This is the record of Elizabeth Connolly and The Fat Duck, Melbourne Experience, that started at 8.15pm on June 30th 2015, on the 3rd floor of the Crown Casino Melbourne, Part 1.
Actually, to be factual, it all started in August 2014 when I found out that “The Fat Duck” in Bray, London was closing for renovations and Heston Blumenthal and all his staff were being transported half way across the world for a 6 months “pop up” restaurant at the Crown Casino. I phoned the casino and they informed me that because of the interest in the restaurant, that there would be a ballot, so I needed to enter the ballot to be considered for a reservation. Registration for this was open from Wednesday 8th October to Sunday 26th October 2014. OK, you don’t get to pick the day, date, time… you just try your luck and hope for the best. I applied for a table of 4 as these were the most numerous in the restaurant of only 50 customers per night.
In November, I received my Golden Ticket! My reservation information was emailed asking me to confirm if I still wanted a reservation. I literally screamed the house down when I found out, I was so excited I really didn’t know what to do, I couldn’t believe that I had actually got a reservation, because 90,000 people applied for 14,000 reservations. If you’re not a foodie, then you really wouldn’t understand what all the fuss was about, but I was beside myself!
Of course I emailed, confirmed and then received a phone call to make payment IN JANUARY. Yep that’s right before the restaurant was even in Australia, every seat was booked and paid for, Now that’s a good way to start a business! The 15 course degustation menu (which was actually 17 plus a lolly bag to take home) was $525 per person, just for the food. They did have a matching wine tasting that accompanied the food menu at $200, $450 or $1150 per person. Mum chose the $200 matching wines and I had little sips of them every now and then!
So here we go, I have pondered, thought, cried even, about how to explain this food experience. Words don’t do justice to how incredibly amazing, spectacularly impossible the food that passed through my senses that night effected me. It wasn’t just the taste, or the delivery, or even the presentation and attention to detail. It was everything, from the moment we arrived and walked up the corridor that appeared to get smaller (just like in Willy Wonka), to the moment we received our take home lolly bag and left. It was a food extravaganza that I doubt, I will ever have the privilege to experience again!
Before we ate, I asked for a tour of the kitchen. The staff were wonderful, accommodating me, I met the head chef and talked Thermomix (they had 2 TM5’s) with him. It was in the middle of service and the kitchen was calm and immaculate. The first dinners of the evening arrived at 5.30pm and then all other guest were staggered from that point with our table being the last to start at 8.30pm.
First course was Aerated Beetroot with Horseradish Cream.
It was surprisingly strong, but well balanced flavours, that just disappeared in your mouth, but left you wanting more. I must take a bit of time to mention the crockery and cutlery. You will see the beautiful presentation and specific crockery of each course, sometimes made especially for “The Fat Duck”. Most of it was Royal Limoges and was all packed and shipped to Australia from London, so they literally did bring the contents of “The Fat Duck” here to Australia, including 40 staff.
Second course was chosen and made at our tables, Nitro Poached Aperitif.
The choices were Vodka and Lime Sour, Gin, Tonic and Lemon and Tequila and Grapefruit. An alcoholic foam was aerated into a Nitro bowl and frozen, it was then spooned out and the zest of the appropriate fruit was flicked through a candle to infuse into the frozen ball. It was to be eaten in one mouthful, which wasn’t hard, as it just disappeared into your mouth leaving the taste like you had just had a sip of your favourite drink. I chose the Tequila and Grapefruit, which was surprisingly refreshing and not at all too strong. Mum said the Gin and Tonic tasted just like she has had the most wonderful sip of her favoured refreshing beverage.
Third Course, Red Cabbage Gazpachio with Pommery Grain Mustard Ice-Cream… Yes Mustard Ice Cream, I don’t think at any point during the whole meal I ever ate a normal sweet ice cream… they were all savoury or savoury sweet, but each mouthful was delicious.
The bowl that this dish came in, made it almost impossible to get out every drop of the amazing cold soup, but I managed, without tipping it up and slurping it, which is what I wanted to do, because I didn’t want anything to go to waste! The flavours were very distinct and strong, but never overpowering or unpalatable. You can see the vibrancy of the colour and the tastes definitely matched.
Fourth Course, Savoury Lollies. In Australia we would call them Savoury Icy-Poles.
I’m not sure if they have these icy-poles in England or if Heston was giving an omarge to Australia with his trio of choice. We started with a Waldorf Rocket, looking just like a rocket ship icy-pole, except I remember them as being blue, red and white. It had the distinct taste of a Waldorf salad, with the tip tasting of toasted walnuts. The Salmon Twister, was raw, fresh salmon, that melted in your mouth, covered with avocado and mayonnaise to form the twist. Lastly the Golden Gaytime, which was a duck liver mousse pate’ covered in small crisps piece of some combination of dehydrated cheese to make the icy-pole look like a Golden Gaytime.
This was one of my favourite courses, although very hard to choose, I savoured every taste of the sublime pate and didn’t want it to end!
Fifth course was, Jelly of Quail, Marron Cream, Caviar Sorbet, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast. This sensory dish stared with a box of moss being placed on the table with tasting films.
The beginning of our journey into the forest was when we placed the tasting films on our tongues and allowed the food taste of oak to infuse in our mouths.
Our food was presented to us and immediately the waitress pored hot water into the box of moss and a peat, woody smell emanated in the form of a dry ice over the table.
Not only did it look spectacular, the smell transported us into the forest.
I have included a picture of the dish once I had taken a spoon out of it, so that you can see the different layers and colour of this complicated yet delicate dish.
At the bottom of the dish was the smoothest pea puree I had ever tasted. Apparently, Heston use to peel the peas, so they would be ultra smooth, but now they have the Thermomix, they don’t need to do that anymore. The quail jelly and marron with the caviar, combined with the smell of the oak woodiness on the table allowed you to feel as if you were in a woodland eating this dish. I think I even subconsciously rubbed my arms as I got a bit cold, like I would if I was in a forest.
The truffle toast was beyond words. I think that I could have literally just eaten this dish and been happy, maybe if I had a few more of those truffle toast, $525 worth just there!
The sixth course was Snail Porridge with Joselito Ham and Shaved Fennel. Yes I know you thinking yuck, snails, but I love snails, I actually had them almost everyday in France. You might be put off by the colour, but these gastropods aren’t even really green, they are a browny colour and have the texture of calamari.
The green in this dish comes from parsley, a traditional French way of serving snails with garlic. The salt of the ham and the slight aniseed flavour of the fennel gave this dish a wonderful lift and I think even the most ardent critique would have to love this green delight!
This dish was also served with beautiful smoked sourdough bread, butter and salt, continuing the forest theme. Oh and don’t forget that there was still a faint lingering of the forest on the tablecloth to finish off the dish as we all know that snails are abundant in forests.
The seventh course now starts our journey out of the forest and into the sea.
Roast Marron, Shiitake, Confit Kombu and Sea Lettuce. This was a clean dish with distinct Japanese flavours. The crispness of the fried sea lettuce, with the softness of the just cooked Marron and the delicate slices of shiitake mushroom and the complexity of the rich confit kombu seaweed combined to create one of the most perfect bites of food that has ever been placed in my mouth.
I placed a small piece of everything on my fork and it was the perfect mouthful, perfect bite, perfect, perfect!
You would think by this time that all the flavour were sort of melding into one, but we are at our 7th course and it is about 10.00pm. The experience was such, that each course was presented leaving enough time to allow your palate to savour the food and enough time for your stomach to rest, ready for the next course.
Now the fun now begins with the Mad Hatters Tea Party! Before the dishes arrive we received a book mark with instructions on how to proceed with the following eighth course. Mock turtle soup and sandwiches were in three parts.
A tea pot and cup arrived with the fob watch closely following.
We each selected our watch which is covered in gold leaf and placed it into the warm liquid of the tea pot and swirled it around like any proper English tea, the watch disappeared and became a rich soup broth.
This is then was poured over the cup containing an inside-out egg, ox tongue, truffle, pickled vegetables and enoki mushrooms growing out of the egg, just like Alice in Wonderland, I expected a smoking caterpillar or Cheshire cat to jump out at any time.
Finally, every tea party needs sandwiches, so along came our “Toast Sandwiches” that did not disappoint. These contained three slices of bread with the middle layer being toast.
These sandwiches contained bone marrow, anchovies and truffles, so not your average vegemite and cheese, but the tastes perfectly complemented the mock turtle soup, naturally. The large slice of thin truffle I saw on my bread would have cost about $15, and being a big fan of truffle, I ate my sandwiches and tea soup with delight!
And this is where I leave you wanting more. Part 2 will follow very soon with one of the most sensational dishes of the night still to come. I hope you have enjoyed this peek at the wonderful world of Heston Blumenthal and I look forward to hearing what you think!
Have you ever eaten a meal to remember, a meal that is very special to you?