What a journey this was, it was like breakfast, lunch, and dinner all in one meal. Don’t forget dessert at the end. Luckily we had all day prior to dinner to visit Stonehenge and see our neighbor Sara who was visiting with her family in Bristol. We met them for a quick pint at a local pub before heading off to dinner.
If you want to explore this area whilst visiting the Fat Duck, Stonehenge is only an hour and a half away. So if you have time, try hitting up all the local cheese farms like Westcombe Dairy, or the Fine Cheese Co in Bath.
Again, only if you are as much of a local produce nerd as we are and would rather visit farms than parks or museums that is.
Back to our touristic photo opp. We stood in line for a shuttle, took the quick photo and got the fuck out of there. I hate doing tourist shit.
Photos with the cloud cover were amazing though.
The yellow bloom on the hillside right behind Stonehenge was surreal like we were approaching Oz. Supposedly they plant fields of these flowers for vegetable oil. I think they are rapeseed flowers. Fascinating article on this.
Well worth the hassle. We were very lucky with the weather. Cumulus clouds for days.
We even got to see the Bristol suspension bridge, which was the longest suspension bridge in the world when it was first built.
It was serendipitous that we were able to see our neighbor Sara from Eagle Rock and meet both her parents in her hometown. I even got to share a cask beer with her dad, who told me about his glory days in the Royal Navy. They were apparently treated to a dinner at The Fat Duck in the past as well, and couldn’t stop raving about it. They were excited for us and to see what we would think of our upcoming dinner.
First the Wine, as our friend Dan Pirelli likes to say. I got lucky with this 1995 Cote Rotie that was reasonably priced in the high 200’s low 300’s if I remember correctly. There will be no bullshit young wine pairing for me tonight. I’m really sorry, but I cannot drink red wine that has less than 10 years of age on it. Unless it is a white wine, biodynamic wine, Pinot Noir, Beaujolais, etc. it might be ok to drink under five years of age. However, any Burg, Rhone, Cornas or Cab, 80% of the time, is a waste to drink it young. This bottle had a quick photo shoot before it was decanted.
Then an aperitif of some champagne. Staying in the same year of 1995, when I was a sophomore in high school. Little did I know back then that I would be sitting at the Fat Duck drinking this at the time it was bottled. Blanc des Millenares. I won’t be a millionaire for long if I keep eating like this and drop half my income on food. So please like my blog so I can retire, do food journalism, and write off these meals.
We were given several props at the start of dinner. Here you will find the map that unfolds, and in tiny writing, you can see the menu descriptions with a magnifying glass on the table.
Here is the coat of arms for The Fat Duck.
Here is how the map looks on page 1, explaining the concept of the place.
This then opens up into the first leg of the journey. Look closely at the fine print.
Then to the second half of the itinerary.
Here we meet Florian, our elfin guide to the wonderland we are about to enter. As you can see by the dawn’s early light we are at the dusk period of a fantastic vacation that is about to start. They are re-enacting the scene when a child wakes up early in the morning before anyone else in the house eager to start his holiday, and each table has these special spotlights that adjust the mood lighting as the day progresses.
Look at his magic jazz fingers in this stance.
Florian had read our questionnaire that we had to fill out months before attending this dinner, in order to get a personality profile and tailor the meal to our earliest memories. One of the questions was what was our earliest food memory as a child. I told them that mine was eating a fresh tomato that my father cut with sea salt, grapeseed olive oil, and zahtar seasoning. So, at some point, they surprised me with this. They even made a re-enactment of Erika’s early food memory of a handmade corn tortilla with lime and salt, from her childhood in Mexico City. More on that later.
So we got to pick our choice of frozen cocktail. We could get a Paloma, Campari soda, Pina colada, or a Vodka lime sour. We both obviously got the Paloma, which is tequila mixed with Squirt soda.
I like that, “Erika, please, I just want you to take it very gently. ” Thanks for getting her in the mood for me Florian. Way to go! It explodes in your mouth too.
Meanwhile, as I stuff my face with my own liquid nitrogen cocktail.
What an amazing plate.
This was apparently some sort of macaroon palate cleanser. Upon checking the menu later I learned it was an aerated beetroot macaroon. This was quite a popular ingredient on our UK trip, literally showed up everywhere.
I believe we are still in the pre-course palate cleanser phase here.
Beautiful presentation/execution. Delicately plated, with a lot of pretty edible flowers. This was called the smoked cumin Royale, with Jerusalem artichoke ice cream. Heston is known for doing bizarre flavors of savory ice cream, and it worked very well with the smoky cumin flavor. It was like a gazpacho of flowers.
Perfect intro for the Grand Cru White Burg. 2006 Chevalier-Montrachet.
Then you get to decide on which breakfast option you would like via a hotel door tag checkbox request.
I was not kidding when I told you it’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner all in one.
Actual cereal he makes from Michelin quality ingredients that you eat in what I thought was a heavy cream. It was actually a truffled egg mouse. So whether you order the cereal or the cooked item, you get both in one visually deceiving delivery system. The flavors of the cereal puffs were jellied tomato consomme, and bacon and toasted bread cream.
Of course, you can’t have your morning sugary cereal without getting the toy prize out from inside the box. I was clueless about how to put my magic wooden box together and made mine inside out, while Erika finished with time to spare.
This was the hot and cold tea. It was like hot potato/cold potato concept at Alinea. Through some sort of molecular witchery, they separate the two layers of tea so that you get the feeling of hot and cold tea at the same time in your mouth. It was pretty mind-blowing. Just imagine that when pouring the liquid gel into the cup, they separate both sides with a divider going down the middle. They put a cold solution of the gelling agent on one side, and a hot solution on the other. Then they remove the divider so that the two sides don’t mix. As you drink it you feel half your tongue cold, the other half hot.
Here we had a veloute of white chocolate and sea vegetables that resembles eating seaweed. The protein was scallop from Exmoor, mixed with caviar, edible sand, and langoustine oil. Talk about capturing every aspect of the ocean. Sights, sounds, smells, textures, flavors.
This was where the sights and sounds of the beach make an entrance to sensorily enhance the experience while you eat.
You hear the seagulls and waves crashing as you eat this. They call this Sound of the Sea.
Of course, what does any child do at the beach when the ice cream man comes on his three-wheeler with a cooler pack strapped to his back?
Classic Waldorf salad flavored rocket popsicle and salt-water taffy stick called the salmon, avocado, and horseradish ‘Twister’.
I loved seeing this surprise printed on the popsicle stick reflecting our life mantra. Everything was super personalized here, which I will get into again at the end with the take-home gifts they gave us.
Now for some crab-flavored ice cream with passionfruit glaze. Why not? You’re at the beach.
Speaking of crabs, look at the little Cornish crab in the tidepool filled with smoked caviar mixed with Golden trout roe. Such intense marine/crab-gut umami.
Totally played out the sequence of pastimes a child goes through on their first day at the beach during their vacation.
Perfect transition to the Cote Rotie. Look at that decanter.
Now that we had our fun at the beach, it’s time to take a walk through the forest.
You see this display as you eat from your plated forest floor seen below. Loved the moss shaped into the form of a Mr. Miyagi Bonzai tree.
Watch the fog rolling in as you get lost in the forest like Hansel and Gretel. Initially, we thought that they infused Erika’s early childhood olfactory memory of ‘lime tea’ into this dish hoping to activate her limbic lobe memories of her childhood in Mexico City. However, I found out later that it was a mixture of different herbal extractions described several pics below.
I like that I had to dig into the faux-soil to find the worm.
This was a medley of mushrooms, beets, and blackberries in one delicious musky forest floor earth patch. This dish was probably my favorite experience from this dinner. Erika liked it as well, as she had Pica as a child and liked eating dirt. It went well with the Cote Rotie, which was really ‘barnyard’ and ‘earthy’. The exact tasting notes I got were graphite and asphalt, which was a perfect compliment to eating forest floor. I am not even being facetious, I actually know how asphalt tastes. In the 7th grade, I was dared to lick 4 feet of asphalt for $20, and my tongue was black all day. I actually got in trouble that I was making an ass out of myself for money, but that was quite a taste memory from my childhood. I can compare it to wine now as an adult, which goes to show that there is no bad experience as long as you learn something from it.
So this magic fog was infused with all sorts of herbal goodness such as truffle, fig leaf extract, and meadowsweet. Apparently, this plant was the plant that the Baer pharmaceutical company studied to develop Aspirin. Fascinating.
I love researching ingredients from places I’ve eaten and finding out the backstory behind them. Usually, I am distracted at the time of eating the meal, and things are happening so fast, that it is not until later when I have time to dissect each dish and examine the ingredients one by one. It is not until then that I finally get closure on my experience at that particular restaurant, and codify it into my memory forever. I truly feel that with knowledge comes enjoyment.
Hi little grub, get in my belly!
Here I am eating bugs as usual. It’s funny that I had a reputation from my Physician Leadership program that I completed at the Memorialcare Healthcare System where the CEO of the entire hospital system, Barry Arbuckle, introduced me at my commencement ceremony as the “Psychiatrist that eats bugs.”
More molecular magic as we try the Mad Hatter’s tea.
What looks like a pocket watch on a string is actually a tea bag.
What looks like a tea bag is actually some sort of bouillon cube that upon touching water morphs into something else.
This must be what it is like for my Schizophrenic patients in the midst of having a visual hallucination.
After the gold leaf dissolves, I get a secret message. What the hell does Jing mean? Is it the product of some psychotic neologism that I am experiencing? Am I having command hallucinations instructing me to do something?
Look at the gradual color change, it happens slowly before your eyes until…
Reminded me of those capsules you would put in water as a child and it would morph into some dinosaur or something.
Miniature sandwiches with our magic mock turtle soup.
Our child-like wonder continues.
The mock turtle soup was described in the bookmark below. Apparently, at one point in the UK, people were eating actual turtle soup to the point of turtle extinction. So, at the height of its popularity, they made a mock turtle soup with calf’s head and feet instead of actual turtles. Hence the funny looking mutant turtle that is seen below.
Then came the actualization of the questionnaire I had filled out months ago, asking about my earliest childhood food memory, which was a fresh tomato that my father cut and presented with sea salt, grapeseed olive oil, and zahtar seasoning. They combined this with Erika’s childhood memory of a handmade tortilla with lime and salt. So together, our childhood food memories united to make a tabouleh taco.
At this point, we were then offered a post-card of what truly surprised Erika and I. Knowing about our love for the architecture of Mexico City, passion for mariachi, Chavela Vargas, etc., they presented Erika with the most beautiful postcard of the Palacio de Bellas Artes performance hall I have ever seen. It is a cultural landmark in Mexico City and a stunning work of Neo-classical/Art Nouveau architecture. It is the answer to the ignorant stereotypes that people have about Mexico when they have no idea about the rich cultural and artistic legacy that Mexico has to offer the world. I don’t know how they found such a vintage looking rendering of it.
On the back was a reference to another food memory of Erika’s, Ponche de frutas, which I have geeked out about in previous blog posts.
Not only this, but Florian even called us a week before our dinner to check in and ask what we were up to and confirm the dinner. We told him we were in Scotland at Loch Lomond taking a morning walk around the loch when he called us. We then get this postcard scene of Loch Lomond several weeks later at this dinner.
I was shocked at the tapestry of their weaving together not only the food, wine, and sensory magic, but also the memories, questionnaire data, and photographs that were basically a visual manifestation of our mantra that happiness comes from experiences rather than possessions.
Here is yet another example of their attention to detail. Upon learning that I am a Psychiatrist, they left a familiar tool of my trade on the table, a Rorschach test, or what is known to lay people as the ‘ink blot test’. This is a standard tool for detecting psychosis in children, and it’s funny how they were playing into my paranoia with the Mad Hatter’s tea earlier. Were they trying to ascertain if I was psychotic? I don’t know about you, but this clearly looks like two angels holding open a vagina. Diagnosis: major pervert.
Now, they are ready to start dinner. Just in case you were confused about when that was about to start…wtf?!?
Everything up until now was just foreplay. Here is the main dinner menu.
I can tell we were in for a late night. This was, by far, reaching the world record of time spent at a dinner for us ever. That says a lot coming from us. Usually, it is 8pm-midnight, but this dinner was from like 7pm-1am.
So to start was the Cuttlefish Canneloni. I’ve always looked at cannelloni and thought how it oddly reminds me of squid or cuttlefish in its shape and color. Well, I guess Heston can read my fucking mind by now, so just let the thought insertion and thought withdrawal continue. Just a little bit more psychotic dissociation, where the plate itself looked like the reflective skin of a Cuttlefish.
This was delicious, the buttery/eggy scent of a perfectly cooked cuttlefish, with the firm but tender texture, was the perfect starter. There was a nice healthy portion with a good focus on the main ingredient.
Then we both got the ‘fish of the day’ main course dinner option with wild garlic, morels, and Brandade. I think Brandade is an emulsion of salt cod with olive oil, eaten with bread. This was their take on all these ingredients. Great tasting, but at this point, I was getting ridiculously full and could have skipped straight to dessert.
It was a tough call between The Forest Floor and this next post as the best dish of the night for me. Whereas the forest floor captures everything I love about molecular dining, this dessert really combines the two things I love most, wine and food into one of the most creative desserts I have ever seen. I like that it is a dessert that also represents the chemical process that leads to the production of dessert wine; noble rot.
I loved how they made the grapes look so gangrenous, putridly rotten, and covered in fungus. I thought that maybe they would have a similar taste, but upon tasting them had the sweet, honey, Tokaj-like flavor of a nice dessert wine. What a genius concept for a dessert. It doesn’t even need a dessert wine pairing, its already in the dessert itself. I also just loved the subtle pastel-hued color palette. Gorgeous dessert from concept to end product.
It even matched Erika’s dress a little.
Just can’t get over this dessert, it was like artwork. It’s like eating a bacterial/fungal culture straight out of a petri dish.
The creativity keeps coming. I loved how they highlight one of the crown exports of the UK; whisky. I especially like how he put (e) in between the k and the y, as Americans spell it Whiskey, and those in the UK spell it Whisky. Very clever inside joke for those in the know. Of course, the whisky was packaged in a way that makes you feel like a child. Gummy whisky!!! WTF!!!
I like how they had an interesting variety of the different regions of whisky represented on the map, and you can see on the map which part of Scotland they came from. It was like a flashback of our Scotland journey just days prior. Despite my lack of interest in Jack Daniel’s, I noticed a lot of interest for American whisky in Scotland, and the cross-fertilization experiments carried out, even at Bruichladdich where they would age their own whisky in Jack Daniels barrels.
All gone… Here are the actual age statements on each of the whiskies. The peat flavor in the Laphroaig gummy bear was quite a novel taste for a gummy bear. My favorite and the best suited for a gummy IMHO was the Highland Park 18 given the sherry-bomb influence and the well-balanced flavor profile overall.
No one can do it better than my favorite perverted noser, Horst. I’ll let him explain why Highland Park 18 was the best choice for a gummy bear conversion. I love how he gargles whisky like Listerine.
Then came some true magic, forget trying to make the food look and taste like something else, I wanted to see them levitate that shit.
Lullaby music and all.
Is it Alinea-esque perfumed pressurized air from the essence of a newborn baby sacrifice that is levitating the pillow? No, but that would be a great premise to a movie though.
Is it another visual hallucination I’m having? Where is my Zydis 10mg times one when I need it? That would be the perfect antipsychotic in this situation as it would also increase my appetite so I can eat more.
Is it like Marty McFly’s hoverboard from Back to the Future?
So, it was actually a magnet that was holding the pillow up.
What amazing mood lighting. Look how soft that terry cloth is!
It was like using a cloud to eat a pleasant dream or angel’s poop.
But wait, there’s more!!!!
The night would not be complete without some Willy Wonka madness.
Oompah, loompah, dippity doo!! Gum that tastes like 3 meals in one..”Hmmm, sound familiar Heston?”
What amazing craftsmanship on this dollhouse.
The attention to detail here is beyond OCD-levels.
Anyhow, there was a coin that we were given early on in the dinner to fit into our little piggy banks that came out of our cereal boxes. To activate the mechanism that went into this funhouse we gave our coins to Florian who inserted them, and all the drawers opened like the keys on a self-playing piano and we got to eat whatever was inside the last remaining open box.
Here’s the end of the night kitchen huddle.
Like kids in a candy shop.
The staff even presented me with a birthday card for my 40th birthday signed by everyone after the tour.
Again, what amazing personalization.
We even got some wooden spoons as take-home gifts.
All said and done, I would have to say that besides Alinea, this is one of the most creative and wacky places I have ever been to that really focus on the playfulness and interactiveness of fine dining in addition to making delicious food. Florian, and his attention to us along with the little details about our past memories, etc was priceless. The only thing I did not like about this place was the frenetic pace and how close all the tables were to each other. Erika’s bubble kept getting burst because she could see everyone else’s surprises before ours came so that it was no longer a surprise when the levitating pillow showed up at the end as we were watching everyone else’s pillow an hour before. Though it is amazing that the staff to patron ratio was 1:1, I almost felt like I was having a panic attack in the beginning as there were so many people in one small room, and the staff was running around like maniacs in order to pull off this precise choreography. I wish they could seat you in a circular capsule where you can block everyone else out of sight. Other than that we had no complaints. Bravo.