Regular readers may recall the exciting occasion of a visit to el Bulli in Spain, a restaurant which held No. 1 spot for a few years (though recently Noma in Copenhagan - with an El Bulli-trained chef - has held that coveted position). What is all the fuss about? Something called “molecular gastronomy” (by anyone who wants to sound smart). Certainly, what these restaurants do with food is unusual - sometimes strange. Don’t try this at home.
|Heston kills a red rose....|
At an appointed time, and in small groups, the dinner guests were escorted across the road to visit Blumenthal’s “experimental kitchen”, and meet the great man himself. Half-a-dozen acolytes in white chefs' coats stood about and handed him containers and utensils and so on, while he chatted amiably and did a couple of demonstrations. These all involved liquid nitrogen or dry ice. Heston seemed rather taken with these, er, things, like a boy with new toys, though he has been using them for years. By way of demonstration of the freezing power of liquid nitrogen, he grabbed a red rose from an artfully placed vase and stuck it in head first for a minute. When it emerged, Heston cracked the petals into crisp splinters. We ooh’d and aah’d. The ability of dry ice to bring out aromas was illustrated by pouring it into a bowl of oranges - another spectacular effect. To wind up, we each ate a tiny deconstructed and reconstructed icecream cone, made out of icecream whipped from custard with dry ice (pretty damn yummy). Heston is a charismatic man, clearly as cheerful as can be to be messing around with things in his experimental kitchen.
|The Fat Duck interior|
Back to the Hind’s Head for more champagne, before being escorted next door to our table in The Fat Duck - an unassuming, low-ceilinged space, white washed with old beams showing, and a few artful abstract colour swatches on the walls. This is the same space that Heston began in - he opened it as a pub-food bistro years ago, and here he is today!
Our dinner was 12 courses, one of which I can’t remember (hey, it was late in the evening) and another of which wasn’t listed on our printed menu, so I’m not entirely sure what it was. But here’s the list:
Nitro Poached Aperitifs - vodka & lime sour, or gin & tonic (my choice), or Campari soda
|You had to eat them really fast or they melted|
|Nitro-poaching my G&T|
Jelly of Quail, Crayfish Cream, Chicken Liver Parfait; with Oak Moss & Truffle Toast
|Possibly the richest dish of the evening....|
Snail Porridge with Iberico Bellota Ham (which we failed to identify) & Shaved Fennel
|Yep, there's snails in there|
Roast Foie Gras with Barberry, Braised Konbu and Crab Biscuit
|No, wait, this was the richest dish....|
Salmon Poached in a Liquorice Gel with Artichokes, Vanilla Mayonnaise & Golden Trout Roe
|Not totally sure about the liquorice...|
“Like A Kid In A Sweet Shop”: a bag of four sweets - Aerated Chocolate with Mandarin Jelly; Coconut Baccy - Coconut Infused with an Aroma of Black Cavendish Tobacco; Apple Pie Caramel with an edible wrapper; ‘The Queen of Hearts’ chocolate.
|The Goodie Bag|
|This exquisite thing was made of chocolate|
And possibly you would like the wine list too?
2009 Waterkloof, Semillon, Circle of Life, Stellenbosch (South Africa)
2006 Vin de Pays des Cotes Catalanes, Le Soula, gerard Bauby, Roussillon (France)
2010 Pinot Gris, Signature, Rene Mure, Alsace (France)
....An extremely good saki with the Japanese interloper dish....
2008 Veronese, La Grola, Allegrini, Veneto (Italy)
2001 Yalumba, The reserve, Barossa Valley (Australia)
2009 Alella, Dolc Mataro, Alta Alella, Catalonia (Spain)
|Sounds of the sea|
I have many accolades for the evening: unique, exciting, innovative (and that’s just the food). I would suggest that a bit more information about what exactly we were served (from the servers) would have been nice. Sometimes we diners found ourselves comparing guesses; sometimes we were never able to make a positive identification.
It seems silly to even compare this food with anything else I’ve ever eaten, but it was indeed very rich, to my taste. The Jelly of Quail and Crayfish Cream and the Roasted Foie Gras were extremely so. It was almost too much for my tum. But I did eat the snails. They tasted a little like bits of chicken. The saki was very good indeed; but raw fish is not for me. The Japanese dish, whatever it was, became my only reject.
I do think I can compare this food with that I ate at el Bulli, though, and inevitably those of us who had eaten at both had this particular discussion. I come down on the side of el Bulli, principally because one of the things I liked best of all about the food there was the simplicity of ingredients. Each dish had only one or two ingredients in it, intensely flavoured. Heston Blumenthal’s food was similarly intensely flavoured (whatever these molecular gastrologicsts do very much heightens the food flavours) but many dishes had a plethora of flavours in it. I found this obscuring and style-wise I prefer the simpler approach. But the debate was fairly evenly split amongst the diners. Some speculated that your preference would depend upon which you experienced first.