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Trip Report in May 2014 (Fat Duck, and Hedone)

We recently visited two restaurants in the UK, and I thought it would be interesting to give another diner's take on Fat Duck and Hedone. I was considering posting to willyum's excellent trip report (found here: chowhound.chow.com/topics/972994#8889265), but didn't wish to hijack that thread.

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  1. The Fat Duck
    Rating: 20/20
    Value for money: 5/5
    Price (after tax + tip, a glass of champagne): £240 ($407 at 1 GBP = 1.69 USD)
    Chef: Jonny Lake

    A more in-depth report, with pictures, can be found here: http://kennethtiongeats.wordpress.com...

    And so it came to pass that we stood outside a non-descript door, after being delivered by taxi to the little village of Bray (home to two 3-Michelin-starred restaurants), waiting to be shoo-ed into the dining room within. The Fat Duck was the first restaurant on an eating tour of Europe. We would be starting off on a tremendous high.

    The Fat Duck is perhaps the most complete modernist restaurant that I have ever dined in. Everything was delicious, and with independent gastronomic merit. The dishes, without exception, are all intensely memorable and will sear themselves into your memory.

    Nowhere else, have the aesthetics simply been as polished as the Fat Duck. From the very first bite, a sparkly crimson golfball of aerated beetroot with horseradish cream, the dishes announce themselves as art pieces. I swirled around a disappearing golden fob-watch to make mock turtle soup. I beheld a bed of moss as it started smoking and steaming. The last two desserts were veritable masterpieces, the first a completely fleshed out egg dessert that was the Platonic Form of everything the cracked egg at Atera aspires to. In lifelikeness, it was uncanny. The second, Botrytis Cinerea, is one of the best desserts I can ever remember eating in my life. It takes a tremendously confident kitchen to believe that they can develop a dessert that can represent the complex Chateau d’Yquem, one of the greatest foodstuffs on Earth - but the Fat Duck believed it, and they have done it. That dessert is a feast for both the palate, which enjoys each individually-crafted element on the plate, and the intellect, as it ponders the deconstruction of the wine. Here the developed flavors of the final product (wine and yeast), were encapsulated back in the evocation of colourful grape globules. Food as the highest art possible.

    1. Amuse: Aerated Beetroot with Horseradish Cream (4.75/5
    ) ⁃ Intense beetroot taste, that just disappeared like a cloud on the tongue in a matter of seconds, but the horseradish kick reminded this diner that what I had tasted did exist. Perfectly spherical, like a really solid red golf ball.
    ⁃ A good flavor pairing, using a (centrifuge?) machine to concentrate the beetroot juice for 12-14h at 40-50 degrees Celsius, in order to get such intensity of flavors
    2. NITRO POACHED APERITIFS (3.5/5)
    ⁃ Vodka and Lime Sour, Campari Soda, Tequila and Grapefruit
    ⁃ We could choose the cocktail flavor we wanted. I chose Tequila and Grapefruit. With all the ceremony of a Tibetan monk, our server discharged the cocktail-meringue contents of the 3 corresponding ISI-whip containers into a bucket of liquid nitrogen, and then peeled the citrus in the direction of the resulting “ice-meringue”, setting the essential oils into a brief flicker of fire by the candle. The visual effects were superb, but the taste predominated in citrus (grapefruit) for mine, the alcohol (tequila) not really perceptible.
    3. RED CABBAGE GAZPACHO (4.25/5)
    ⁃ Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream
    ⁃ A dice of cucumbers beneath a scoop of mustard ice cream. This is a Fat Duck signature. The spice from the mustard made this quite unlike other dishes (spicy ice cream, with mustard flavors to boot!) but it paired pleasantly with the sour-sweetness of red cabbage.
    ⁃ Here’s an online recipe for it: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/enter...
    4. JELLY OF QUAIL, CRAYFISH CREAM (4.75/5
    ) ⁃ Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast (Homage to Alain Chapel)
    ⁃ A dish in three steps: 1. Truffle toast. 2. Crayfish cream with jelly of quail. 3. Oak moss film in plastic capsules, on a bed of moss. To be put on the tongue.
    ⁃ The bed of moss (with dry ice underneath) was then watered to release a truffle scent. The sublime part of the dish was a joke on the oak, for truffles grow on oaks. Since we were well out of truffle season (June) I believe frozen truffles were used. The crayfish fish cream itself was absolutely superb (5/5), having great crayfish flavor, and reminding me of a delightful fried prawn-roll from Singapore called the ngor-hiang, which at its best (stuffed with top quality prawn) has a similar flavor. The intensity of flavor from the crayfish and the secondary flavor of liver, were intense and classically-heavy, evoking classical French cooking (and Heston’s inspiration Alain Chapel).
    5. SNAIL PORRIDGE (4.75/5)
    ⁃ Iberico Bellota Ham, Shaved Fennel
    ⁃ Another Fat Duck signature. Snails, from the firm Escargot Anglais, from Hereford - were soft, and flavorful. It was really a complete dish - savory ribbons of iberico bellota, with shaved fennel providing a vegetable crunch, and the pliant but firm texture of snails, which has its textural merits in not having the springiness of shellfish, along with a hearty parsley porridge. I loved it.
    ⁃ Heston cooking the snail porridge: http://vimeo.com/54136084
    6. ROAST FOIE GRAS (4.75/5
    ) ⁃ Barberry, Confit Kombu and Crab Biscuit
    ⁃ Foie from the Loire valley, unctuous and creamy, fatty moist and with geometric integrity, were very good in the fatty-class of foie gras - that paired very well with the sweet seafood in the crab tuile.
    ⁃ Red Rhubarb puree, kombu seaweed film underneath
    7. MAD HATTER’S TEA PARTY (C. 1892) (5/5)
    ⁃ Mock Turtle Soup, Pocket Watch and Toast Sandwich
    ⁃ Another multi-step dining dish. A pocket watch containing dehydrated beef-mushroom-stock and papered over with edible gold leaf, is swirled in a teapot, and the resulting mixture poured over custard, with ham and bone marrow, truffle (?), sherry vinegar, cucumber, and ketchup in the final “Mock Turtle” soup.
    ⁃ The toast sandwiches, were sandwiches of toast. The filling was toast, with truffle, and some mayonnaise and mustard. They were very good.
    ⁃ It was completely fantastical, and the connection between the historical mock turtle soup (calves head and feet) with the beef bouillon in the Pocket Watch was a delightful bit of whimsy.
    ⁃ Here’s another description of the dish: http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/go...
    8. “SOUND OF THE SEA” (5/5
    ) ⁃ Heston Blumenthal has been one of the vanguard chefs in exploring the effects of other senses (such as hearing) on the effects of taste. He famously noticed that one tasted his scrambled egg and bacon ice cream differently if it was described as “ice-cream”, vs a “cold custard”.
    ⁃ Here the sound of waves were piped into our ears through slightly antiquated (!) iPod speakers (they still exist!), with a tapioca and sardine sand. Mackerel, abalone, yellowtail. With seaweeds of all kinds. (My favorite of the seaweeds was a Japanese one dubbed the jellybean)
    ⁃ The seafood was top class, but what really made the dish was the soil, which was good enough to eat on its own. The evocation of the seaside was sublime, provoking a response to its recreation of a beach.
    ⁃ This was more successful than a version I had at Arzak, a couple of weeks later.
    9. SALMON POACHED IN A LIQUORICE GEL (5/5)
    ⁃ Asparagus, Vanilla Mayonnaise and Golden Trout Roe
    ⁃ I am generally a doubter of sous-vide cooking, except for certain ingredients (mussels), because it tends to give an unappetisingly uniform texture to the meat. However here, because of the contrast of textures with the licorice gel and trout roe, and the robust protein-y taste of the salmon, it was completely successful. The time-consuming removal of individual vesicles of fresh pink grapefruit gave a sweetness floral smell to the dish that was not bitter.
    ⁃ I marked the salmon as being of high quality. It was from Hereford, Scotland, poached at 40 degrees celsius. I also noted that only the asparagus tops were not de-skinned, the parts below the tip being denuded of its skin.
    10. LAMB WITH CUCUMBER (C. 1805) (5/5)
    ⁃ Green Pepper and Caviar Oil
    ⁃ A comparatively new dish for the Fat Duck, at one month old, this was a deconstructed lamb kebab. (another low-end food that is being reimagined by high-end chefs, I had a version last year at Per Se as well.
    ⁃ Main plate: Green pepper+cucumber juice and caviar oil dabs on the main dish, seared cucumber with caraway, oyster leaf. Cumin on the lamb. Fish-stock+mint butter = nage fluid gel. This was fantastic: Cumin on the lamb successfully evoked a kebab, and the green pepper oil and seared cucumbers with carraway seeds, brought to mind its typical accompaniments, and the caviar oil gave it a salty, luxurious touch. (5/5)
    ⁃ Second plate: Three cubes of lamb (tongue, heart, scrag [back of neck]), with a quinoa crisp on top of acidulated onions. This showcased the different textures of the lamb. Fantastic.
    ⁃ Third plate: Lamb consomme jelly with mint flavors and borage flower. Stunning.
    ⁃ If the Fat Duck’s only new dishes are such insanely well-crafted dishes and reimaginings, then I think a conservative bias towards their tasting menu (they rarely change the dishes on the tasting menu) is well-justified. A stunning dish from start to finish, with all three plates being knockouts.
    ⁃ A video of head chef Jonny Lake creating the dish: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRGyG...
    11. HOT & ICED TEA (4/5
    ) ⁃ Hot and cold iced tea, separated by a divider, once separated, will be hot at the top, and cold at the bottom. The taste was uniformly of iced lemon tea. A very neat trick.
    ⁃ Video of Heston Blumenthal making the dish: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7i4F6...
    12. EGGS IN VERJUS (C. 1726), VERJUS IN EGG (C. 2013) (5/5
    ) ⁃ A fully thought-out egg dessert, a feast for the eyes. A golden nest coloured with special cocoa powders, with verjus within the egg shell, which had to be cracked. The eggshell was made from two types of chocolate.
    ⁃ The verjus in the egg was dominating in sourness.
    13. BOTRYTIS CINEREA (5/5)
    ⁃ One of the greatest desserts I have ever eaten. The fungus botrytis cinerea creates the Chateau d’Yquem wine. Originally developed by the kitchen for a Chateau d’Yquem tasting, this was a cornucopia of flavors and textures to evoke the Chateau d’Yquem wine. Deconstructed: An frosty wine ball, a creamy yeasty meringue, fantastic raisins, golden chocolate, gums… Each individual grape of the dish had its own flavor, together they sang in harmony like a dish sprung from heaven itself. It was a true pleasure to have witnessed and tasted this dish for myself.
    ⁃ Worth the price of admission to the Fat Duck for this dish alone.
    14. WHISK(E)Y WINE GUMS (5/5)
    ⁃ The “E”, seems a concession to the American Jack Daniels. It melted in the mouth with the heat of the tongue. Superb. I note the Oban 14 as having a backkick. Delicious, and an alcoholic treat.
    15. “LIKE A KID IN A SWEET SHOP” (5/5)
    ⁃ Caramel with edible wrapper; Aerated Chocolate, and the white chocolate Queen of Hearts with a fruit filling.

    9 Replies
    1. re: singaporediner

      I loved the Fat Duck as well but it's strange reading a review almost three years after I went and seeing that 12/15 dishes are absolutely identical.

      Given all his ridiculous tv programmes you do feel that at some stage there needs to be a progression in that menu.

      1. re: ManInTransit

        Maybe it's that old cliche about if it ain't broke, don't fix etc. I would guess that most diners at The Fat Duck are there for the first (and maybe only) time. They don't have to worry about filling the tables, but maybe if the menu was varied a bit, more people would return for another meal.

        1. re: zuriga1

          We went for my 60th birthday in 2010 and, like MiT, I also recognise several dishes. Thoroughly enjoyed the experience but the similarity of menu means I've no inclination to be going back. Whereas the menu at the other end of Bray, at the Waterside, has evolved since 2012 and I'd be back in a heartbeat.

          1. re: Harters

            We've enjoyed eating at The Hind's Head in Bray - good pub food, and one of these days we'll get around to The Fat Duck and Waterside. It's a fairly easy ride from here. My husband doesn't seem too enthusiastic about the Duck... not quite sure why.

          2. re: zuriga1

            Agreed. I'd go back if they changed it for sure.

          3. re: ManInTransit

            It's a bit like going to see the Rolling Stones - it wouldn't be great without the classics. That said maybe Heston has semi-preserved the duck and is using his other restaurants as his way to branch out. I wonder if we will see changes when they reopen after the renovations....maybe the Duck's move to Melbourne is the test of putting the classics on the road so the mothership can evolve.

            1. re: PhilD

              The staff were very excited about the move to Melbourne. They mentioned they were thinking of incorporating a significant amount of Australian produce.

          4. re: singaporediner

            Glad you enjoyed it. I think The Fat Duck remains my favourite ever restaurant and that is saying something. More than for just the food, It really is theatre.

            1. re: Foxeyblue

              I entirely agree about the theatre. It's why you wouldnt really want to revisit for a goodly while. It'd be like re-reading a whodunnit.

          5. Hedone
            Rating: 16/20
            Value for money: 2/5
            Price I paid (after tax and tip, and two drinks): 120 pounds, or $210 (1 GBP = 1.68 USD)
            Chef: Mikael Jonsson (ex-writer at Gastroville)

            A more in-depth report, with pictures, can be found here: http://kennethtiongeats.wordpress.com...

            Half of the Hedone menu (Dorset seabass, Scottish hand-dived scallop, asparagus, pork, lamb) was ingredients-first. Perhaps the best of those was the Scottish hand-dived scallop, which had a crunchiness that was really superb. So it was all the more disappointing when the oyster, and lamb (the last main) were comparatively devoid of taste. When Hedone’s ingredient dishes work, they are very good though not great dishes. I remember the texture of the scallops, but not as well the mint, lime, cucumber flavors that came with it. So too the sea bass, where the bass was good but the accompaniments more forgettable. But sometimes the cult of the ingredient-dish can puzzle with its intimations of the Eleusinian mysteries – the bland lamb (very good, I’m sure) and nice pork (pleasant) not really showcasing any added delta in performance from superior ingredients.

            The more modernist touches on display at Hedone were pleasant but paid less attention to the texture of the dish than I would like (I liked the taste of a cuttlefish confit, but had to basically saw my way through a thin slice of cuttlefish; a Parmesan ravioli was a bit rough). Where Hedone really shines are the desserts – a chocolate fondant and Gariguette strawberries are truly memorable creations.

            1. Beetroot cream, smoked eel (4.25/5
            ) ⁃ pleasant
            2. Rye crisp with cheese (3.75/5)
            ⁃ a yeasty cheese
            3. Buckwheat crisp, bone marrow, sturgeon caviar (4.25/5)
            4. Poached oyster (Dorset), granny smith apple jelly, elderflowers, pickled shallot (3.25/5)
            ⁃ poached very well, though tasteless.
            5. Umami flan, bread consomme, bread croutons (4/5)
            ⁃ umami from katsuobushi, fish stock, and white egg. not bad
            6. Baguettes (5/5)
            ⁃ I was looking forward to trying this bread, learnt from French master baker Alex Croquet. It did not disappoint. With a marvellously irregular crust and complex toasty flavors, I was very impressed with the bread.
            7. Scottish hand dived scallop, mint, lime, cucumber (4.25/5)
            ⁃ strong integrity of scallop texture, crunchy, in a way I’ve never had before. World-class scallops
            ⁃ Well accompanied with mint, lime, cucumber flavors. This was a hallmark let-ingredients-speak-for-themselves dish.
            8. English green asparagus, pistachio, avocado, wild garlic (4/5)
            ⁃ Asparagus veloute, garlic leaves, pistachio puree, raw avocado, nasturtium
            ⁃ Sweet and juicy asparagus spears.
            9. Pan fried sea bass (Dorset), fennel chips, black olive sauce (4.25/5)
            ⁃ Really nice pan-fried sea bass, though the accompaniments (black olive esp.) were a bit puzzling.
            10. Cuttlefish (4.25/5)
            ⁃ Smoked, pan-fried cuttlefish leg, Mandarin Sicilian tomatoes, sheet of thin cuttlefish with ink
            ⁃ Not bad in taste, though the sheet of thin cuttlefish was nigh un-cuttable with my knife. I spent maybe 10 seconds sawing through that piece.
            11. Liquid Parmesan ravioli, onion consomme, mild horseradish, smoked guanciale (4.25/5)
            ⁃ Light horseradish foam. I enjoyed the Roscoff onion consomme, with sweet flavors, but the ravioli was a bit rough in texture. The onion and parmesan were the two dominant tastes
            ⁃ it was less enjoyable than a smooth quail egg Ravioli I had at Schwa (Chicago) in March.
            12. Suckling pork rack, garden pea, morels, red pepper (4/5)
            ⁃ very good crisp skin, garden pea was in two forms, pureed and regular. morels with smoked paprika and lime juice.
            13. Rack of Bourbonnais lamb, Petit Violet artichoke, rosemary and rocket infusion (2.75/5)
            ⁃ A disappointing let down at the crescendo. A cut of lamb whose tendon-ous texture I would not have minded one bit if it had profound flavor, was mostly flavorless and bland except on the outside.
            14. Gariguette strawberries, hibiscus, coconut (4.5/5)
            ⁃ Hedone has first class desserts. Here two discs of Hibiscus gelatin with coconut sorbet and dried strawberry meringue. The Gariguettes were sweet enough to not die of comparative tartness in a contrasting mouthful with the sweet meringue and coconut sorbet.
            15. Warm chocolate, powdered raspberry, passion fruit jelly, Madagascar vanilla ice cream (4.5/5)
            ⁃ Warm chocolate fondant below a chocolate disc with raspberry powder, and vanilla ice cream on top. Classic and enjoyable.
            16. Mignardises
            ⁃ Black sesame macaron, green tea bon bon

            4 Replies
            1. re: singaporediner

              That's really too bad about the lamb. It was delicious the night we were there.

              1. re: zuriga1

                LOL ... the night WE were there the lamb was also excellent (per my wife; I had squab) and the scallop was not quite up to par, a bit leathery on the outside and undercooked inside.

                You never know ...

                1. re: willyum

                  Ingredients strike me as such a high variance thing. If hedone lives and dies on its ingredients, then it'll get our very different experiences on the same dishes.

              2. re: singaporediner

                "But sometimes the cult of the ingredient-dish can puzzle with its intimations of the Eleusinian mysteries".
                :D

              3. On Hedone: found it pretentious and not as good as it thinks it is. No comparison to the clear flavours and creative mixing of the Sportsman in Seasalter which we ate at the next night. Nobody has mentioned the accents of the servers, that made them often impossible to understand, or the lack of variety in the wines that went with the 6 course menu.

                9 Replies
                1. re: curioussheridan

                  Accents of the servers? I admit to on occasion struggling with some accents over here, but the servers we had spoke very clearly and I had no problems with accents.

                  1. re: curioussheridan

                    Can't say I noticed the accents of the servers but I agree there was something far more pleasing about our meal at the Sportsman which wasn't just about the far more pleasant atmosphere.

                    The more I dwell on our meal at Hedone the more I think it is the apotheosis of the food blogger, massive cameras, obsession with fine dining which, without noticing, has rather sucked the joy out of eating out.

                    Arguably if you compared say Hedone, the Sportsman and the Clove Club and you ate each menu in a white room served by a robot then Hedone might come out best but I'd return to the latter two almost daily if I could but have no real desire to go back to Hedone.

                    1. re: ManInTransit

                      I enjoyed Hedone, and loved The Sportsman. But as you say there is more to a meal than the food. I still want to head back to Hedone as I had great food and want to take my wife next time. That said I know which one I would preferred to be snowed in at.

                      No accent problem when I was there and I tend to avoid wine pairings these days as its such a lottery.

                      1. re: PhilD

                        Wine can be tricky with long tasting menu type meals. Not that I have a problem as I don't drink alcohol but my wife does. She finds most pairing offers to involve too much booze so she now usually asks the sommelier to sort out maybe 3 glasses to see her through the meal. She's been very happy with this way of doing things and, so far, has never felt wrongly sold a wine, nor ripped off by an overpriced selection.

                        1. re: Harters

                          Have to say I'm not a fan of pairing in the slightest. That sort of dining has enough interruptions to conversation with a million changes of plates and cutlery to staccato it with 13 mini glasses of wine as well.
                          It forces your drinking into line with the eating, I much prefer your wife's style.

                          It is interesting how if you ask a sommelier to recommend a wine they jump as high up the list as they can but with wine pairings, suddenly the 7 cheapest wines on the list are the perfect match for your tasting menu.

                          1. re: ManInTransit

                            Very good point on the recommendations - so few of the paired lists really use the best wines for obvious reasons (waste) but portray them as perfect matches.

                            I also find the size of the pours vary from a "good swallow" to a refill whenever they pass. So impossible to predict whether you will be thirsty or completely pissed. The last time I chose the pairing there was just enough for a couple of mouthfuls but the service was slow so long waits between courses so we never really tasted the food and wine together...!

                            1. re: PhilD

                              Yes that's a very good point, at Can Roca we basically did 17 shots of wine and ended up ordering Cava to sit alongside the pairings because they were so small.

                              Le Manoir I hear is incredibly generous and just keeps refilling your glass until the next course comes.

                              1. re: ManInTransit

                                Had a stunner of a lunch at Le Manoir in 2012. Unfortunately my notes don't mention wine at all - which probably means Mrs H just had a couple of glasses, rather than any attempt at pairing.

                    2. re: curioussheridan

                      >> "On Hedone: found it pretentious and not as good as it thinks it is."

                      After reading Andy Hayler's lavish praise we were a bit underwhelmed too. We liked it fine but not as much as we thought we would going in.

                      >> "Nobody has mentioned the accents of the servers, that made them often impossible to understand"

                      We had mainly a middle-aged British guy (Matthew?) who was easily understandable (even to a Yank), but our # 2 was a young Frenchman who spoke softly with an accent and was hard to understand. We often asked him to repeat things until we 'got' it and sometimes it took a couple of passes, but eventually we understood. If he was your main guy then I understand what you mean.

                      Didn't really detract from the meal though. I was more struck by how gloomy the chef was, which seemed to have everyone speaking in low voices and definitely lowered the room's energy level.

                      >> "or the lack of variety in the wines that went with the 6 course menu."

                      We had the 'enhanced pairing', which I think was another 10 pounds or so. On consecutive days we had wine pairings at Ledbury, Fat Duck and here at Hedone and felt these at Hedone were the best match to the food (by a narrow margin over Ledbury), so can't really agree with you on this one. Plus they were about half the cost of the FD pairings of even younger wines ...