Saturday, June 16, 2007

An Edible Adventure

In 2005, I gave Neil an I.O.U. birthday present for a special meal at a restaurant that had long intrigued him. I busily set about trying to get a reservation at this place, but failed repeatedly. After various attempts, and perhaps a delay or two due to finances, I finally asked the polite but unyielding reservationist what I had to do to get a table. She was happy to tell me: be among the first to call on a Monday morning two months before I wanted to dine. With precision timing, two months of Mondays ago, I phoned up and secured a table at The Fat Duck. Hooray!

In any restaurant, Neil always picks the weirdest thing on the menu: spicy chicken feet, sheep testicles, anything guaranteed to repulse me. The Fat Duck is the ultimate in the unusual, and he was keen to try the tasting menu. If you don't already know, the restaurant is run by food scientist Heston Blumenthal who has established a philosophy about disrupting people's notions of food: what it's called, how it's prepared, what it looks like. The first line of the "Philosophy" section on his website is "No food is intrinsically disgusting…" Neil is a firm believer in this. I am not.

I am mocked in my family for being an extremely picky eater. I don't eat anything fishy, nothing with eyes, nothing that looks or sounds gross like blood pudding or foie gras. I don't really like meat and do tend to pick the same thing at a restaurant I've been to before. At first, I had planned to call myself a vegetarian who was allergic to fish. That would get me out of most of the disgusting things on the menu, but would also have me skipping most of the courses! Neil also didn't want to experience it all on his own, so I took a deep breath and decided that no matter what they put in front of me, I would eat.

Well, yesterday was the big day, and after a bit of a panic getting stuck in standstill traffic on the M25, we finally arrived in Bray near Maidenhead at the most innocuous looking restaurant. I didn't even spot it when we were driving by. The exterior and the interior was so understated; the focus was entirely on the food. Here's a picture. Can you guess which building is the three Michelin starred restaurant?

It's the light browny-beige one, on the left side, with the roof slightly sticking up.

The first course, of sixteen (!), was my favourite. A waitress brought over a contraption, poured in liquid nitrogen and then "cooked" a green tea and lime meringue, which we were instructed to eat in one bite. It collapsed in my mouth with a puff of refreshing and tasty gas. Yum.

My second favourite course was Neil's favourite. It was a three part experience: first I took a little strip (like those mint gel strips) that dissolved on my tongue to "begin the flavour of oak" according to the waiter. Then, he placed a wooden box on the table, filled with moss. Yup. Moss. He poured boiling water over the moss, which we guess was sitting on dry ice, and the vapour of the forest wafted up. Finally, came the actual eating of an oak moss and truffle toast, which was the most unique flavour of the evening.

Honourable mention goes to the hot and cold tea which was fascinatingly half hot and half cold. I didn't really enjoy the snails or the foie gras, but I ate them both with only the tiniest worry that they would come back up all over my Heston Blumenthal embroidered napkin.

Every new plate brought something I'd never had before. It was a once in a lifetime experience, and we both thoroughly enjoyed it.

Special thanks to Dad for picking out the wine before hand. I would have failed miserably had I been presented with that huge wine list without preparation. And the first choice wasn't there, so that back up selection was needed. We had the V.D.P des CĂ´teaux des FĂ©nouilledes, Le Soula, G. Gauby 2002 from Languedoc – very smooth.

That was Friday night! Tomorrow, I'll tell you about our Saturday: lunch at the Hind's Head – Heston Blumenthal's take on pub food – plus a trip to Windsor Castle, and the fabulous hotel we stayed in.


yamster said...

Wow, fascinating! And good for you, for trying new things. I am not a big fan of snails myself, but at least I can say I've tried them.

Steven said...

What a wonderful experience & I'm glad the wine worked.

alvina said...

Wow, this sounds like an amazing experience, and I'm proud of you for trying everything! I ditto Amy's comment about snails, too. I don't love 'em. Foie gras, though, is a different story. Loooove it, although I feel guilty about it.