Harden's survey result
Is Heston Blumenthal’s world-famous HQ starting to look “a bit old hat”? Or is it just “too bloody expensive”? What’s for sure is that over half of reporters commenting on this renowned ex-pub now nominate it as their most overpriced meal of the year, while only a quarter say it was their best. Truly, it’s “a unique gastronomic experience, unlike any other”: “more of an event than a meal” (“it’s a long evening”), with a series of courses “very theatrically presented” based on your past experiences (as researched at the time of booking). To a majority, it’s “Alice in Wonderland on steroids” and in a good way – “yes, absurdly expensive” (“half the price would be too much!”), but not the disappointment we had feared: “joyful, engaging and oddly emotional…”, with “exquisite tastes and textures, extraordinary flavours and surprising sensory phenomena…”, “…in short we loved it; a bravura performance all round”. But even those who “fared very well on the food” can feel that “it would not be for everyone, as the approach is somewhat a production line, with neighbouring tables either behind or ahead in their journey to Cornwall or wherever”. And “the dining room is very stark which detracts from the ambience”. And then there are the few folk who plain loathe the whole set-up. “This place is a performance art commentary on capitalism. If you’ve ever read ‘120 Days of Sodom’ and want to eat something that gives you the same feeling as that book, come here!”.
“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!”)
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|