actually, let's be a little more specific. I've wanted to be taken to The Fat Duck for about 3 years. And last weekend, possibly as a consolation prize for having rudely turned 26, my wonderful other half made all my gastronomic dreams come true. They say the way to a Greek girl's heart is through her stomach, and They'd be right.
We checked in at our B&B in the early afternoon - the charmingly bohemian Red Roofs at Oldfield - and were greeted by Colin, the owner and, in a past life, manager of Status Quo. The kind of bloke who the word legend was invented for; Colin was a moustachioed bear of a man whose twinkling eyes looked like they could tell a story or two. His partner Sandy; a fabulous flame-haired glamazon and retired fashionista, was equally as legendary. It was all I could do to stop myself squealing: 'Adopt me!', if only so I could live in their river-front Victorian mansion, prancing from room to room singing Rockin All Over The World at the top of my lungs. It was eclectically decked out with bric-a-brac and curiosities, the breakfast was one of champions and it was within five minutes drive of The Fat Duck. All in all, a perfect choice.
On arriving at the restaurant, my first thought was that I was mortifyingly overdressed. I'd rocked up in a white Temperley cocktail dress and there were people in there wearing (whisper it) jeans. (Er, are you lost?) But despite its 3 Michelin stars and reputation as the second best restaurant in the world, The Fat Duck is anything but snooty. And thinking about it, anywhere that serves edible playing cards and fish with a side portion of iPod can't really be that up themselves. The whole reason its so wonderful is because it's so whimsical. There were audible gasps, uncontrollable giggles and The Boy even unwittingly licked his plate after one of the courses ( I can't bloody take him anywhere). But that's the kind of childlike excitement the food conjures up - it's fun, magical but, more importantly, utterly delicious.
I felt totally self-concious to start and inexplicably forgot what to do with my hands. As soon as they brought over the vat of liquid nitrogen, though, I was mesmerised. The first course (one of thirteen, stamina is a prerequisite here), was an egg white, vodka and lime mousse ball, poached infront of you in a smoking nitro pot and dusted with green tea powder. We were instructed to eat it in one bite, let it melt in the mouth and enjoy its palette-cleansing properties. As a spritz of lime was sprayed above his head, The Boy (with cold smoke hilariously billowing out of his nose), described it as like eating a very tasty ball of snow. So far, so exciting.
The pommery grain mustard ice cream came next, swimming in a pool of red cabbage gazpacho; so tasty that The Boy licked his plate like a philistine at a tea party. *Shudders with shame*. In his defence, it was incredible and I would've done the same if I'd thought of it first. Who cares about table manners when the food's that good?
Next came one of my favourite courses, four layers of chicken liver parfait, crayfish cream, quail jelly and pea puree, served with a side of truffle toast on a hefty block of cured wood. The waiter brought over two small plastic boxes on a moss-covered platter and told us to open them, place the paper-thin contents on our tongue and taste the forest. I was somewhere between acorns and Bambi when water was poured on the oak moss and it erupted into a smoking overflow, running over the table and rippling over all the cutlery and my Lulu Guinness clutch. I stared in amazement and clapped my hands like an overexcited five year old. Just the reaction they were looking for, I presume.
The infamous snail porridge came next and, happily, was not as controversial as you'd think. Fine, so you could see snail, ahem, heads and they weren't blended into the mixture as I'd hoped, but it's Heston and for him, I'd try anything. The Boy on the other hand, had to be cajoled into trying one (wimp), left the majority and I'm pretty sure went rapidly down in the waiter's estimations. Sigh. And after the good impression he'd made after having ordered the wine tasting menu to go alongside the meal. Oh, well, still ten courses to go to redeem himself.
The roast foie gras followed, served on a braised konbu seaweed base and finished with a crisp crab biscuit. Then came the Mock Turtle soup. If you've seen Heston's Feasts on Channel 4 then you'll know about the wonderful conception of this Wonderland-inspired dish. We were presented with what looked like a tiny fried egg (actually turnip and swede mousse), some miniature mushrooms and a ham terine (this later turned out to be layers of fat and ox tongue. Sounds vile, was AMAZING.) We were shown a glass presentation case containing gold-leaf-covered pocket watches. These were dipped into our tea cups and dissolved in hot water to create a delicious calf's head stock that we poured over the 'egg' and terine. A real rabbit-hole experience - I don't think I stopped giggling the entire way through this course.
Sound of the sea was so beautifully presented that I felt bad digging into it. It arrived with a conch shell containing an iPod that played the sound of crashing waves. We were the first ones in the restaurant to receive this course and sat there with our headphones in shouting at eachother over the sound of seagulls. It was akin to going up to the sea shore with a spoon and eating the flotsam and jetsam. But in a good way, of course. Edible sand (tapioca and fried baby eels, apparently), sea foam and an array of super fresh sashimi; it put Nobu completely to shame. The following were the 'main' courses - salmon poached in liquorice and powdered anjou pigeon - a touch more substantial and equally as delicious. The genius here came from the innovative combination of flavours rather than smoke and mirrors, but just went to show that the food speaks for itself, regardless of its surrounding showmanship.
The hot and iced tea was another one that had me giggling in disbelief - a fresh, lemony drink served in a double-glassed cup that turned your mouth both hot and cold at the same time; cold on the left, hot on the right. Pure genius. We then ordered the optional cheese course - well, if you're doing The Fat Duck, you may as well do it properly. I also asked for a cup of builder's tea (I'd had 3 glasses of champagne at this point and any vague veneer of propriety was swaying along with my centre of gravity). I got brought a menu (£35 cup of tea, anyone?) and then what looked like a chemistry set. I should've known they don't do anything by halves - my tea was made infront of me by the waiter using all manner of receptacles and a hollow wooden box.
Ready to face the 4-part dessert, I was brought an intricately crafted Taffety Tart complete with sugared rose petals, a Black Forest Gateau with kirsch ice-cream (the smell of the Black Forest was squirted above my head as I was eating it), Wiskey wine gums stuck to a glass map of Scotland and, finally, a candy-striped paper bag in the style of a retro sweet shop. I'm a sucker for retro sweets so this really was the icing on the cake (if you'll pardon the pun). It contained a small menu that smelt like sweets (it's all in the detail), coconut baccy, aerated chocolate with a mandarin centre, an apple pie flavoured toffee with an edible wrapper (I had a real Violet Beauregarde moment here where I kept squealing at The Boy: 'It reeeally tastes like an apple pie!') and, the piece de resistance, a tiny envelope with a red logo-embossed wax seal. It contained The Queen of Hearts; an edible white chocolate playing card with an impossibly detailed print on both sides and a raspberry jam filling. Oh, and the wax seal? Chocolate, obviously.
The Boy's declaration that he would have to be drunk when the bill arrived seemed fair enough. After all, it wasn't the cheapest meal we've ever had (it'll be Nando's from now on, I imagine). But it's a memory that I'll cherish forever, the best present I've ever been given and I even got a signed birthday card from Mr Blumenthal himself. Now that you don't get at Nando's.