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The Fat Duck Review: Gordo Judges Blumenthal

The big man takes time out to tuck in at the UK's most famous restaurant

Written by . Published on July 19th 2011.


The Fat Duck Review: Gordo Judges Blumenthal

The first time Gordo met Heston Blumenthal was at the Manchester International Festival 2007. The MIF guys thought it a good idea to get him to stand behind a stripy wooden hut doling out small measures of his ice creams, including the now famous egg and bacon. It pissed down for two weeks.

Gordo had taken a handful of the students he was mentoring from one of the livelier schools in one of the harder areas of the city. The Fat One had been given an interview opportunity, along with the lads, with the culinary equivalent of Brains from Thunderbirds. 

Heston’s wine waiters really should
be kitted out with fucking balaclavas
with their horrific wine mark-ups

A question was raised. 

“What’s the difference between having two Michelin stars and three?” asked one of the lads whose pal had been shot dead in one of the few green spaces in the area, aged around 15.  Heston and Gordo looked at each other, taken aback.

Heston then told us that he was at a conference in Barcelona when he was told about his third star. 

(Click here to add text)
Apparently he was struggling to make a profit, had invested every last penny in the business to get the second star which still hadn’t brought the monetary rewards he was expecting. He was, quite literally, wondering how in hell he was going to pay the wages that Friday. Within an hour of news of his third star, he had an offer of £160,000 on a book deal and his problem had been solved. 

Heston hasn’t looked back since. He has bought the Hinds Head next door to The Fat Duck which has been turned into a very well respected ‘gastro pub’, set up his restaurant-laboratory round the back, and has put Bray-on-Thames on the foodie map, much, apparently, to the irritation of the locals.  He's also opened the phenomenally successful restaurant Dinner in Knightsbridge (click here for review). 

The experience of that first interview sold Gordo on Heston, the man, but left him lukewarm on Heston, the ice cream maker. Gordo just didn’t get that bacon and egg ice cream at all. Over the years, watching Heston on TV, reading him in papers, magazines and books it became clear that this Tigger of a chef was a master of PR and self promotion. 

Gordo knows what motivates the man to come up with a dish called ‘snail porridge’. It ain’t the flavours my friend, it’s the lazy press on a Monday morning desperately looking for something to hang 500 words on. Then along comes an email from Blond-and-Brunette PR Ltd saying ‘Snail Porridge at Heston Blumenthal’s wizzy little restaurant’. They giggle. The grateful hack takes the bait and the next thing we find Brains on breakfast TV. 

Earlier this year Gordo took a table for six at Dinner. It was good, so he decided that it was about time he did the trip to the Fat Duck to see what all the fuss was about. 

It’s a hefty price: £160 per person without a tip (it goes up to £180 in the autumn) and Gordo had promised to take his pals, Sara Huck and Jo Edwards, as well as his date for the day, Nicky Rybka-Goldsmith, part owner of the excellent Thomas restaurant in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. We made for an eclectic bunch of foodies. 

The restaurant fronts directly onto the main street and HB makes the best use of space; it’s small for a three star. But immaculate. Whites and greys give the dining room a very cosy feel. The welcome itself has that certain Michelin-starred fairy dust sprinkled over it; warm, friendly and professional. The tables are covered in white linen a centimetre thick, the chairs would bring life to a four-day corpse. 

Snail PorridgeSnail PorridgeWe are initially attacked by the champagne trolley; don’t fall for this trick folks, it’s a really bloody stupid way of doing it. Take a bottle of the perfectly good Tattinger Brut Reserve at £65 the bottle, mess about with those champagnes by the glass and you can finish up paying double. 

There is no menu choice, it’s a 14 course extravaganza with many dishes that you will have seen him cook on the telly, or written about by those previously mentioned hacks.

Let’s start with the aforementioned utterly daft Snail Porridge. Well, it wasn’t actually daft. Brains has deconstructed the familiar French snails in their shells, with parsley and garlic butter mopped up by bread.

He has chosen a variety of snail called Helix pomatia which has been around since Roman times; breeding snails was a speciality of theirs by all accounts. They are chubby, not chewy and a bit of a dandy when it comes to flavour.

Porridge oats, to which a good portion of parsley had been introduced, giving it a pleasant green colour and flavour, are used in a similar way that rice is used in a risotto, to which has been added some earthy Jabugo ham and topped with paper thin strips of fennel, giving a great aniseed background. Gordo should be treated badly for thinking this was all PR; it is absolutely fabulous.

The Fat One cannot think for one minute why chefs all over the country aren’t trying out oats, instead of rice, for this type of dish. They are a much lighter, creamier option as a platform for flavours that risottos are usually asked to carry.

Readers, a little prayer at this stage…

Dear Lord, please keep Gordo alive long enough for him to have saved up and managed to book a table at the Fat Duck just to eat this again. Please. Amen.

Next, salmon poached in a liquorice gel looked like Josephine Baker, the black American dancer in the thirties; stunning visually, but what next? Then she started dancing. This dish was the same; visually stunning, then you start eating...

The coating of the salmon is in itself a bit of genius; the liquorice gel was not as brutal as it looked, having been lightened to a point where it was a gentle tickle of a flavour dancing with the purity of a piece of salmon gently cooked and perfectly seasoned. Small pearls of grapefruit cut the sweetness and the asparagus worked far better within the flavours than I would have thought.

Then a dabble with the vanilla mayonnaise delivered the ‘coup de grace’. This is a faultless dish, apparently first introduced into the mix in 2003 and refined, little by little, from someone with a palate far better than mine.

That palate, of course, is Heston Blumenthal’s. No matter how clever he is and how hard he works, he couldn’t do this if it wasn’t for his super-human attention to olfactory details. As well as an obsession with flavour and texture and the marriages that go with it. Beautiful.

Mock Turtle SoupMock Turtle SoupFinally, the BFG. That is, Black Forest Gateaux. Brains has chatted up Gordo’s favourite pudding of his early teens and taken advantage of her. I saw him do this on the telly. Admittedly, it looked pretty good, but was it as good as Mr. Pollyanski’s chef at the Legh Arms in Prestbury 30 years ago? Well yes, it was.

The main affair sat proud on top of a small wooden board, like a furry monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. What was it going to mean for Gordo, a cake lover? Well it was crunchy at first, then your spoon slid all the way down to the base.

Let Gordo blow out your brains with what that spoon was sliding through. A dried vanilla cherry stem. An Amerino cherry. Dark chocolate mousse. White chocolate mousse. Griottine cherry. Chocolate sponge. Aerated chocolate. Flocage. Kirsch ganache. Almond base.

Over to the side was the ‘ice cream’, made from kirsch and sour cream. Gordo closed his eyes and was transported back to being fourteen and a kitchen porter in the aforementioned Legh Arms. It was as if someone had soothed away the pain of living another thirty years in a cruel world. 

Across the rest of the courses, there was nothing but squeals of delight, thoughtful silences and nostalgic feelings. The only questionable dish on the menu was “the sound of the sea”. It’s a bit silly is all, that iPod business.

The tragedy of this type of cooking is that it does not marry well with wine, there are far too many things going on. Stick to champagne in Gordo’s opinion. However, he did order a very good white Rhone, Saint-Joseph, Vieilles Vignes, Domaine de la Côte Sainte-Epine (£52). This was a fantastic wine which stood up to the latter courses from the roast foie gras onwards.

However, Gordo isn’t one to listen to his own advice and the table took three glasses of red; Olpaio, a Tuscan, at the eye-watering price of £17.50 per glass. Heston’s wine waiters really should be kitted out with fucking balaclavas with their horrific wine mark-ups.

So, all hype and no trousers?

Not at all. Blumenthal is a genius. Simple as that.

*You can follow Gordo on Twitter here @gordomanchester


ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL. Critics dine unannounced and the company picks up their bills - not the restaurant, not a PR company.

Rating:

23/20

Breakdown:

Food 12/10
Service 6/5
Ambience 5/5

Address:

The Fat Duck Garden
High Street, Bray,
Berkshire,
SL6 2AQ,
01628 580333


Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away.

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MikeJuly 21st 2011.

Hestons food is so well researched and prepared that theatre actually detracts from the obvious quality .
Having had the pleasure of dining at "El Bulli" I still have to lean slightly towards Adria's doorstep sourced pallette of delights served simply but on (Dali inspired I suspect) "plates" and other presentation media. Hestons fireworks are surplus to requirements as the food speaks for itself!

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