January 2018: Fat Duck Group executive chef Jonny Lake has announced he will be moving on from the company after 12 years to pursue personal projects.
Harden's survey result
For 25 years we've been curating reviews of the UK's most notable restaurant. This year diners have submitted over 60,000 reviews to create the most authoritative restaurant guide in the UK.
“Inspiration, as much as food: a conversation-starting, memory-rousing tour de force!” – Heston Blumenthal’s world-famous pub-conversion a short drive outside London delivers “a fairytale journey back to childhood” (they call you in advance to ask about your memories), and its “personalisation to the diner is a joyous and incredible added extra touch, showing staggering attention to detail”. The resulting cuisine can be “sheer genius, with dishes, planned to the minutest item, executed to the highest standard, and with a focus on flavour sensations that are at once familiar yet often completely unique”. There’s the obvious catch – “it’s crazy money” – and, although the outrage at the prices died down a little this year, they still inspire much more resistance than before The Fat Duck’s relaunch a couple of years ago (“no matter how great an experience it is, it a meal for two with wine at what can easily be nigh on £1,000 is just too expensive!”) Still, for most reporters “it was on my bucket list, and it was unbelievable!”
“A theatrical and gastronomic event unlike any other”… Heston Blumenthal’s re-launched extravaganza “has a new concept – they take you on a journey and even phone you in advance to ask you questions about your memorable experiences” – and on most accounts the result remains “a perfect balance of food and showmanship”, with “attention to detail that’s truly amazing and lots of fun”; but then there’s the humungous cost. OK, it’s always been an arm-and-a-leg job here, but “nigh on a grand for two!?” (if you go for the set menu and wine flights); while for a slim majority it’s worth it for “a once-in-a-lifetime multi-sensory experience”, for the first time in survey feedback on this famous venue there is very significant kickback against the quality/price equation, with two in five reporters finding that “whilst you can’t help but praise the effort and the genius in the execution, it’s all too much, and doesn’t justify the stratospheric pricing”. (Ironically, given all the recent investment in this converted pub, most regulars also “marginally preferred the old decor”, or even find “the new, everything-grey look is like a prison!”)
“The Fat Duck is to food what Cirque du Soleil is to circuses – a wonderful, and unique, experience”. And in spite of the terrifying prices, it is striking how satisfied most reporters are with its “pure theatre and pure gastronomic experience”. For much of this year, this world-famous converted pub has been closed for a complete overhaul, and in September 2015 it re-opened promising ‘a nostalgic trip full of playful memories, filled with curiosity, discovery and adventure’ (for which you have to buy your ticket up-front!) We’re looking forward to hearing what this means in next year’s survey, but – despite the absence of snail porridge and egg-and-bacon ice cream from the new menu, and the addition of a new £150,000, Willy Wonka-esque roving sweet dispenser – our rating is a bet that it will turn out a case of ‘plus ça change’.
“The gastronomic equivalent of Cirque du Soleil” – this world-famous pub-conversion offers a “fun experiment on your tastebuds” most reporters find “everything it’s billed to be”; prices are “absurd”, though, and sceptics say “this may have been cutting edge 10 years ago, but every other restaurant does it nowadays”.
High St, Bray, SL6 2AQ
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lunch noon - 1.45 pm, dinner 7 pm - 9 pm
Last orders: 9 pm