One of the only times we've been out without the babe and was a lot of fun. We dropped off the babe at nursery, went over to my Wednesday regular, the Regency Cafe, for breakfast. Then off to do a few errands, pick up a rental car (cannot rave enough for local car clubs, we use them loads!) and head off to Bray.
Bray, the teeny, tiny village Fat Duck is in, is extremely quaint, very picture postcard perfect, with charming little arches and some lovely big houses sitting side by side with the small doll like houses along the main road.
Our reservation was for 1:45pm and it was very busy already. We were one of the last tables to be seated. Presented with the menu, I was excited to see the Mock Turtle Soup, as featured in an episode of Heston's Feasts which focused on Victorian era food. I especially liked it as it was one of the first things the boy and I clashed about when I insisted that turtle soup was a traditional English food, to which he denied all existence. Happily he knows by now not to argue food with me.
As we had rented a car for the day, the boy could only have one glass of wine, which the sommelier recommended to go with one of the courses mid meal.We started with the 'Lime Grove', described as Nitro Poached Green Tea and Lime Mousse, which is a kind of a mild meringue poached in dry ice in front of us. We were advised to eat it in one bite whilst they sprayed lime scent around us (a bit of a gimmicky touch). Nice and clean, it felt a bit like a palate cleanser. Urged to pop it into our mouths, I only have the pic of the plate to show you!
Next up was 'Red Cabbage Gazpacho', Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream. I was fated to love this as I love all the ingredients and the method of delivery. It met expectations and was creamy, smooth and made me smack my lips at the umami-ness of it, wanting more.
The next course was brought to us in three separate parts. 'Jelly of Quail, Crayfish Cream', Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast. The first was a wooden tray of oak moss, on top of which was a little plastic box containing a oak moss 'film'. These were akin to the breath strips you can get at the chemist which melt upon contact with the mouth and dissolve. I've never been a fan of these as they give me a claggy mouthfeel which sticks my mouth shut (probably much to the relief of the boy). Anyhow, these were infused with the taste of oak moss. We were to put these in our mouths while dry ice was poured over the oak moss tray so it evaporated in a white fog, scenting the table with oak moss. The purpose, which was explained to us, was so that we smelled, saw and tasted the oak moss all at once. I have to admit, I disliked the taste and texture of the film but loved the smoky smell of the oak moss and the experience of seeing and touching the moss. Served with this was the chicken liver parfait, which was nicely chilled and yummy. The truffle toast was tasty but was not as truffle fragrant as I thought it would be.
'Roast Foie Gras' was served with Rhubarb, Braised Kombu and Crab Biscuit. The foie gras was perfectly cooked, succulent and creamy but I was more average on the sweet crystallized sugar (I'm guessing here) shards. The rhubarb jellied sauce was a nice contrast although personally, I preferred the foie without, and the little powdery sesame and what I think was wakame topping provided nice textural contrast. The kombu was the thin light brown film at the bottom and was ok but didn't add much although the wakame may have been cooked with the kombu to add umami-ness.
The next course was the highly anticipated 'Mock Turtle Soup (c.1850)' from the "Mad Hatter Tea". Highly anticipated, it was as gorgeous as it looked on TV.
It started with the rabbit's gold watch, over which was poured boiling water, which dissolved into a broth, which was then poured over the gorgeous plated bits, such as what ox tongue layered with lardo, and a turnip and swede puree. If you're ambitious, the delicious soup recipe is here but I think we had slivers of kombu as opposed to truffle cubes.
It was very yummy. I looooved it. Everything worked somehow and the broth was so flavourful. I personally would prefer it to be a bit warmer but I am not sure that the accompanying ingredients would stand up to a boiling hot broth.
The next one is the famous 'Sound of the Sea' dish, which came with a large seashell with an iPod hidden inside. We were instructed to put in our earphones and enjoy the crashing waves whilst eating our dish, which was crafted to look like the wash after a wave, with foam and dark sand and bits of seafood. All of it edible and all of it was.... delicious! I loved it and was very pleasantly surprised to find it yummy. After my experience at El Bulli, I was extremely apprehensive and had gone off food which exuded style over substance but everything so far tasted good as well as being extremely whimsical and not taking itself too seriously.
As I was saying this to the boy, the next dish came and was, I must admit, my least favorite of the meal. 'Salmon Poached in Liquorice', Artichokes, Vanilla Mayonnaise, Golden Trout Roe and Manni Olive Oil. The salmon was beautifully poached, soft and melting, but wrapped in a thin layer of jelliefied sauce or coating which was liquorice flavoured. Despite my recent conversion to liquorice, it tasted a bit bitter and at odds with the richness of the salmon. The roe and the artichokes were a touch bland and I didn't like the sweet, odd vanilla mayonnaise. Altogether it was just ok.
The next dish more than made up for it. 'Powdered Anjou Pigeon (c.1720)', Blood Pudding and Confit of Umbles. The pigeon was absolutely delicious, rich and succulent, the blood pudding like a thick sauce of blood. Umbles, in case you are wondering, is offal, or the unwanted bits and apparently in this case, it refers to the heart. Yum! Loved this. The only thing I wasn't keen on was the the long shard of what was like prawn cracker but didn't taste of prawn.
After this, we were served 'Hot & Iced Tea', which was a lightly sweetened tea which w
as both hot and cold, which started off hot and dissolved into a cold drink. It was very refreshing and signalled the end of the mains and the
beginning of the sweet courses.
I must admit, I wasn't thrilled by the descriptions of the desserts. The first one, 'Tafferty Tart', Caramelized Apple, Fennel, Rose and Candied Lemon. As some of you may know, floral flavors are not my favorite. I was happy that they weren't overwhelming in the dessert, which was good, light and delicate but nothing revelatory.
The next, I was dreading just a little bit. It was 'The "BFG", Black Forest Gateau'. A child of the seventies, black forest cake is to the 80's what tiramisu was to the 90's and the molten chocolate cake to the first decade of the 3rd millennium. Over played, much maligned and a culinary bore as far as I was concerned. This,
however, was a lovely version which I ate up but given a choice, I probably would have chosen something else. I apologize for the super exposed photo. Brown on brown never shows up well!
The next course, I loved. 'Whisk(E)y Gums' came on a frame. Five different types of whiskey flavored gums stuck onto a framed map of Scotland. Served with this was a bottle of water from the Scottish highlands. The boy loves his whiskey and I love smelling the peaty, smokiness of the whiskey but not so much the slightly acrid taste. So this was perfect for me. I liked all of them and especially the whimsical 'plating'.
The last course, which we sadly had to rush as we were running late and needed to pick up the babe, was called 'Like a Kid in a Sweet Shop', came in a pink and white striped old fashioned 'Sweet Shop' bag. In it were four items as printed on a vanilla scented card:
- 'Aerated Chocolate' with Mandarin Jelly, which was lovely, with a Aero like texture and a nice tart sweet jelly;
-'Coconut Baccy', Coconut Infused with an Aroma of Black Cavendish Tobacco, which I wasn't too fond of;
- 'Apple Pie Caramel' with an Edible Wrapper, which was very sweet with a nice soft chew; and
- 'The Queen of Hearts' which was a gorgeous thin, thin, thin tart with jam wrapped in white chocolate with one side imprinted with the traditional red diamond checks and the other, a meticulous reproduction of a Queen of Hearts card. Sadly white chocolate is one of those things I just cannot get myself to like.
On the whole, I LOVED the experience. The whimsy, thought and meticulous and care which was put into each dish was very much apparent. Expensive but when you think of all that went into it, definitely worth it. The service was smooth, completely unpretentious and friendly. They explained everything and understood that many came for not just a meal but an 'experience', so many things they were happy to include as little mementos, from a printed menu in an envelope and sealed with wax presented at the beginning of the meal for you to follow, to the box the oak moss film came in. It was very thoughtful and much appreciated. The only very very petty criticism I have was that as were one of the last to have our meal, we were able to see what was coming ahead by watching the other tables, which took away a little the surprise and delight which comes from discovering a new way of presenting food.
All being said, one of the best meals ever for the fun, the food, the company and of course, knowing it was a kind, thoughtful gift from loved ones.