Editor's note: from January 2022 the executive chef is Edward Cooke and the head chef is Oli WIlliamson.
In late 2015 the Fat Duck re-launched after a refurbishment and, finally, with a long overdue new menu. This was desperately needed given that the dishes had not changed in years. At £255 for the food alone, payable in advance, it is now the most expensive meal in the UK other than The Araki, and comparable in price to a top Paris restaurant. Head chef since 2009 is Jonny Lake, who has worked at the Fat Duck since 2005.
The extensive wine list has plenty of good growers, but the mark-ups are painful. Altair Sideral 2010 was a tolerable £60 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £17, Huber Bienenberg Spatbuurgunder 2010 was £125 for a label that retails at £35, and Katnook Odyssey 2006 was £190 compared to a shop price of £52. Higher up the list Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz 2003 was an indefensible £390 for a bottle whose current market price is £90, and Antinori Solaia 1999 an outrageous £820 given that the wine costs £166 in a shop, more than five and a half times retail price once you add service. There were anomalies too, with Kistler Vine Hill 2008 priced at £225 for a bottle that retails at £143, yet the Kistler Les Noisetier 2008 was priced higher at £250 despite being a much cheaper wine, with a shop price of around £67. This is a list seemingly designed to punish wine lovers.
There is no menu as such, but rather a map of a journey to the seaside, the dishes intended to follow this imaginary trip. The first nibble was an unusual dish, a deep fried gribiche i.e. egg mayonnaise with mustard. This is usually an accompaniment to fish or chicken, but worked well on its own, the sharpness of the sauce working well with its fried coating (18/20). This was followed by a macaron of aerated beetroot and horseradish cream, which was very delicate, the heat of the horseradish nicely in balance with the earthiness of the beetroot (18/20).
Jerusalem artichoke ice cream with cumin panna cotta came with salsify and shallots as well as a botanical tonic poured over the fish at the table, a rather odd mix of flavours, though each element was well made (16/20). This was followed by a meringue of pina colada prepared at the table in liquid nitrogen; this was an update on the old green tea and lime mousse. It was pleasant but felt more about the theatrics of the liquid nitrogen than the flavour (16/20).
This was followed by rabbit tea, a technically clever dish that mixed hot and cold rabbit stock served in a glass with a silicon divider allowing the hot and cold to be served in the same dish. The stock had plenty of flavour and the temperature mix was an interesting idea, though ultimately it was a cup of stock (17/20).
Next was a breakfast cereal, with a little packet of assorted cereals to be mixed in with a base custard tasing of bacon, sausage and scrambled eggs, with tomato jelly and truffle. This was quite a fun dish, and the excellent custard, with its complex flavour, meant that it was more than just culinary trickery (18/20).
“Sounds of The Sea” was a hangover from the old menu. I have written about this before but to be honest this dish is something that should probably have been dropped: the innovation of the headphones in the sea shell may have seemed clever five years or so ago but just appears dated now. The dish itself is not exciting once you skip past the sound effects, which seem gimmicky all these years later (barely 16/20).
A pair of lollies appeared next, one flavoured with Waldorf salad with rocket, apple, celery and walnut, which to be honest was just dull. The other was better: jasmine tea smoked salmon wrapped in horseradish and avocado that at least had punchy flavour (average 16/20). A crab ice and passion fruit cream cornet was just odd (these are both flavours that I love, but together?), accompanied by smoked crab, trout roe, crab meat bound with crab mayonnaise, mussel veloute, white chocolate crab and cocoa butter shell, codium rock and samphire jelly whose overall effect was too salty, even for me (barely 16/20).
The meal went up a level with a “Forest” dish of mushroom soup, truffle from Alba, log of truffle, mushroom jelly, truffle butter, lovage, blackberry, cep, fig oil, yellow beetroot powder and mushroom purée. Here the blend of textures worked very well, the assorted mushrooms having coherent overall flavour (19/20).
The mock turtle soup served next was another old dish, but today seemed less impressive than its previous version, technically clever but lacking depth of flavour (17/20). This was followed by a sandwich of toasted white bread, egg white mayonnaise with chives, truffle, homemade ketchup, cucumber, egg yolk mustard and sherry reduction. This was interesting and again technically smart, the mustard managing to keep the flavours on track (17/20). Bread was finally made in the kitchen (it used to be bought in) and had excellent crust and pleasant crumb (17/20).
A large individual langoustine was grilled and served with daikon, shiitake mushrooms, plum and sesame seed with onion gel and fried shallots. This relatively classical dish was lovely, the seafood sweet and lightly cooked, the accompaniments working well with it (19/20). Duck a l’Orange came with a particularly good accompaniment of brique pastry filled with duck offal, an excellent dish that felt more like real food than some of the previous bites (18/20).
The first dessert was “Botrytis”, with aerated saffron, peach wine gum, white chocolate with pear caramel, citrus sorbet, crystallised chocolates with Parmesan and blue cheese, leaves of sugar and grape juice, pear, sultanas and raisins. This tasted better than it sounds, the blend of flavours working surprisingly well together (18/20). The whisky “wine gums” were next, another dish from the old menu.
This was followed by meringue of evaporated milk ice cream, coconut sorbet, vanilla sponge filled with bean panna cotta, lavender and Earl Grey mousse, coriander yoghurt, lychee fluid gel and Earl Grey caramel, along with malt milk crumble, pistachio fluid gel, bergamot and orange blossom curd and frozen yoghurt powder. This was a complex blend of flavours that worked reasonably well together (17/20). An elaborate custom made dolls house with self-opening drawers dispenses sweets at the end of the meal.
Service was superb as ever, the bill for the food coming to £255 plus service, the wine a further £169 a head, so £454 per person. Of course you could drink more modestly, and perhaps get away with around £340 per person. This is a great deal of money for cooking that is technically astute but feels a touch dated in places and lacks luxury ingredients. It now compares with the high end of Paris in price but lacks the ultimate wow factor that the very best high end French cooking can provide. The theatrical side of the dining experience seems to me to have rather taken a greater emphasis compared to the flavours on the plate, elaborate and technically skillful though the meal undoubtedly is. Of course this is still assured cooking, but so it should be at this price. It would have been nice to see a brand new menu after such a long break, rather than a mix of new and old. Overall The Fat Duck still offers an impressive overall dining experience, but felt to me as if the culinary innovation that originally made its name was feeling a bit long in the tooth.Book
Further reviews: 15th May 2010