Disclaimer: This post will consist mainly of words. I have already posted my photos of the Fat Duck a month ago. This is what I think from a dining experience point of view.
With that out of the way, let’s begin with perhaps the longest post of this blog ever.
When Yuuki messaged me about the extra seat at Fat Duck, I felt like I’d won a lottery ticket I did not purchase in the first place. In this case, winning a lottery ticket to spend $525.
And that is the beauty of the ballot system. You enter a draw, and then if you’re so lucky to get a seat, you are then prompted to pay and secure your seat. Two firewalls. No one is pointing a gun to your head. So if you still walk out complaining about the food and price, then you’re the idiot for not doing your research, really.
If you’re still rolling your eyes over the price, stop it.
Never have I seen Melbourne so hung up about the ethics of food pricing. People seem to think of all things wrong in Australia, nothing is worse than a casino overcharging their patrons.
Why are we spending tax money to destroy the Great Barrier Reef? Why drive an Audi when you can cycle? Why bother with modern art? Why fly to Europe? Why get so excited when you scored tickets to the AFL VIP booth? Why drink organic cola? Why ride a hot air ballon? Why buy a million dollar house? Why pay to watch Beyonce when you can YouTube? BOTTLED WATER? WHY?
The truth is, we simply like to splurge to feel better about ourselves.
For the experience.
Don’t over analyse, don’t feel obliged to take the moral high ground. Just accept the twisted, unfair, incomprehensible actions we call human nature.
(Also, if I write and photograph this meal, I can claim it as portfolio-building and self-promotion expense. Which I am doing right now. Very meta, I know. )
One thing worth mentioning, is my company.
Half of my table have been to the original Fat Duck in Bray, TWICE. One of us even ordered the most expensive wine pairing. So there was a certain melancholy mood throughout the meal. They knew what was coming most of the time, and did not make such a big ‘whoop’ out of every dish. In fact, there was an overall relief when they realised there’s a photographer on the table. (We can enjoy our meal without taking out our phones!)
Even so, I have no idea how to judge my experience in Fat Duck, because I had no other comparison prior to this. When was the last time you had a Waldorf Rocket in popsicle form? How much broth melted from a golden watch have you tasted in your life? How does their liquorice poached gel salmon compare against your mum’s? How did your last Alice in Wonderland inspired digustation go?
My point is, I was a Heston virgin. And I’m pretty sure most of the 52 other diners on that Thursday afternoon were no different.
Every dish for me was a new experience. And since we did not receive the menu until the very end (sealed in envelope with wax), it was an exercise of taste buds to brain stimuli.
The chicken liver pate in Golden Gaytime form was undoubtedly the table’s favourite. It usually come like a Magnum ice cream, but they customised it for the Australians.
Another dish tailored made for Australia was a roast marron, with shiitake, confit konbu and sea lettuce.
It seems weird to me lately, that all ‘Aussie’ spin on dishes end up having Japanese ingredients in them. (Oh Aussie spin? Here’s some macha-infused soba and sashimi with a side of tataki and onigiri seasoned with togarashi spice topped with Kombucha. There, that should be Aussie enough.)
Anyway, I digress.
I personally like the Hot and Iced Tea. When you consume it, the left side of your mouth feels cold and the right feels warm. Yup. Science. The word ‘viscosity’ was tossed around the table.
I am still unsure about the “Sound of the Sea”. I read about it, I saw photographs of it, at this point I’ve experienced it.
But, I am still unsure about the “Sound of the Sea”.
I know the earphones with the sound of sea waves splashing is supposed to enhance my experience, but I don’t think the dish is incomplete without the earphones.
Maybe it worked better in Bray, because it was a brick cottage in a small town, more in-tune to nature, more susceptible to nostalgia. For me, it was the only dish that made me feel extremely self-conscious. If there were ever a wank meter, that was probably the point it went ‘Wank! Wank!'
The wank meter experienced another jolt near the entrance, where the glass dildos reside. There was nothing playful in the last sentence, it was really a bunch of glass dildos from MONA Tasmania, obviously catering towards the sophisticated modern art crowd, which I thought was unnecessary. Seriously, we will not think less of you if you do not have glass dildos at your reception.
Not to forget the part where we each get a jigsaw puzzle, to complete a square, which will be later form a bigger part of a mural, with Heston in the middle. By then, one of us on the table (the one with the expensive wine-pairing) shouted: WHY IS HE SUCH A NARCISSIST?! It was probably the $500 Royal Tokaji talking, but she did have a point.
Another dish outside of my comfort zone, was the nitro-scrambled egg and bacon on french toast. I know it’s to juxtapose our normal dining experience. (Breakfast towards the end, hot becomes cold, salty is now sweet, eh? Eh? EH?) But I still like my scrambled eggs hot and savoury. It is always risky to play with something fundamental and personal such as scrambled eggs on toast.
I liked the whiskey wine gums. They were basically edible info-graphics. By peeling the wine gums off the map, you can really associate taste with geography and interaction. (Ok now I’m setting off my own wank meter.)
But it is true. We are not really eating food at the end of the day, are we? We are consuming design, science, technology, history. We expected to be entertained.
And speaking of design, never have I realised the importance of plates. Maybe because I was taking photos for most of the 6 hours we were there for, but every dish complimented the colour, texture, and size of the plates.
One cannot avoid comparing Fat Duck to our very own Vue De Monde, ( I vaguely remember Shannon saying he is pals with Heston during a shoot), but I’d say everything was just taken up a notch.
I’m not saying VDM is not as good, because they’re not charging twice as much to entertain us.
The good thing about paying upfront, is that you don’t have to worry about how much each dishes cost. You are here, really, for the show. The one thing that jolted me back to reality, was the beverage list. When I saw the $120 price tag next to a cup of Pu-Erh tea, I was ultimately reminded that yes, I’m in casino, and people need to pay rent, and make money.
The money we paid, goes to marketing, branding, their renovation in Bray. After this meal, after this six months, when the final giant Heston mural is completed, all 90,000 of us, with our instagram and blog posts will effectively serve as human billboards for the new venture.
We’ve been brainwashed enough by Heston’s TV shows and thick glasses that we already understand what his food is all about. Like H&M and Uniqlo, we are only happy that someone famous is finally here in Australia. (The current trend is probably foraging, which I am certainly no one is Australis is ready to pay money for.)
But one thing I cannot fault, was the service. The staff to customer ration was 1:1, and sometimes there’ll be eight waitstaff surround our table. They adjusted the cutlery for the left-handed guests on our table without cue, they present and clear the plates in sync, they yelled out ‘snail porridge’ with jazz hands. Creepy, but dedicated.
And this is the thing, they’re all here for a short time frame, and probably were just happy to be here without any visa issues.
From a photography point of view, it was a joy trying to find different compositions to accentuate main features of 14 different dishes. And since I have the same amount of time as a normal diner, I had to make snap decisions, while obeying their strict rule of not standing up.
The final surprise came in the goodie bag we took home. An edible queen of heart card, which was actually a raspberry tart.
For me, that represented the whole Heston Blumenthal brand. They should sell them in the supermarket.
Overall, I enjoyed my experience very much. Probably because most of us on the table understood what we paid for. Had I dined with my parents it would’ve been a completely different experience. (Why so much smoke? Why so much bubble? Why so bland? Why so sweet? Why so salty? Why so complicated?)