Imagine a restaurant where there’s no such thing as a menu: instead, a map with a magnifying glass to use as you embark on a degustation journey – one of a calming day spent on a childhood holiday and centred on your own personal memories and experiences.
That’d be a big ask of any normal eatery, but at celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck restaurant in Bray, United Kingdom under head chef Jonny Lake, it’s exactly what you’ll find.
Once recognised as the best restaurant in the world and currently decorated with three Michelin stars – the highest accolade Michelin can award – getting a reservation here can be tough, especially with only 42 seats in the entire restaurant, just 10 sittings per week and Heston a favourite guest on MasterChef!
Join Australian Business Traveller as we reveal the best way to secure your table for lunch or dinner, what it all costs, and what a typical journey entails.
Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck: reservations
Bookings at The Fat Duck open four months in advance and require a pre-payment of £265 (A$457) per person at the time of reservation, with tables sold only to parties of two, three, four and six. Sorry, solo business travellers, but there are no tables for one here: or for groups of five.
That price covers all of the food you’ll enjoy plus basic coffee at the end of the meal, but excludes any wines, cocktails or other drinks and a 12.5% service charge payable on the day you dine which is calculated on your total bill (including the pre-payment).
This pegs the ‘real’ starting cost at around A$514 per person including the tip – A$1,028 for a table of two; A$1,542 for three; A$2,056 for four or A$3,084 for six – so this could certainly be the most expensive meal you’ll ever eat!
Reservations can be made for lunch and dinner on Tuesdays through Saturdays via The Fat Duck’s website, with bookings currently accepted until August 31 2017. The restaurant is closed on Sundays and Mondays and doesn’t serve breakfast.
It’s tough to find a table right now unless booking as a group, although bookings for September 2017 will be unlocked on Wednesday May 3 from precisely 9pm Sydney time (midday in the restaurant’s local time): and you’ll have the best chances of success by logging on and buying a table right away.
New tickets go on sale on the first Wednesday of every month for tables four months in advance – so for a seat in October 2017, you can book from 9pm Sydney time on Wednesday June 7, and so on.
The Fat Duck's home of Bray is best-reached by taking a taxi or Uber from central London which takes about 45-70 minutes depending on traffic, while the entire experience takes about four hours itself.
Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck: the journey
A survey completed ahead of your arrival tells the restaurant all it needs to know from food allergies and intolerances through to the reasons for your visit and who you’re dining with, your holiday memories and more: so with a map in-hand, the journey begins!
The day before your holiday brings a ‘change of air’ – a play on words with an aerated beetroot macaron to start…
… and ‘just the tonic we need’ – a smoked cumin Royale with Jerusalem artichoke ice cream as the excitement builds for a change of scenery:
After a good night’s sleep, it’s time for that joyous first holiday breakfast at home, the second stop on your map. Served with a friendly “good morning” from the waiters, Heston’s signature tea is sneakily both hot and cold at the same time, not merely lukewarm:
Here’s where your own custom journey starts to take shape: the restaurant knew that my wife and I were visiting the UK on our honeymoon after being married at the Stamford Plaza Hotel in Brisbane, so a postcard from the hotel appears on the table alongside our choice of breakfast cereals:
Better yet, the cereal itself was no ordinary bowl of Corn Flakes – instead, a truffled egg mouse in place of the milk with jellied tomato consommé plus bacon and toasted bread creams, mimicking our breakfast those few days prior:
The entire meal isn’t about what you did last week, of course, with time then turned back to when you were a child, earning pocket money for sweets. In Heston’s world, you’ll earn a coin after building a box to house it in...
… and as a reward for your productivity comes a trip to the beach where you can enjoy the ‘Sound of the Sea’ by slipping on the headphones and digging in. Everything is edible, including the foam on the water, the sand, the trees on the beach and the cured fish!
No beach voyage is complete without a visit to the ice cream truck, but your choices today are more grown-up, being a Waldorf salad ‘rocket’ and a salmon, avocado and horseradish ‘Twister’:
Remember finding fun messages or prizes on your ice cream sticks? Don’t worry: this journey is no exception!
With your ice cream finished, it’s time to go rockpooling – and no, that doesn’t mean dashing to Neil Perry’s Rockpool restaurant, rather, exploring (and eating) your own rock pool constructed of Cornish crab, a smoked caviar and golden trout roe, a velouté of white chocolate and sea vegetables, in what was my favourite dish of the entire visit:
Later that afternoon comes a walk through the forest, and knowing that our favourite holiday memory together was dogsledding through the snow in the forests of Whistler, the adventure continues with a chilly winter’s breeze across the table…
… with snow-covered trees emerging after a short while and a 3D-printed dog and dogsled resting beneath them: ours to keep, although difficult to spot in the photograph:
With the wind and snow subsided comes the forest dish itself: a very artfully-presented plate of mushroom, beet and blackberry, scented with fig leaf, meadowsweet, melilot, oakmoss and black truffle. Again, everything on the plate is edible, including the dirt on the forest floor (and the worms, if you're game).
On your journey you discover a turtle picnic, and transform this into a mock turtle soup, complete with an egg and elements that create the flavour of a toasted sandwich – but with no turtles harmed in the making of this afternoon tea:
Phew! That was a long day of exploring nature and you’re sure to have worked up a real hunger, so it’s time to venture out for a typical three-course dinner, and for this and this alone, you do receive a menu.
To begin, we selected the langoustine lasagne: a bite-sized serve of Norwegian lobster which was cooked to perfection and absolutely delicious…
… followed by Black Angus beef served medium rare on a beef and bone marrow sauce with a shiitake mushroom and radicchio salad, which was also divine:
A rhubarb-centric dessert comes next, also faultless…
… with your ‘restaurant meal’ concluding with a whisky (gum) tasting, including Glenlivet, Oban, Highland Park and Laphroaig, plus a drop from Lark Distillery in Australia:
Leave the imaginary restaurant and it’s back to Heston’s own magic, with an after-dinner refresher served on a levitating pillow. A word of advice: do not put your hands underneath the pillow… but if you’re the rebellious type and simply must, eat your pillow food first!
Ah, soft, soft pillows… it’s finally time to doze after a busy day! Descend into the land of nod by sampling a pure white ‘dream dish’ of malt, milk, tonka, meringue, crystallised white chocolate, pistachio and orange blossom. To help you settle in, the spoon’s handle is also white, fluffy and scented of baby powder.
Remember that coin you earned earlier in the day? You can use it to buy sweets from Heston’s Sweet Shop at the end. A small trolley appears in the shape of the restaurant itself…
… and when the waiter takes your coin, the shop folds open and delivers fun treats just for you. My favourite? A buttery apple pie-flavoured caramel toffee in an edible wrapper, although the also-edible Queen of Hearts playing card ‘slash’ jam tart was a close second.
You might be close to bursting at this point, so your sweets are delivered in a handy goody bag which you can take with you and enjoy later.
Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck: the verdict
On the whole, I’d say a visit to The Fat Duck is like taking a tour of a modern art gallery: you might not like everything you see (or taste), but there are things you’ll appreciate along the way, and at the end of the day (or journey), you’re certainly glad you went.
However, The Fat Duck isn’t for all tastes and budgets, especially when a meal for two puts a $1,000+ dent in the hip pocket – rendering it more so a once-in-a-lifetime experience than a favourite spot for lunch or dinner.
Having now had that experience, I wouldn’t rush back for an instant repeat: but in the same token, the journey I did take was worth every cent.
Have you enjoyed a great restaurant experience that went beyond the food itself? Share you adventure with fellow AusBT readers in the comment box below!