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
“How can anyone justify £325 for a tasting menu?… Without wine! But still, it’s SO hard to get a booking anytime soon!”. That’s the conundrum in assessing Heston Blumenthal’s world-famous venue, where the gulf between the ‘ayes’ and the ‘nayes’ grows ever-wider over the question of whether the “extortionate prices” are ultimately worth it for such “unmissable theatre” (“I didn’t realise four hours could go by at a table with such enjoyment”). The ‘ayes’ still have it… if only just… reporting “an amazing adventure into a fantasy world”: “an absolutely incredible and extremely personal experience” via an individual menu researched in advance around your memories that’s “nothing less than magical”. Many fans and foes alike, however, agree that the pricing for said trip “marks it down as a once-in-a-lifetime encounter” that’s “too expensive to repeat”. And amongst the growing number of sceptics – N.B. this year, for over 50% of reporters this was their vote as most overpriced meal of the year – there’s some feeling that “after the latest reboot of the Fat Duck a couple of years ago, it has lost some of what made it great: dishes are avant garde purely for that purpose rather than previously when it was to make them more delicious”.
“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 Fat Duck Restaurant Diner Reviews
"Difficult one this, it's insanely expensive but when you look at the set up it's easy to see how."
"Some really excellent cooking at times in this famous and iconic restaurant. Very very expensive though, but if you are a foodie, its worth a trip at least once in your life. We’ve talked about it many many times since. It’s THE destination restaurant in the UK and a restaurant non fine diners are interested in hearing about,"
"Okay, so we’ve now been to the Fat Duck. Michelin by Bookatable (or the other way round) gives it three stars and it is an experience that is not possible to compare with anywhere else we’ve eaten. But after seventeen fairly generous courses, an equivalent number of technical and visual gimmicks, sometimes over-the-top presentation, partly compensated for by the superb wines and the very accommodating and generous approach of the front of house staff and a visit to the kitchen, where Edward Cooke was running everything with much precision, not to mention the expressions of delight issuing from surrounding tables, we found ourselves disappointingly ‘unwowed’ at the end of this four hour stint of theatricality. The journey concept is perhaps a good starting point for establishing a fine dining ‘itinerary’ but even just paying lip service to each diner’s memories is impossible given the range of age groups and backgrounds, especially with the variety of nationalities in the restaurant the evening we were there. So basically what is presented is presumably Heston Blumenthal’s imagining of what might have been experienced by as many of the diners as possible and his appliance of science in the kitchen. Our impression was that once the initial conceptual stage had been accomplished, minor adaptations could be made, but, rather like our judgement of Dinner by HB, this seemed to have resulted in almost a formulaic approach, both with the dishes and the repeated and audible spiel by the waiting staff, which produced what could be likened to a production-line effect, despite the attempt to surround it all with an almost fairy-story atmosphere, the latter not really working for us given the uniform drabness of the dining room, even though we realised that this was probably deliberate so as not to have any distractions from the presentation. The thing was that, apart from the ‘Table d’hôte menu’ served as part of one of the seven imaginings of eats at various times of the day, not much resembled “real food”, with the result that one ended up trying to identify the various elements involved in the composition of the tastes discovered in the items on the stick, on the plate, on the hovering pillow and so on at any one time and consequently being quite distracted from any of the memories we might have had of our childhood holidays. And where were the fish and chips? The myriads of elements making up the production are well documented, in the Good Food Guide inter alia, but it is still worth mentioning the memories we brought away - the tongue-tingling Campari and prosecco ice lolly, the whipped butter with the coffee-tasting jam, the variety pack containing flakes and crunchy bits giving a faint taste of a full English, the school lab experiment of simultaneously hot and cold coffee which reminded us of an instant brew, the “sound of the sea” dominated by screeching seagulls and one of the fishy components being kingfish from Japan, the brilliant crab and passion fruit “99”, the super strong crab (too strong for my wife) in the Rockpool with extra crab for me in place of cucumber, the multiplicity of tastes and textures in the “boroughgroves”, a puzzling mock mock turtle, then the dishes in the evening meal sequence with tasty cuttlefish cannelloni and scallop, coq au vin, the chicken for which was from the Loire to guarantee a full texture but with rather soggy skin, the alphonso mango dessert, the whisky bottle gums digestif which was lost on us non-whisky drinkers, the floating pillow, and finally the model Fat Duck premises with sweeties. So was it value for money? Let’s just say that if it’s theatre you want then Fat Duck can’t be beaten, but for less than the total we coughed up here we could have had three meals, one at each of three restaurants within 12 miles of Bray, each of which deserves a star, and we would have come away from each one vastly more content than we were on this evening."
High St, Bray, SL6 2AQ
|Number of Diners:|
|Tuesday||12:30 pm-1 pm, 7 pm-10 pm|
|Wednesday||12:30 pm-1 pm, 7 pm-10 pm|
|Thursday||12:30 pm-1 pm, 7 pm-10 pm|
|Friday||12:30 pm-1 pm, 7 pm-10 pm|
|Saturday||12:30 pm-1 pm, 7 pm-10 pm|