Fat Duck Melbourne

After a lot of shenanigans regarding the allocation of seats and subsequent scalping on ebay (yes, the opportunity to eat at the Fat Duck is going for around 1k, and on TOP of that, you then pay the price of the meal) I was left despondent and disappointed – I had not been offered a seat at the once-in-a-lifetime whole-restaurant-moves-across-the-world experience. So, I did what any self-respecting person would do, I started begging on facebook. HA! Luckily my lamentations were met by a lovely person knight in shining armour, who acknowledged my desperation and invited me along to his four person table. I squealed till I was dizzy and arranged the day off, hooray shift work!

When the day finally came I could barely sleep the night before, I prepared by stomach for the lunch time sitting by sleeping through breakfast and ensured my camera was fully charged. The traffic was terrible en route but I was not late. I stepped up to the sleek black glass door entrance and was shown in.

Heston Blumenthal and his team based the décor and experience around “Alice in Wonderland” and they did not delay. The corridor was completely black, save for a TV-screen “door” looking into the kitchen. This was all made to resemble Alice’s initial introduction to Wonderland after her fall down the rabbit hole. The “door” then shuts as you approach and I was left standing there wondering what I was meant to do. Luckily the lovely door-lady told me to go right, and another set of sleek black glass doors slid open to reveal the restaurant. I was greeted professionally and shown to my table with minimal fuss and once again, could not believe I was finally sitting down inside the Fat Duck Melbourne.

My dining companions were already perusing a large book full of wines, matched drinks and non-alcoholic options and I enthusiastically chose a “Fat Duck Juice” – Apple and Blood Plum; a delicious mix of apples cooked for two hours in aniseed, almonds and peppercorn, poured from a carafe and served in a martini glass.

Fat Duck Juice – Apple and Blood Plum

It was delicious and refreshing with a subtle spiced aftertaste.

I couldn’t help look around in wonder at the beautiful layout of the restaurant. A mosaic of Heston and his antics stretched the majority of the back wall, incomplete as yet, but already telling a story from Bray to Melbourne.

March 25th 2015

The famous Melbourne Clock hung on its own wall directly in front of me, counting down the days from doors open to shut in August, with the time in Bray and local time featured on two faces.
The restaurant was surprisingly small, though not cluttered or cramped at all. Sitting 50 guests in a mixture of tablets of two, four and six, the atmosphere was excited but not rowdy. Comfortable chairs and plush white leather seaters made for elegant but simple settings.

After checking dietary requirements, it was go time.

Aerated Beetroot

The first dish served was Aerated Beetroot with horseradish mousse. A small sphere designed to “get your tastebuds watering” does exactly that. Once the light-as-air morsel is popped into your mouth, it dissolves into nothingness and you’re left wondering if it was real. The beetroot was sweet, the mousse was savoury and the meal had started like a perfect lingering dream.

A small wooden table was set up in front of table and piece by piece, our next dish was brought to life before us. Titled Nitro Poached Aperitifs, we were given a choice between Gin and Tonic, Campari Soda and Vodka and Lime Sour. Not being a big drinker, I chose what I knew best, the Vodka Lime Sour.

The third canister was selected where a soft-mousse-like substance was pouffed onto a spoon. This was then eased into the tub of liquid nitrogen and jumbled in the bubbling tub until a perfectly formed meringue arose. The rind of a lime was then smoked over a candle and the meringue was served, with an instruction to eat it at once, completely.

Nitro Poached Aperitifs: Vodka and Lime Sour

Pausing only briefly to capture the moment, I popped the frozen aperitif into my mouth and was surprised by the intense lime flavour. It was very cold and my teeth hurt, but by Jove I did enjoy the fanfare surrounding this table-side preparation.

Red Cabbage Gazpacho, Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream

Next up was a perfectly sculpted Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream with Red Cabbage Gazpacho. I’m a big fan of gazpacho, and this cabbage variation was no different. The ice cream had a good peppery spicy flavour without being too overwhelming, and the red cabbage soup went well with the mustard flavours. These dishes were all building up to something, I could feel it.

Savoury Lollies

Then we were presented with the Savoury Lollies – something I was looking forward to after seeing a photo of this dish on Broadsheet. Aside from being visually enticing whilst simultaneously shooting you back to your childhood, these Lollies were spectacular. The recommendation was to eat from left to right, starting with the Waldorf Rocket to encapsulate the Waldorf Salad, the Salmon Twister (or Cyclone as the Aussies call it) and the Feast, a chicken liver parfait coated in fig gel and dotted with caramelised sugar crystals and peanuts.

Feast

I attempted to eat the Waldorf Rocket slowly, but my sensitive teeth resisted. I felt I missed a lot of the flavour, though I was acutely aware that the tip represented the creamy mayonnaise dressing. The Lolly had a subtle apple-celery flavour and was certainly refreshing. Next was the Salmon Twister, a safe but tried and true delicious combination of smoked salmon, tender and juicy, with avocado and cream cheese gel ropes. The star of this dish was without doubt, Feast. A velvet smooth parfait with deep decadent flavours, combined with a sweet hit from the fig gel and caramel crunch. If I could repeat a dish, it would probably be this one.

Fat Duck Films

A mysterious moss-filled box was presented to the table, with four plastic packs containing “Fat Duck Films”, flavoured oak moss to cleanse your palate and transport you to the forest.

You are then served a creative bowl of Jelly and Quail, Marron Cream, Caviar Sorbet and Truffle Toast, inspired by Alain Chapel, a French three-michelin star masterchef. As you eat, liquid nitrogen poured over the moss envelops the table with scents of the forest and you are lost in the dish.

Jelly of Quail, Marron Cream

The texture of the jelly and cream reminded me a lot of Sago, but the flavours were magnified and each layer was revealed the more you scooped. Smooth pea mousse, made from peeling peas out of their skin, cubes of turnip and the layer of marron cream topped off with a layer of foie gras parfait.

Truffle Toast

The truffle toast was crispy and crunchy spread with a thin layer of oak smoked butter, and paired perfectly in between each bite of the jelly.  Heston imagined transporting the diner to an oak forest, and he certainly did, allowing us to taste, touch, see and smell all the essences of forest.

The “best bread you’ve ever tasted” was presented next, along with house churned butter from local Victorian farmers and a small dish of salt. The sourdough was baked fresh, and the crust was smoked and amazingly crunchy. It wasn’t the best bread by a long shot (I’m not a fan of sourdough) but it was definitely to standard.

Snail Porridge

I was hesitant with the sixth dish of the afternoon, Snail Porridge with Joselito Ham and Shaved Fennel. I had never tried snail before and when I looked closely, they were definitely snail shaped, but currently my resounding sentiment is ‘soft and chewy’. The dish was not bad, and most definitely interesting. The porridge was made up of oats and grandola style nuts and grains to give a nice texture to each mouthful of green parsley soup infused with aniseed, and ham. The snails themselves were tender, but I felt they didn’t really have a distinct taste. I will need to venture out into more snail dishes to discover whether this is the norm, or an exception.

Roast Marron

Roast Marron with Shiitake, Confit Kombu and Sea Lettuce was next and the beauty of this dish took my breath away. Shards of fried crispy sea lettuce fanned out from between perfectly cooked marron, which was tender and juicy, and smelled fantastic. The bed of shiitake, kombu seaweed and daikon highlighted the Japanese inspired flavours of the dish and enhanced the Marron. The Blood Plum sauce specked with roasted onion and watercress added the final touches of texture to the dish.

Intense stock created in a vacuum centrifuge and covered in edible gold leaf

The star of the menu was the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. We were given a hint of things to come when a bookmark embossed with silver writing told the story of the Tea Party, and the origins of Mock Turtle Soup, where British chefs used calf head and feet instead of the prohibitively expensive turtle meat. Gold pocket-watches were then brought out in a beautiful display case and our waitress regaled us with how the March Hare dipped the Hatter’s pocket-watch into a cup of tea after the watch was running two days late.

The shining gold-leaf coated pocket-watches were then ceremoniously dipped into our clear-glass teapots for one, where they dissolved to reveal the soup base for the Mock Turtle soup. It is this display of storytelling and meal interaction which makes the Fat Duck an incredible experience.

Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

Mock Turtle Soup accompaniments

“Of course you do not drink your tea out of the pot!” declared our waitress, and matching cup and saucers appeared in front of us, where a delicate quail egg yolk sat atop a puree of turnip and swede, and was surrounded by cubes of pickled radish, cucumber, truffle and ox tongue. The intricate placement of tiny enoki mushrooms into the egg yolk is an example of the attention to detail Blumenthal and his team pride themselves on. This is a reminder on Alice’s transition from big to small and back again, as well as representing the caterpillar head and simultaneously the mushroom he sat upon.

Mock Turtle Soup

Once we poured the Mock Turtle Soup onto the accompaniments, we were left with a beautiful delicate dish.

Toast Sandwiches

“But what is a tea party without sandwiches?” we heard behind us. And a beautifully themed sandwich bedecked double-tiered stand was placed in the centre of the table. Topped by the Mad Hatter’s Hat, with a matching feathered plume found on each lapel of the waitresses’ blouse, eight tiny sandwiches were placed with care. Dubbed Toast Sandwiches, they consisted of an egg and chive mayonnaise layer, toasted bread (which we confused with schnitzel for a moment) and mustard and cabbage leaf, combined with hints of bone marrow and anchovy. Of course these little sandwiches were incredibly moreish, if only all tea parties had these as its star.

After the course was cleared, we were presented with large conch shells with iPod Nanos hidden inside. Out instructions were to listen and enjoy the dish, and the explanation would come afterwards. The soothing sounds of waves crashing against a sandy beach filled our ears, and once again, I was transported far away, to a tranquil place. The dish was presented immaculately, with fine Venezuelan sand and crumbled sea shells underneath a clearly ocean inspired dish.
“Sound of the Sea”
“Sound of the Sea” incorporated dried kelp, hijiki seaweed, baby eels, razor clams, cockles, mussels and sea urchins bordering a sea foam made with cockles and clams and kombu, and nestled on a bed of edible sand made from tapioca maltodextrin blitzed with anchovies.

A story told.

The stars of the dish were the pieces of delicate sashimi butterfish, abalone and kingfish. The greens made for a decidedly refreshing crunch and Heston had done it again, with an inspirational, visually stunning, delicious dish.

Salmon Poached in a Liquorice Gel

Salmon Poached in a Liquorice Gel, Endive, Vanilla Mayonnaise and Golden Trout Roe was a beautifully cooked piece of salmon, coated in a subtle soft liquorice gel. At first I was bracing myself for a strong liquorice flavour, but instead it was incredibly subtle, not detracting from the sweetness of the salmon. The pops of Australian Roe and grapefruit made for a cohesive but strange flavour that I am not thoroughly used to, bordering on sour and sweet. Though this was not an incredible dish, it was perfectly executed.

By this stage I was becoming increasingly impressed by the French crockery each dish was served on. There were never any double-ups, apart from one, and each plate complemented and added to the feel of each dish. Wooden boxes featured heavily as well, clearly custom made for each Fat Duck experience on a plate.

Lamb with Cucumber

Lamb with Cucumber, Green Pepper and Caraway was the final main savoury dish, served with a side of lamb and mint consommé and an interesting plate with lamb tongue, sweetbread and quinoa crisps with caramelised onion. At this stage we were becoming more excited for the impending dessert storm, but this final dish reminded us of the wonders of the Fat Duck. The lamb was perfectly cooked, as expected, though the flavours were quite similar to other excellent lamb dishes. Nothing popped out in terms of flavour, surprises or other, but it all worked so well together.

The consommé was salty, but smooth and matched the main dish perfectly. The sweetbread was tender and delicious, with the onion adding the sweet flavours to the dish. On the main dish, the triangles of cucumber were seared and lightly herbed, though I’m not sure I would choose cucumber to match lamb. Together the side and the main worked well, without being too heavy. Again, not a standout dish, but enough to keep customers happy and satisfied whilst preparing for dessert.

Hot Cold Tea

A simple glass filled with a slightly thickened amber liquid was placed before us, marking the start of the sweet courses. Hot and Cold Tea was exactly that; we were instructed to “pick up the glass as is” and our mouths were greeted with a confusing but delightful temperature difference of both hot and cold honey lemon comfort. Somehow, the team at Fat Duck had split the cup down the middle and poured liquid of different temperatures and served it up. Fascinating palate cleanser.

Botrytis Cinerea

Botrytis Cinerea was declared “grape rot” by our waiter and if we were in any other restaurant, I’m sure would have been met with sceptical eyes. However, sticking with the Fat Duck’s motto of “question everything”, it was explained that Heston used this necrotophic fungus, known primarily to grow on wine grapes which can create distinctive sweet dessert wines, as inspiration for the dessert representing flavours found throughout wine.

A thing of beauty

The dish was a highlight for me, not only fashioned as a beautiful bunch of grapes, but the tastes were sensational. Each ‘grape’ was a different taste and texture: grape sorbet, peach jelly, apple fruit, muscat gel, lemon ice-cream, candied ‘grape leaves’, lemon meringue and balls of sugar filled with lemon curd; on a bed of blue cheese inspired crumb was only the beginning.

Surprise!

Inside a green dyed white chocolate sphere, suggested to be saved last, we found salted caramel and popping candy!

It was difficult not to notice other tables gasping in wonderment as each dish was placed before them, so the next one was no surprise. The Not-So-Full English Breakfast was designed with Heston’s childhood in mind, revelling in opening a tiny commercialised cereal packet and finding a surprise inside, whilst gulping down the best part of the cereal: highly sweetened milk left in the breakfast bowl. The waitress joshed that the kitchen was now taking a break, and this pre-packaged course reverts back to breakfast, as she knew most people skipped the most important meal of the day.

The Not-So-Full English Breakfast

Inside the box was a miniscule packet of ‘cereal’ sugar dusted homemade corn flakes, sweet potato and duh, popping candy.

Out dropped a puzzle piece, and though mine was a drab coloured brown, I made history by placing the jigsaw piece, one of 19,500, onto a board which is then transferred onto the whimsical mural of superhero B for Blumenthal.

What is cereal without milk? The cutest 50mL milk bottle filled with parsnip milk arrived, tasting sweet when poured over the cereal and even better on its own.

Tiny serve? Yes, but the breakfast isn’t over yet my friends. The wooden table was reinstalled next to our table, and more contraptions resembling a frying pan and burner were placed there, along with Heston branded eggs.

These were ceremoniously cracked over the pan, being dubbed special bacon and egg eggs, and ‘cooked’ with liquid nitrogen.

The result was an incredibly fragrant bacon and egg ice-cream resembling scrambled eggs, served atop a beautiful maple glazed brioche French toast with crispy caramelised pancetta. The French toast was delicious and eggy soft, and the crusts had that slight stickiness of built up caramel. The bacon and egg ice-cream was delicious and truly captured the essence of savoury flavours without being weird.

It doesn’t stop there. A tiny jar of Fat Duck Orange with Earl Grey Marmalade was presented to the table, and the waitress sneakily winked, make sure you eat the lid too! Of course it was made with moulded, tempered white chocolate. AHH! And, no doubt, the marmalade was fresh and zingy, and I could have eaten the jam AND the dessert so many times over.

A picture frame was placed in front of us next, with the title Whisky Gums heading a map of the United Kingdom and Tasmania, with five famous whiskeys, their year and origins neatly printed alongside.

Whiskey Gums

I am not going to lie, I ain’t no whisky drinker, but peeling off these melt-in-your-mouth Gums and popping them on your tongue, enjoying the increasing spiciness and strength from 1-5… it was all quite tasty in the end. The presentation was clever, and added to the enjoyment of what could have been a silly, filler course.

“Like a Kid in a Sweet Shop” marked the end of our five-and-a-bit-hour long, lunch degustation at one of the most sought after 2015 dining spots in Melbourne. The cute plate titled ‘passion’ that I wanted to take home, matched the sweetly coloured lolly bag with four pieces of ‘petit fours’ inside. To be honest, I wanted more petit fours, to prolong the experience and continue snacking at home. The menu had a beautiful soft sweet musk perfume on the card (that could be my new signature scent!) and each piece promised amazing flavours.

The Aerated Chocolate, Mandarin Jelly was like an Aero, topped with a tangy mandarin jelly which burst full of flavour.

The Apple Pie Caramel with an Edible Wrapper was pretty cool, with a wrapper which instantly dissolved in your mouth, and a subtle hint of apple coming through the gooey smooth caramel. I think I prefer traditional burned or salted caramels with heavier flavours.

The Queen of Hearts (she made some tarts…) was a delicious printed white chocolate card with strawberry tart filling and crust in thin layers hidden inside. I needed more. And yes, that red seal was made of edible red stained white chocolate.

The Oxchoc confused me, with Wagyu Nougat, Guinness and Beef Caramel, it reminded me of an asian dish with sweet beef cooked in caramel notes. That being said, it was undoubtedly crazy delicious, smooth chocolate and a crunchy biscuit base worked in with flavours that question normality.

A wax sealed envelope printed on high-quality card stock was handed to us as we paid the bill and suddenly I didn’t want to leave.

The whole experience was like nothing I had ever eaten or witnessed before, and it was enjoyable and fun. I can’t say I was incredibly full, but I was satisfied and definitely impressed and entertained by the creativity that the Fat Duck team dreamed up. Though I would not return to eat the same menu for $525, I would definitely be keen to see what other ingenious ideas and concoctions are dreamt up with each new menu change.

TL;DR an unforgettable, unique experience that I am so lucky to have been invited to partake in. Thanks Steve!

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