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Fat Duck, August 2010

h
Harters Aug 7, 2010 07:05 AM

I normally post my restaurant reviews to the UK board of another website but thought that the Fat Duck was sufficiently "down south" that it might be of interest to the much more London-centric Chowhound board as well (although I can't see any recent mention of anyone actually eating there).

It was probably with some trepidation that my wife suggested going to the Fat Duck as my 60th birthday present from her. And it was with some trepidation that I said that I’d love to. It was going to be a dinner unlike any other we’d eaten. It was going to be wacky. It was going to include food that didn’t sound instantly appealing. It was going to be eye-wateringly expensive.

So, the reservation was made. An opportunity to mention any dietary issues had been given (and would be repeated on arrival) but we decided to “go for it” and trust that everything would be OK. And, if it wasn’t, then we could always get a bag of chips on the way home. So, there we were. Ready for anything. But, perhaps, the biggest surprise was in the whole ambiance of the place. It was extremely relaxed and, whilst service was formal, there was not a hint of stuffiness. Some diners had “frocked up”, others were dressed in jeans and polo shirts. Neither group looked out of place. We were about to start on a four hour experience of great food, theatre and just downright good fun. It will be fair to say that my wife found the meal more challenging than I did and, whilst she found all the dishes to be excellently constructed and interesting, there were several that were simply not to her taste. Apart from a couple of the courses, I liked everything.

I no longer drink alcohol but a long tasting menu is always a challenge for my wife in matching wine to food. The restaurant offers a pairing which would have brought eight different wines but, if she was not to leave Bray absolutely legless, this would have to be pared down. This is when the skill of a good sommelier comes to the fore. He was able to select four glasses from the eight which, in conjunction with a champagne aperitif, kept her going all evening.

And so to food:

LIME GROVE, nitro poached green tea and lime mousse. Kit is delivered to a side table – plates, a bowl, a flask containing the liquid nitrogen, a pressurised bottle of the mousse. The waiter squirts nitrogen into the bowl; mousse onto a spoon and it goes into the nitro. A few seconds later, the blob has set and is plated. A dusting of the green tea. One mouthful. It feels like meringue – crispy on the outside, soft inside. The waiter squirts an atomiser of lime scent into the air. Perfect theatre. Perfect citrusy palate cleanser.

RED CABBAGE GAZPACHO, Pommery grain mustard ice cream. Bread arrives before this. Nothing fancy – just white and brown. But it’s excellent bread with a good crust. It’ll be regularly offered throughout the meal. A small quenelle of the ice cream sits in the bowl and the soup is poured over. You notice the mustard first, then the sweetness of the ice cream and, finally, the distinct flavour of the cabbage.

JELLY OF QUAIL, crayfish cream, chicken liver parfait, oak moss and truffle toast. The most theatrical dish of the evening. Placed in front of you is a bowl and a wooden board. On the board sits the toast. In the bowl is almost everything else. In the centre of the table is a small tray of oak moss. On this are two slivers of film of “essence of oak moss” which we’re invited to place on our tongues. They taste of, erm,, oak moss. In the bowl, there are four layers. A bottom layer of pea puree, topped with the extremely rich quail jelly, then a thin layer of the crayfish cream (in truth, not detectable to our palates) and, uppermost, the chicken parfait. You are about to eat when waiter pours dry ice onto the moss and your table is completely covered with the mist of the forest floor. It lingers while you eat. It had us laughing out loud. This is a wonderfully rich and delicious dish which I loved, the crisp truffle toast contrasting well with thr softness of the jelly concoction. It was the first dish which didn’t find favour with my wife (which meant I got “seconds”).

SNAIL PORRIDGE, Jabugo ham, shaved fennel. Perhaps the best known Blumenthal dish, it was again a very rich flavour in the porridge. Neither of us had eaten snail before and we were both surprised how little flavour they had in themselves. The fennel was heavily salted and, whilst it was no doubt intended to have the predominant flavour, we were less than convinced that it worked better than a fuller pure fennel taste.

ROAST FOIE GRAS, gooseberry, braised konbu and crab biscuit. Foie gras is something that we’d usually choose not to eat but we’d decided to put ethical considerations to one side and “go for it”. Of course, you cannot entirely escape your prejudices and it was, perhaps, no surprise that this simply didn’t appeal to us. Of course, it was technically brilliant – the soft richness of the liver; topped with the crunchiness of the seaweed (and something else) topping, the tartness of the gooseberry. No doubt, many customers would love this. We wouldn’t be amongst them.

MOCK TURTLE SOUP. I think this is from one of the “Heston’s Feasts” programmes and was back to just damn good fun. In the bowl, a little piece of veal, a pretend egg, little dice of veg. Alongside a cup. The waiter drops the Mad Hatter’s gold pocket watch into the cup. And pours water on. You then stir and the watch dissolves into the water, forming the gold flecked stock for the soup. You pour it into your bowl and, there you are, a delicious soup of deep savoury flavours and textures. Wonderful.

“SOUND OF THE SEA”. Theatre continues with the presentation of an iPod enclosed within a conch shell. You listen to the gulls and the waves lapping whilst you eat. There are slivers of raw yellow fin tuna, halibut and mackerel. They “swim” in the sea – actually a foam of fish and seaweed stock. It laps against the shore – the sand made from semolina, fried eels and vermouth. This is fab. We don’t want to take off the ear pieces. But it’s time to move on.

SALMON POACHED IN LIQUORICE, artichoke, vanilla mayo, trout roe & Manni olive oil. Neither of us was keen on this dish. The salmon was wrapped in the liquorice and topped with roe and drizzled with the oil. There were blobs of the mayo dotted around and it was the strong taste of the vanilla that “did for us”.

POWDERED ANJOU PIGEON, blood pudding, potted umbles, spelt. I loved this but my wife didn’t – but then she’s not a fan of game or offal. Here there was pigeon breast – two slices very soft, perhaps poached; a larger chunk fried. The blood pudding actually in the form of deeply rich thick sauce – almost the consistency of congealing blood. Separately a bowl of the umbles, in a creamy sauce, topped with crispy spelt. A masterpiece of a dish – my wife admiring the skill if not the taste.

HOT & ICED TEA. A palate cleanser and Blumenthal’s witchcraft is again employed. The glass of tea, intended to be drunk in one swig, is, as described, hot on one side, iced on the other. I swigged and tasted hot tea on the left side of my mouth, whilst cold on the right. There must a gelling agent in there somehow. Burn him, burn him!

MACERATED STRAWBERRIES, olive oil biscuit, chamomile & coriander. A seemingly straightforward summer dessert. Delicious berries made special by the oily biscuit and the hint of spices. There was excellent sugar craft here, in the form of a miniature plaid picnic blanket, draped over the berries. Oh, and there was a delicious jelly & ice cream cornet to eat first. Summer in a few bites.

THE BFG, Black Forest Gateau. A dessert from another TV show which attempted to perfect this British classic dessert. We’re old enough to remember when this was a feature of dinner at a Berni Inn (after the prawn cocktail and steak & chips). And we don’t diss Berni Inns – this is where folk like us went for celebration meals. As for eating the creation, it was really good gateau with some kirsch ice cream on the side. And an atomiser of an indeterminate “essence of Black Forest” to spray around.

WHISK(E)Y WINE GUMS. The wine gums come “stuck” to a map of Scotland showing the region from which the flavours come. Even in my drinking days, I was never a fan of Scotch and now this was just so-so.

LIKE A KID IN SWEET SHOP. The Fat Duck’s offering as petit fours to go with coffee (extra charge). They arrive in a stripy paper bag – just like when you were a kid and went to spend your pocket money on penny chews, sherbet dabs and blackjacks. There was an “orange aero”. And a caramel with edible cellophane wrapper. And the Queen of Hearts – a white chocolate playing card, encasing a tart fruit filling. And a paper pouch, just like you’d buy loose tobacco – but here the baccy made from coconut but infused with tobacco flavour. Bloody good coffee, as well.

So, in conclusion, how do I feel about my birthday treat? It was an evening that I’m really glad I’ve experienced. I’d eaten some outstandingly tasty and enjoyable food. I’d eaten even more outstandingly interesting food. It had been fun. And I can now say to anyone who asks “I’ve been to the third best restaurant in the world”. There’s not much more a foody could ask for.

  1. thew Aug 15, 2010 06:20 PM

    i'm dying to go here - i live in new york city. how difficult are reservations to get? how long in advance does one need to do so. my 50th b-day is coming up, and i might just by myself a trip to london for dinner for this one......

    12 Replies
    1. re: thew
      h
      Harters Aug 16, 2010 02:59 AM

      thew - you can only book literally two months ahead to the day you want to go. You need to phone at 10am prompt. It'll be engaged. Keep trying. Eventually you will get through - more than likely by then the tables will have gone for your hoped for day. They are likely to advise you to try again next day.

      It took us 2 days to get through. We'd wanted to eat on a day it was closed so they thankfully gave us a booking there and then for two days after we'd wanted. That was fine, as we're only 200 miles away so could easily fit travel plans to the booking.

      You'll probably fair better for lunch (although I'm not sure how suited the meal is to daytime eating).

      1. re: Harters
        m
        mr_gimlet Aug 16, 2010 04:01 AM

        you can book online for a lunch though I think only a few weeks out

        1. re: Harters
          thew Aug 16, 2010 08:05 AM

          so thats 4 am in NYC if im recalling the time shift right

          damn

          1. re: thew
            zuriga1 Aug 16, 2010 08:19 AM

            London area is usually 5 hours ahead of NYC. But... our clocks change at different times in the Spring and Autumn... so sometimes it's six hours different etc.

            1. re: thew
              h
              Harters Aug 16, 2010 09:37 AM

              'Tis a trial, indeed, from your side of the pond. An earlier thread:
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7210...

              Good luck.

              1. re: Harters
                sped98 Aug 24, 2010 11:54 AM

                Had the pleasure of dining at the fat duck last thursday .My honest opinion...Fantastic show , but the jury is still out on the food.
                Have a look at the pics i took by clicking on the link.
                http://www.flickr.com/photos/24726943...

                 
                 
                 
                 
                 
                 
                 
                1. re: sped98
                  LindaWhit Aug 24, 2010 12:48 PM

                  sped98, absolutely STUNNING photographs - just superb! Professional quality (are you a professional photographer?)

                  You took quite a few photographs - did they seem put out by it or very accommodating? (I'd have to imagine that many people would want to take photos.)

                  I especially love that strawberry and white chocolate gingham "tablecloth" in the strawberry dessert.

                  Thank you from someone across the pond who'll never get to eat here - but just lived vicariously through your photos and Harters' descriptions. :-)

                  1. re: LindaWhit
                    sped98 Aug 24, 2010 01:10 PM

                    Hey Linda , thank you for the lovely comments....and i actually work in the Nuclear industry ha ha....but always take my camera to dinner with me and then just snap away...The key to the pics is good natural light and then change the brightness and contrast in a photo programme like photoshop.Check the photos ive just put on from Aiden Byrnes restaurant , i think theyre better.
                    They actually said "Take as many photos as you want but please dont use flash"
                    Cheers Linda
                    Alan

                    1. re: sped98
                      h
                      helen b Nov 11, 2010 01:22 PM

                      Spoilt brat that I am, ate at the Fat Duck last Saturday for the second time (first time being 5 years ago). This occasion was the - requested! he used to be such a fussy eater! - 16th birthday celebration for my son.

                      Mixed feelings. For me, as a returning eater, and also a foodie who reads every murmur online, the surprise is removed, so apart from the new dishes (particularly the Mock Turtle Soup) it was all a bit 'no, I'm not going to put on the iPhone headphones again for Sound of the Sea and yes I know the crunchy bits in the sand are eels' EXCEPT, knowing about his soon-to-open Dinner, I paid more attention to the more 'normal' dishes like the venison and squab, which were both melty, and am excited about trying what will presumably be a less smears 'n' dry ice cuisine when it opens. He can cook ;)

                      My boyfriend hadn't been before, and was a bit more 'not sure this is the tastiest food I've ever had, but it's the most dramatic.'

                      My sister in law was blown away and has devoted several Facebook statuses to the subject! She especially loved the quail/langoustine combo and the foie gras/truffle moss.

                      What was most interesting was my son. This is the boy who lived on tomato ketchup for a decade (well, sort of). And he was ill on the day. And tired. But he lit up in the room. I will always remember him being the first to try the lime mousse which is 'cooked' in nitrogen...the 'smoke' came out of his nose, like a teenaged dragon and his face was hilarious. He ate EVERYTHING.

                      The staff were BRILLIANT with him. He's hold enough to drink but obviously, responsible(ish) Mum that I am I didn't want him to have the matching wines menu, so the sommelier started him on one half glass of Viognier to see how that went, and he had another two half glasses of expertly chosen wines over the course of the (FIVE HOUR!) meal. Really appreciated.

                      The Maitre D' also came to speak to me in a fag break (sorry!) to ask how he was enjoying it, wanted info about what younger palates liked, told him that actually it had been the snails (the garlic?) and the foie gras (texture?) and the Turtle Soup (edible gold! though Mum thought the liquid was served a tad cold...), we had a long chat and he's passing it on.

                      Best of all, he got a birthday card signed by His Royal Hestonness!

                      Anyway, lovely afternoon, all in. It made my year. Possibly more about spending 5 hours with my teenager (they're usually locked away!) than the food, but I really loved how much he really loved it. But I won't be back. It's like watching a magic trick: it bedazzles the first time, the second time you admire the artistry, the third, well...

                      Anyhows, off to Noma in 3 weeks (did you catch the 'spoilt brat' at the start?!) so will be fascinating to compare and contrast, especially given Viajante last month, which I would go back to in a shot, in preference to the duck...

                      1. re: helen b
                        zuriga1 Nov 11, 2010 01:31 PM

                        Did you see the recent interview with Blumenthal that was in the Independent? I found it interesting. He has not been satisfied with The Duck until the past year or so. Is the Mock Turtle soup what we back in Phila. used to call Snapper Soup? It was one of my childhood favorites - even out of a can.

                        I'll be interested in your thoughts about Noma as we'll be returning to Copenhagen next spring. To be honest, the menu doesn't do much for me... but I'm not all that adventurous.

                        1. re: zuriga1
                          h
                          helen b Nov 13, 2010 05:16 AM

                          Mock Turtle Soup was, I think (someone more knowledgeable please correct me!) a Victorian favourite - consommee with pressed veal head, no idea how that impersonates turtle flesh but hey! Heston's is actually done with poached pork.

                          1. re: helen b
                            zuriga1 Nov 13, 2010 07:43 AM

                            I did some Googling and found that the delicious snapper soup I remember from my Phila. childhood IS made from snapper turtle meat - also tomato-based with sherry.
                            Mock turtle does sound mock indeed. :-)

        2. h
          Harters Aug 11, 2010 07:06 AM

          FWIW, the Good Food Guide has just named the FD as its No. 1 restaurant for the third year in a row. The full list:

          1. The Fat Duck, Bray, Berkshire

          2. Gordon Ramsay, Royal Hospital Road, London

          3. Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, Great Milton, Oxfordshire

          4. L'Enclume, Cartmel, Cumbria

          5. Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Rock, Cornwall

          6. Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham

          7. Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, London

          8. Le Champignon Sauvage, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

          9. Pied-a-Terre, London

          10. The Square, London

          10 Replies
          1. re: Harters
            zuriga1 Aug 11, 2010 08:54 AM

            We'll be in northern Cornwall in the middle of September... have been considering Nathan Outlaw, and DH is seriously considering boycotting anything with the Stein name. I'm not sure what he has against the name of some of my best friends. :-)

            Any other suggestions are welcome.

            1. re: zuriga1
              h
              Harters Aug 11, 2010 10:21 AM

              I'd be generally with Mr Zuriga. We had week in Cornwall a year or so back and thought the food was generally quite disappointing (bear in mind this was a sor tof pub/bistro eating type holiday, not high end nosh). However, we did go to Padstein and eat at the Seafood Restaurant.

              Had the tasting menu and thought it OK but not particulaly good value. For example, I thing there's an obligation that if your menu refers to "scallops", then you do not serve a singular scallop. The words "off and "rip" came to mind, along with one or two others not repeatable in the polite company that is Chowhound.

              No experience but if you are visiting the town, Margot's Bistro gets a very good play on another discussion board I frequent, from folk whose judgement is usually sound. You'll need to book.

              1. re: Harters
                buttertart Aug 11, 2010 10:22 AM

                The use of the plural should indeed indicate more than one. I mean really.

                1. re: Harters
                  zuriga1 Aug 11, 2010 10:55 AM

                  Yes, Margot's is definitely on my list and I have a few other names from an old thread here on CH.

                  They only served one scallop?!?! That is a crime, let alone a ripoff.

                  1. re: Harters
                    howler Aug 11, 2010 11:09 AM

                    harters

                    a) happy belated b'day
                    b) lovely post!
                    c) whatever 'other board' you are referring to, and despite your repeated disavowal of the term 'chowhound', i dub you one anyway. arise and be counted.

                    fwiw, the fat ducks/el bullis of this world aren't my thang, so posts such as yours are the closest i'll get to that sort of experience - much appreciated.

                    1. re: howler
                      h
                      Harters Aug 11, 2010 11:17 AM

                      Many thanks, h.

                      Not only do I not call myself a Chowhound, I am the antithesis to what some describe as the CH "philosophy". I don't call myself an egulleter, either. LOL.

                  2. re: zuriga1
                    PhilD Aug 11, 2010 12:53 PM

                    I would definitely encourage a visit to Outlaw, he was great in Fowey and apparently is as good in his new place in Rock - book the restaurant not the grill. If in Padstow book early for Margot's (you may already be too late) as he was already booked for the summer a few months back. Another good option in Padstow is No.6 which is fine food at good prices.
                    Out RS experience was mixed, the Bistro was OK but I can't remember the food (!) and the F&C shop was mediocre.

                    1. re: PhilD
                      zuriga1 Aug 11, 2010 10:27 PM

                      Thanks, Phil. We won't be in Cornwall till about the 19th of September, but I'll get on the stick with Margot's. It's nice to have so many places to choose from there. Hopefully, there's another F&C place to try.

                      Right after that trip, we're off to Copenhagen for work... I need to get busy with those plans, too.

                      1. re: zuriga1
                        h
                        Harters Aug 12, 2010 05:16 AM

                        June

                        I gather Stein's chippy isn't too shabby a chippy.

                        John

                        1. re: Harters
                          zuriga1 Aug 12, 2010 08:10 AM

                          John - will let you know our opinion if we get there. In the meantime, I've booked Margot's and No. 6. That leaves a Monday night which seems dark for many others, including Outlaw. I guess we won't starve.

                          June

                2. zuriga1 Aug 7, 2010 11:00 PM

                  I've been waiting for this one. :-) I doubt I'll ever be able to rationalize eating at The Fat Duck, so I'll live vicariously through your experience. Some of the courses just sound downright silly to me, but that's without tasting them.

                  So was it worth the amount of £££ spent? If given the choice would you eat there again or at The Sportsman... money thoughts excluded?

                  20 Replies
                  1. re: zuriga1
                    h
                    Harters Aug 8, 2010 03:31 AM

                    June

                    You pose difficult and interesting questions.

                    Was it worth the money? I guess this depends on one's attitude to eating in high level restaurants, and so on. To put it in context, the tasting menu is £150 and drinks are expensive. With service charge, there was no change from £450. Add to that, we had an overnight hotel, lunches, cost of a 400 mile round trip, etc. There are comparitively few folk that I know who would "get" spending that sort of money on dinner - but those who do "get" it, know exactly why it was worth every penny. .

                    It is not really possible to make any realistic comparision between the Fat Duck and the Sportsman (or, indeed, any other Michelin starred restaurant that I've eaten in). The FD is in an entirely different class and must be judged on that basis.

                    That said, it is not our *favourite* UK restaurant. Even amongst the Michelin stars. We'd probably still rank that as Hibiscus (although we need to check that out as we havnt been for a while). Nibbling at Hibiscus' heels, for our affections,would be places like the Sportsman, Fraiche, L'Enclume, Simon Radley - all of which are turning out superb high quality food. And all we would be back to like a shot.

                    Folk on another board who have eaten there before, mention the same dishes that I've eaten this week. It is the problem of being an iconic destination. Punters expect the famous dishes will be there and this, coupled with the effort and skill of developing a plate such as offered at the FD, means changes in menu will be comparitively rare. As such, it will be sometime before I have a need to eat there again and, perhaps, that time will never come. That is not intended as any criticism of the FD - but, for example, having once experienced the theatre of the Mock Turtle Soup, if I was to eat it again, it would just be a very nice soup but nothing else.

                    1. re: Harters
                      m
                      mr_gimlet Aug 8, 2010 04:08 AM

                      John, I think that's a very good way of putting it. At 3* level it's not just about the food and I think theatre is a very good word to describe it - it's an experience rather than a meal. That is the mark of a 3* in my book, whether its the grand dining room with silver butter trolley with seven kinds of butter (a la Ducasse) or artistry that makes you gasp. FD has gone for food theatre.

                      1. re: Harters
                        zuriga1 Aug 8, 2010 05:15 AM

                        The Mock Turtle Soup interests me. Where I grew up (Phila.), there is a restaurant famous for what they called 'Snapper Soup.' Supermarkets all over the U.S. even sell this Bookbinder's soup in cans. It's always best warmed up with a bit of sherry. I think it's supposed to have bits of real turtle in it, but that could be a myth, and I never bothered to find out.

                        As you say, it's in large part about the theatre at Fat Duck, and who knows, maybe one day I'll decide to treat myself. It's like art, and all up to the individual to say if it's something wonderful or just plain crap.

                        1. re: zuriga1
                          m
                          marcus james Aug 9, 2010 09:59 AM

                          I've said it before, but i'll say it again. in relative terms (yes, these restaurants are expensive), go to the equivalent in paris or new york and you'll pay a minimum of 1/3 again. what's the fd degustation these days - £150/160? compare that to the likes of gagnaire, passard, ducasse, per se and masa (i could go on) and the fd starts to look like a comparable bargain.

                          so, i do feel a little sorry for heston when people continue to bang on about the price of his menu. it's expensive only by uk terms, not global.

                          1. re: marcus james
                            h
                            Harters Aug 9, 2010 11:10 AM

                            Marcus

                            Yes, I understand the point you make and, certainly, I am not one who would criticise the FD's pricing. Whilst the FD may cost a lot of money, I wouldnt say it was expensive. 'Tis market forces if nothing else - folk are prepared to pay the FD because it *is* the FD. Just down the road is the Waterside - another 3* and one that charges £112 for its tasting menu (and some very eye-watering prices on its carte).

                            That said, I can't really buy into the global comparision - my pension is in sterling, I pay taxes in sterling and, for the vast majority of the yearly dining, I pay in sterling.

                            1. re: Harters
                              m
                              marcus james Aug 10, 2010 07:08 AM

                              my point about the global restaurants was purely confined to a like for like comparison. the fd has over 40 staff between kitchen and floor as i understand it. the one-for-one diner / staff ratio is applicable in very few places and, when it is, the prices usually far and away beyond what the fd charges. i'm still lead to believe (like many 3 stars) the fd barely breaks a profit and it's heston's other ventures that generate the bulk of the revenue. the same was true of marco in his restaurant / oak room heyday.

                              1. re: marcus james
                                PhilD Aug 10, 2010 02:32 PM

                                The problem with international comparisons is the dire state of sterling. When I lived in Paris is was 1.5 to the Euro that made France seem quite good value, now it is not.

                                That said I still think fine dining in the UK is quite cheap relative to other UK costs. Like John, we used to travel to eat in good restaurants, whilst the restaurant maybe £100 a head, it was the accommodation that killed us with an very average room coming in at £120 a night. To get a room that "matched" the food would mean an accommodation bill of £200 to 300, then there is the travel cost with £100 for petrol, or high train fares (my weekday return ticket Bath to London was £130), and taxis etc.

                                So generally we found the food bill was he least of our costs if we ventured out for the weekends, and in relative terms (to other UK costs), very good value for experiencing some of the best food in the UK.

                                However, whilst I think the FD food prices are fair their drinks charges are extorinate especially the paired tastings with the menu. El Bulli last year was €230 (£190) for the food, but very good local wine was only €40 (£33) a bottle, and glasses were equally well priced and seemingly refilled for free. The result was that thouugh it was a very generous restaurant that was worth every penny, whilst I still feel the FD took the piss with the wine (although not as bad as Hibiscus) prices and that memory unfortuantly seems to linger as long as the sublime food. .

                                1. re: PhilD
                                  h
                                  Harters Aug 10, 2010 02:51 PM

                                  Phil

                                  I agree about the piss being taken over drinks prices. It hadnt clicked until just now when I rechecked the menu - but they dont mention how much they are going to sting you for the pairings.

                                  On the subject of Hibiscus - Mrs H is a great fan of the guy who was our sommelier on both visits. Picked her some absolutely belting stuff (including what she says is the best red she's ever drunk) and all at a very, very reasonable price. I accept that you've been more recently than I, so things may have changed - herself & I are planning to go for what we usually call our "office Xmas party" this year.

                                  1. re: Harters
                                    buttertart Aug 11, 2010 06:32 AM

                                    Our bottle last January at Hibiscus (one of my top favorites) was very well-chosen and under USD 50.00 as I recall - an Austrian red that was very enjoyable and refined, went perfectly with the food.
                                    Harters, the FD sounds brilliant and a lot of fun - I love the sense of humor in the food and presentations - the experience must have been most enjoyable. But was the food as satisfying and raffiné as at Hibiscus? Would the money have been better spent there?

                                    1. re: buttertart
                                      h
                                      Harters Aug 11, 2010 06:48 AM

                                      As I've already suggested, it's impossible to make any sensible comparision (on a foody basis) between the FD and anywhere else that I know of. Every penny was a penny well spent.

                                      I love dining in Michelin starred places in the UK. For me, they represent the best of what I generally want to eat. I like their diverse nature that means I can enjoy them for the style they present.

                                      If you're asking am I looking forward to my next meal at Hibiscus. Damn right I am.

                                      1. re: Harters
                                        buttertart Aug 11, 2010 07:25 AM

                                        I know what you mean, my birthday dinner last year at Per Se was also eyewateringly expensive (and we drink, so no moderating that part of the cost either), but it was as close to perfection as a meal can get and we don't have any "buyer's remorse" about it. There are lots of other expensive meals we've had in NY (including in several places repeatedly praised to the skies by certain posters on the NY board) and other cities for which the money spent would definitely have been better spent elsewehere. Some experiences are just to be had and enjoyed. I'm dying to try the FD and another restaurant along similar lines in Chicago, Alinea, which seems to be like the FD but less humorous. I love the thought of the highly-intellectualized but divinely witty menu at FD.

                                      2. re: buttertart
                                        PhilD Aug 11, 2010 12:57 PM

                                        I ate the the FD and Hibiscus a few months apart. The FD was in a far higher league than Hibiscus. It will be interesting to see how John rates it after the FD. Maybe Hibiscus could be called more refined than the FD but for us it was a lot less fun.

                                        1. re: PhilD
                                          g
                                          guster4lovers Aug 15, 2010 06:06 PM

                                          I haven't been to the Fat Duck, but in comparison to Ramsay's RHR restaurant, Hibiscus also fell short. But hearing everyone rave about it makes me think maybe we were there on an off day. The service wasn't great either - I felt like they were ignoring us a lot of the time because they figured they would get more money from other patrons. It took about 30 minutes from getting our coffee to getting our check. Finally we had to go up and find the hostess to pay. I would expect better in a 2 star restaurant.

                                          We had both meals in the same week, and felt like Hibiscus was really trying hard - especially evident in the dessert. It was a white asparagus tart, but the waiter wouldn't tell us what it was until we had finished so that we could guess what it was. Honestly, it didn't taste great, although it was technically impressive; we felt like the chef was working really hard to be innovative. Compare that to the pineapple soup we had as one of the three desserts at Ramsay's - it was fresh, light, and had popping candy, which we didn't expect at all. They didn't feel like they were trying, with either the food or the service. And we left a lot happier about the money we had spent because of it. That to me is the difference between 3 and 2 stars.

                                          I do remember the wine being incredibly pricey as well at Hibiscus. I got one of the best glasses of white wine I've ever had at Ramsay's restaurant, and had to pay double for a far inferior wine at Hibiscus.

                                          But I'm interested to hear other peoples' experience there...

                                          1. re: guster4lovers
                                            buttertart Aug 16, 2010 06:19 AM

                                            When was this? We were there in July 08 and this January, and had their terrific value set lunch (with glass of wine and coffee GBP 38.00, was I think a bit less in January, and the bottle of Blaufränkisch we had was maybe GBP 35.00 - no longer shows on their downloadable list however). There were no contrived desserts on the menu (à la carte - I looked at it closely, being very fond of dessert - or table d'hôte). The chestnut parfait I had in January and the cherry Bakewell tart with brown bread ice cream that July were exemplary. Service was professional, a bit cool and Teutonic perhaps (the waiter was from that neck of the woods), but equal to or better than that in most NY restaurants of this level. It's odd how restaurant experiences can vary so widely.

                                            1. re: buttertart
                                              c
                                              chief1284 Aug 24, 2010 02:09 PM

                                              All this talk from buttertart and Harters has me excited. Taken a day off work for the set lunch this Friday (the £38 one with coffee, wine and petit fours). I hope my experience lives up to both of yours and not guster4lovers. I'll perhaps come back with how it went down.

                                              1. re: chief1284
                                                buttertart Aug 25, 2010 10:28 AM

                                                Please do. I'd go there in a heartbeat.

                                    2. re: PhilD
                                      m
                                      mr_gimlet Aug 10, 2010 03:03 PM

                                      I think the wine difference can make a massive impact - my favourite starred restaurants are in Spain because they see wine as an essential component of the meal and price to encourage it.

                                      Marcus and John's comments don't just apply to sterling - I had dinner last week in two two hat restaurants here in Victoria (probably one star territory, we go up to three hats) and spent more than I did in a Euro 2*!

                                      1. re: mr_gimlet
                                        limster Aug 10, 2010 03:27 PM

                                        Yep, sometimes a well priced bottle or glass can make a big difference in value -- especially for bottles that start high, the difference in the % markup can often be more than the cost of the meal (and air ticket and hotel).

                                        Speaking of which, love to hear of restaurants with exceptional wine prices.

                                        The obvious ones (to me) are La Trompette's wine list, where some of the nicer bottles seem priced close to retail. Have also heard good things about Enoteca Turi -- any confirmations from folks who have looked at their wine list?

                                        Also, have enjoyed the wines at RSJ -- an impressive breath and depth with regard to the Loire -- but haven't had a chance to research how well priced their wine list is. Terroirs has an interesting selection that spans many smaller producers that are generally very drinkable, but again not sure about value.

                                        1. re: limster
                                          PhilD Aug 11, 2010 12:39 AM

                                          Did you see the recent Andy Hayler comment (http://www.andyhayler.com/food_blog_v...) in which he said Andrew Edmunds had the fairest priced wine in London:

                                          "Andrew Edmunds is a long-established Soho eaterie offering simple British food and a wine list that must be one the fairest priced lists in London, if not the UK (if you know of anywhere with an ultra-cheap wine list i.e. with low mark-ups, then me know). Some wines are just a few pounds above retail price, and I gather that the frequently changing list can sometimes offer choices priced below what can be purchased retail. The drawback is that the restaurant is seriously cramped, with tiny tables and uncomfortable, hard wooden benches. The food was generally fairly priced and quite capable, other than overcooked tuna in one dish, and desserts in particular seemed a strength based on this meal. The rapidly turned tables and people being turned away at the door on a Tuesday are a testament to how successful this formula is."

                                          1. re: PhilD
                                            limster Aug 11, 2010 03:24 AM

                                            Thanks, will have to check them out; unfortunately I don't really follow blogs -- I barely have enough time to go through CH. Miss the days of getting nice vintages below auction price at a restaurants in Boston. Any idea what their range is and if they specialise in particular wines or regions?

                        2. LindaWhit Aug 7, 2010 12:18 PM

                          Harters, thanks for sharing with those of us across the big blue pond. Your descriptions were wonderful - and I broke out laughing at the last comment under the Hot & Iced Teas. :-)

                          Again, a very happy birthday - sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime birthday dinner!

                          1. abby d Aug 7, 2010 07:36 AM

                            thanks for sharing harters. the theatricality and fun which you had while eating is what really appeals to me about the fat duck.

                            belated birthday wishes to you :)

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