Vodka and lime sour The Fat Duck Heston Blumenthal Crown Melbourne

the fat duck | great moments in fine dining | heston blumenthal | degustation dreaming

Brainy and cheeky. Witty and inventive. Always smoking hot.

Curiouser and curiouser … there’s nothing quite as fabulous as unfurling a crisp white napkin and waiting for the Heston Blumenthal magic show to begin.

Great moments of fine dining? Mmmm – where to start? Ferran Adrià’s “This Is Not a Dinner” event with Dom Pérignon in Barcelona this year; Thomas Keller’s Per Se in New York (2013); Alain Ducasse’s Plaza Athenée in Paris (2010); Peter Gilmore’s Quay in 2009, the year he emerged on the S. Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants list; Charlie Trotter’s Chicago establishment in 2005 …

And, just recently, in August, at The Fat Duck in Melbourne, when Heston Blumenthal presented a 16-course degustation lunch that celebrated signature dishes over 20 years.

Crown Towers hosted the 20th anniversary of the Fat Duck, a birthday party that doubled as a farewell, as the celebrated “pop-up” prepared to pack up the Limoges, Riedel, and JL Croquet and head back to Bray in Berkshire, in the UK, for a September re-opening.

Fifty guests — friends, media, Crown Resorts executives and paying guests — sat down to experience the work of a UK chef who is among the select few to change the face of fine dining.

Degustation often cops flack for its excess and expense; there will always be those who’d prefer the perfect simplicity and economy of a boiled egg, bread and cheese, the tomato from central casting. But a degustation can be a voyage around gastronomic genius — an insight into bold ideas, exploration, a passion for produce. What thrills are the Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland-style twists and turns, the down the rabbit hole plunges into the great unknown, and the way Blumenthal is driven by unbridled curiosity, inventiveness and energy. And a love of theatre.

Related article:  Ferran Adria and Dom Perignon

Pressure? Always. As Blumenthal says in his weighty tome, The Big Fat Duck Cookbook: The third star awarded to The Fat Duck in the Guide Michelin, “was like a pat on the back and a knee in the groin.”

The Fat Duck Heston Blumenthal Crown Melbourne Jigsaw piece of the action

Blumenthal pieces together fine dining’s jigsaw puzzle.

Celebrated chefs have to put up with having their creations written up as tasty and crispy and juicy and “really hard to describe” on TripAdvisor. Unlike artists, writers and couturiers, their work becomes but gossamer memory, because taste is so fleeting. Blumenthal does all that he can to create a story around the taste, employing delayed gratification, the sense of reward, flavour surprises, vivid imagination, and the use of science as a tool to explore culinary possibilities.

These were some of the indelible morsels and moments that marked a stellar two decades of hard yards and high fives.

The aperitif

And so it begins – with a magician’s flourish: a Vodka and Lime Sour (c. 2001):  vodka, lime and green tea, poached in liquid nitrogen to emerge as a neat meringue cushion, to be popped into the mouth whole.

Fool me

So the menu tells you the little squares before you are orange and beetroot jelly (2002). “Please begin with the orange,” says the waitress. Your brain prepares you for the flavour of orange. But it’s golden beetroot, and the beetroot coloured jelly is in fact blood orange. Now you’re paying attention.

Surprise me

Startlingly arresting and cleansing is the red cabbage gazpacho from 2001, with its Pommery grain mustard ice-cream.

Into the wood

Jelly Of Quail, Marron Cream, from 1991, is my favourite, for its poetic narrative and imagination. A wafer film from a Listerine-style dispenser is impregnated with oak moss. The taste of a smell. A tray of oak moss sits in the centre of the table. Onto the moss is poured a solution of oak moss essential oil, alcohol and hot water, creating a smoky medieval mist that forms a sensory bridge between the tree that harbours a truffle and the buttery crushed truffle toast finger beckoning from a little wooden block. Next to it, styled into a space-age ball of a china dish, perches a quenelle of foie gras parfait on layers of marron cream, jelly of quail and pea mousse.

Oak moss and dry ice The Fat Duck Heston Blumenthal Crown Melbourne

Mist and oak moss in the forest: the precursor to a crushed truffle and radish toast finger.

A snail by any other name

Snail porridge. A sense of mischief prevails in this signature 2003 creation. The challenge was to make something that in anyone else’s hands would be grey and goopy. So parsley, garlic and shallots donate a vivid green colour; the oats, almonds, ham and, of course, the snails and their stock party up a dish with amazing mouthfeel, flavour and earthiness.


Snail porridge The Fat Duck Heston Blumenthal Crown Melbourne

Snail porridge with shaved fennel, a signature dish from 2003.

Pump up the volume

A glass-topped box of sand is the plate. On it is a painterly cuisine collage now famous as 2007’s Sound of the Sea – today, a line-up of yellow-tail kingfish, charred abalone and bonito, on a beach of crisp fried anchovy bread and tapioca flour soaked in miso oil; a foam made from the juices of seaweed, sea creatures and vegetable stock, and a garden of coastal succulents such as pigface, dead man’s fingers and assorted seaweed. On the side plate is a conch shell with earphones that convey the gentle whoosh of surf.


Sound of the sea The Fat Duck Heston Blumenthal fine dining Crown

Sound of the Sea: a tableau of tastes from 2007.

The treats keep on coming: 1998’s revolutionary crab risotto with crab ice cream; a candlestick of caviar-filled white chocolate (1991), snipped into segments with white-gloved delicacy; a cup of tea that’s hot one side, iced the other (2005); veal sweetbreads smoked in hay with their triple cooked chips (1999); and proving what a good year 1999 was, the very sensational lasagne of marron and pig’s trotter.


Sweet chariot

The “BFG”, from 2006, is a big friendly giant of a black forest gateau. If you got all science-geeky about it and took a cross section, you’d be counting up 10 layers of endeavour, from an almond base and kirsch  ganache through chocolate sponge and white and dark chocolate mousse to designer cherries. This dessert comes with a “bespoke” perfume: kirsch spritzed into the space around you.

And because it’s not over till you’ve been dealt the last card, hold out for the “Like A Kid in a Sweet Shop Bag”, a takeaway (2007), that contains the world’s thinnest shortbread masquerading as the dinkiest Queen of Hearts.

After the bump out, and after some structural redesign, Blumenthal protégé Ashley Palmer-Watts will shake it up at Crown with Dinner by Heston, opening October 20.

BFG The Fat Duck Heston Blumenthal Crown Melbourne

The BFG, an haute couture take on the black forest gateau.

All photos Susan Skelly

Tell us what dishes have been unforgettable?


Editor. Writer. Traveller. Keeping tabs on all things fab.

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