A vegan dining experience at The Fat Duck, Bray

On the High Street in Bray our eyes were drawn to a white cottage, illuminated to the extent that it sits almost in daylight in sharp contrast to the shadows that surround it.  Hanging from the building was a medley of silver cutlery which gently quivered in the breeze, subtly signalling to all that passed that they had reached The Fat Duck.

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As we approached the building, a well suited man approached us with a smile on his face. He opened the exterior door and we were faced with a short corridor covered in mirrors.  Encaged within the reflective surfaces was a hologram, we were told to pay attention to the projected images as the symbols would become imperative to the journey we’d be going on.

Before we knew it one of the mirrors slid open and a young lady welcomed us through.  The dining area was white washed and minimalistic, a striking blend of new and old.  Cotton cloth covered the tables skimming against the ground. 

On the table there was a looking glass and a pamphlet detailing the journey, which had been inspired by Heston Blumenthal’s memories of holidaying in Cornwall as a child.  We were told we’d be taken on a trip with the hope that our own nostalgia would become evident at each stage of the voyage.

1.       The Day Before We Go: Are we nearly there yet?

Our waiter Liam swiftly wheeled a trolley towards us and told us we’d be having a cocktail.  He picked up a silver canister and a thick mousse was jetted onto a spoon which was dipped into liquid nitrogen.  The concoction was composed of chickpeas and flavoured with lime.  I’m told to eat the dish in one bite.  I don’t listen and as I took a small bite into the edge of the frozen shell the fragile mass splits apart creating a mess as my partner laughed: “here she is, my beautiful wife to be”.

A small sphere appeared next, made up of two pieces of aerated beetroot, sandwiched together by a green gel in the centre.  The deep purple ball disintegrated on my tongue almost instantaneously. 

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Dish number three was a gin and tonic except there was no spirit or tonic water, in fact, there was no liquid present at all.  Instead we’re told we’d be experiencing the flavours associated with a gin and tonic but the actual composition was formed from a cumin coin and celery sorbet.

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An envelope was laid on the table addressed to my partner and I, a wax seal on the back had the emblem of The Fat Duck.  Inside was a card congratulating us on our engagement and thanking us for celebrating it with them.

2.       Morning: Rise and shine, it’s breakfast time

We were brought a tiny glass of tea and told our drink would be half hot and half cold, the actual beverage had a thin gelatinous membrane down the centre which meant the left and right half of your mouth ended up receiving contrasting temperatures of liquid.

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To accompany our tea, packets of breakfast cereals were handed to us.  In the packet was a wooden toy for us to build.  When constructed it became a money box which we placed a coin in.  We were given a bowl of “milk” and told to pour our cereal on the top and we’d be rewarded with a full English breakfast.  The milk was in fact white on the top but gelatinous underneath and when mixed together, our cereal and the jelly hiding under the skin of our “milk” tasted of toast, tomatoes, mushrooms and truffles.

3.       Mid-morning: First one to see the sea…

Well this is a sentimental voyage to Cornwall, and what is such a trip, without some time at the beach.

Large shells were brought to the table with earphones hanging from the opening, within the shell was a small ipod shuffle playing one track on a loop: the sound of waves crashing against the shore.  A box frame filled with sand was brought out.  On the glass sea marinated vegetables including Chinese lettuce glistened next to matt tapioca sand and kombu seaweed flavoured foam.  The salty taste was amplified by the acoustics of the sea which hit the back of your throat taking you straight back to the sensation of swallowing saltwater when swimming in the sea.

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It was then time for some ice cream.  The first was a rocket lolly, with each layer tasting of the flavours of a Waldorf salad.  The second, a feast lolly which was in fact mushroom and fig and scattered with tiny pieces of nuts.  Lastly, came the classic 99, except the ice cream was tomato flavoured.

The final part of our trip to the beach was a play in the rock pool.  A black bowl was brought out reminiscent of layers of rock.  A white crab sat at the edge, he was made of cocoa butter we are told.  But before we had a chance to fully take note, hot liquid was poured over and he dissolved away into a liquid broth, forming a soup made of daikon radish and cucumber.

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4.       Afternoon: If you go down to the woods today…

A terrarium was brought to the table, leaning against the tree within was a wooden castle.  This personal touch was in relation to our engagement, which had taken place in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle, Disneyland.  Liquid nitrogen was poured in and a mist covered our table with the scents of woodland.  A dish of mushrooms, truffles, beetroot and wood sorrel accompanied our olfactory experience.  A crispy mushroom brandy snap was the centre piece and was filled with glutinous cubes.

 

The waiter asked if we like being in the woodland, he then paused and said: “because you like walking up hills” I replied: “yes, in America” referring to my most favourite place in the world, Runyon Canyon.  My mind was catapulted to one of the only places in the world that I feel truly relaxed, hiking up the hero’s trail at sunrise.  The toughest ascent is extremely steep and has a sheer drop at the edge.  My heart always pounds, any loss of footing on the loose sand could spell disaster.  A mailbox used to greet you at the top with the words, “no pain, no gain”.  I’m back in the room as he said: “hills like this one” handing me a postcard of Runyon Canyon.

We were then given a bookmark referring to Alice in Wonderland in preparation for our mock turtle soup.  A transparent cup held a vegan “egg”, made of turnip and parsnip.  And a clear teapot with gold-leaf infused liquid accompanied, which we were instructed to pour onto our egg.  The overall effect was a soup flavoured with tomato and mushrooms. 

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A very tiny sandwich then greeted us, a wafer within it melted in our mouths and hints of truffle hit our palates. 

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We were then given some homemade sourdough bread with olive oil.  The bread was warm and comforting and I couldn’t help but take up the offer of an additional slice.

5.       Evening: Are you ready for dinner?

This is a dining experience, and it’s only fair that we should experience a three course meal, we were handed a set menu and shortly following this our starter was brought out: oyster mushroom with dabs of passion fruit gel and an assortment of pickled vegetables.

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Our main was next, vegan “bone marrow” the bone marrow was made from daikon radish and had hints of garlic and a marmite broth was poured over the dish.  If I’m honest I didn’t find this dish very flavoursome.  However it did come with balls of herb infused eggfree mayonnaise, covered in bread crumbs which made me contemplate if this is what chicken kievs taste of (I’ve never had one).

From the other tables it appears that most of the dinners had whisky flavoured sweets for the next dish, so I was glad when tea flavoured gums were brought out to us, having never been a fan of such spirits.  The soft jellies melted in my mouth releasing hints of speciality teas as they dissolved.

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The end of our three course meal was the much anticipated desert.  It was a representation of grapes, with gold fragile spheres, a beautifully crafted sugar leaf, a pure gold spiral and citrus flavours throughout. 

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6.       Bedtime: Off to the Land of Nod.

A white box was brought to the table, a pillow levitated above as acoustic lullabies gently played.  On top of the pillow was a coconut oil frozen sweet.  The candy melted away almost instantaneously on my tongue.  This appeared to be a palate cleaner as plates of an additional desert were brought out.

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A chocolate mousse was encased within a shimmering hard chocolate shell.  Alongside the cocoa flavoured delight was coconut ice cream made from rice milk.  Chocolate shavings were scattered underneath infused with popping candy that danced on the palate.

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7.       And then to dream…

To take us right back to our childhood a large wooden sweet shop was wheeled out.  We were  asked to take our coins out of our money boxes and hand them to the waiter, who placed them into a slot.  Doors opened within the wooden model shop until one remained exposed.  The waiter took his sweet shop scoop and placed the contents in a pick-and-mix bag for us to take home.

The journey was almost over but not before we were made to feel incredibly special, Liam asked if we’d like a kitchen tour, which we jumped at the chance of.  We were taken to the back of house to see how everything was prepared.  He also told us that the chefs were developing a vegan dish and they’d love to hear our thoughts… how could we resist.  A tiny envelope with an edible raspberry wax seal was brought out, inside sits the “Queen of Hearts”, a white chocolate decking card with a raspberry centre.

We had the most incredible evening.  We were thrilled that our vegan diet was accommodated so well.  We were also incredibly heartened by the personal touches.  The waiting staff were all incredibly attentive, James went to the bathroom at one point and when he returned his napkin had been folded for him.  At another point he sneezed and within moments a waitress was next to him offering him a box of tissues. 

The expertly crafted food made the evening special, but the nostalgic journey and the staff’s attitude made the night perfect.

 

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