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Trip 2011 Part 2: The Fat Duck June 8, 2011

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So – the Fat Duck – Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant in the village of Bray, outside London. I almost gave up trying to get reservations after calling on two phones for three nights straight – before I got through and was able to secure a table for 2 for lunch. We’d had a frantic morning at the Portobello Road Market, and catching the train out to Maidenhead was a relief after the crowds we’d encountered earlier. When we arrived at the Fat Duck, I was immediately put at ease – not only did they have our booking (yes, I am neurotic enough to imagine us arriving and them having no record of us!), but the atmosphere was fun and welcoming and not at all stuck up.

There’s lots of photos of the different courses at the Fat Duck, so rather than post the full meal we had, I thought I’d post some of the courses and discuss them. The previous disclaimer on our photos applies (taken with a mobile phone, etc)…

Jelly of Quail, Crayfish Cream

This was one of the first dishes served. I loved the steam/vapour that poured over the table from the moss in the middle in the box. This released the scent of oak, earth, dampness and moss over the table, leading to eating the quail and crayfish cream with truffle toast. The quail and crayfish cream was in perfectly defined layers, while the truffle toast added an earthiness and a spicy element from the radish on top.

Snail Porridge

This is one of Heston’s signature dishes and was certainly presented with a flourish, with the bowls arriving with lids which were then whipped off at the pronouncement of “and now, your snail porridge”. Very dramatic! I’m not sure how we were meant to react – recoil in horror at the idea of eating snails, perhaps? I found this a delicious meal, but the snails really played a secondary role to the pea and ham porridge base and fennel shavings on top. Delicious, but perhaps not as revolutionary as I had thought…

Roast Foie Gras

I know this was foie gras topped with a crispy crab biscuit and sitting on a piece of seaweed, but to me this was like eating a duck! The crab biscuit took the place of the crispy skin, with the foie gras and seaweed providing the texture and flavour of the duck flesh. This was wonderful, and not at all what I was expecting.

Sound of the Sea

Another completely over the top and very famous dish. The shell contained an ipod which had a soundtrack from the seashore – the sound of the waves going in and out, seagulls, etc. What struck me about the use of this soundtrack was that it was someone else’s memories of the sea and the seaside. This sea sounded cold to me! I associate the sea with summers and warmth and different sounding gulls. Having said that, the dish itself was fantastic. They had captured the exact flavour of getting slapped in the face with a wave, and the fish was excellent.

Anjou Pigeon, blood pudding

This dish is apparently one which changes depending on what is in season – as I checked the current menu at the Fat Duck, I see they are serving lamb in its place. I’m a big fan of pigeon, and of blood pudding, so it was no surprise I loved this dish. The meat was quite rich; this was added to by the incredibly smooth blood pudding sauce. However, overall the dish was not too heavy thanks to the crispy skin accents and foam.

Black Forest Gateau (the "BFG")

I loved the architecture of this dish. The black forest gateau was fantastic, of course, but what really stood out for me was the kirsch icecream. Delicious, and still very alcoholic!

Whisk(e)y gums

I found all the desserts very clever, and this was perhaps the cleverest. These were different gums (or gummys), flavoured with different whiskys, and placed on a display to show where they were from. I was surprised how different they tasted, and enjoyed the display and comparing them to each other.

Like a kid in a sweet shop

This was the final course – we were both presented with pink and white striped lolly bags, with the pictured contents within. We chose to eat one bag at the restaurant, and took the other one home with us. Clockwise from the centre top we had: caramel complete with edible wrapper, edible playing card with raspberry filling, ‘coconut baccy’, infused with the smell of tobacco, and a mandarin aerated chocolate. The caramel and the playing card were my favourites, both for looks and taste – the ‘coconut baccy’ just tasted like coconut to me, and I didn’t love the aerated chocolate.

I was impressed with all the drinks and wait-staff who served us during our time there. Everyone was very knowledgeable but did not recite descriptions as if they were bored with repeating the same thing over and over; and the wine servers in particular were happy to answer all our questions about the wine being served (and were generous with their portions!). And they even called us a cab to take us back to the train station when we were finally finished.

I feel like I’m still trying to process this meal more than a month later and it makes me smile even thinking about it. I know I will probably not go back to the Fat Duck (too many other exciting places to try!) but I’m so happy I got the opportunity to eat there.

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Charcutepalooza! January 20, 2011

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When I first saw notice of this on twitter, I was certain I wanted to participate: Charcutepalooza! Charcutepalooza is the brainchild of two bloggers, and is a year-long project to share experiences around creating charcuterie. Each month, two challenges will be posted, one for those just starting out and another for those with a bit more charcuterie experience. Recipes are taken from Ruhlman and Polcyn’s Charcuterie, and you can also follow along on twitter using the #charcutepalooza hashtag.

I’ve missed the first month’s challenge, duck prosciutto – both because I was too late to begin, and also because I don’t have anywhere to hang meat – but will definitely be participating in February’s challenge – to make bacon (again, I’d love to try pancetta but don’t have anywhere to let it cure!). One day I will make duck prosciutto!

Anyway, if you are interested in participating or at least following along – there’s a lot of activity on twitter – follow the charcutepalooza hashtag and take a look at the website! If you do want to participate, I believe you can still sign up until February 1.

Christmas gifts for the detective in your life December 19, 2010

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Christmas is almost upon us! And while Nero Wolfe had no time for it, you might feel differently. Here are some fun suggestions for the detectives in your lives – and for the people who make up the Nero Wolfe household. Don’t worry – the food will return shortly!

For Nero Wolfe
Outside of his detective work, Nero Wolfe has two main interests: food, and orchids. It is known he likes meat a great deal, so perhaps some fresh meat would make a good present? If you think it’s a good idea, maybe some game or slightly more unusual meats would be nice – from a speciality supplier such as Wangara Poultry and Game (even if you can’t order from them, take a look at their stock list! The variety is amazing).

If you wish to indulge Nero Wolfe’s other passion, an orchid is of course always a great present. A place such as the Australian Orchid Nursery may be a great place to start shopping, as they have a variety of orchid types, as well as orchid supplies and reference material. And you can order online!

For Archie
While Archie is known as Nero Wolfe’s assistant, he’s also a first rate detective in his own right. For the Archies in your life, I’d suggest some new detective supplies – maybe a new Forensic Science kit (with a case to solve!) or a magnifier. If in doubt, CSI chocolates are always welcome. In his spare time, Archie likes to go dancing. I wouldn’t suggest dancing lessons for him (he might be insulted), but maybe a CD of dance music tracks may be received better.

For Fritz
In my opinion, Fritz is the easiest to buy for. Any form of cooking reference or supplies will be welcome! If you’re looking for ipad or iphone applications, a nice one is the How to Cook Everything app, which is Mark Bittman’s book in application form. For more suggestions for cooking applications, see my post from earlier this year. If you want to purchase some items for the kitchen, you can’t go past something from Le Creuset. Wandering specialty shops such as Essential Ingredient can also assist in picking up those last minute cooking-related items.

Whether you’re shopping for Archie, Fritz or Nero Wolfe himself, I hope you’re well prepared! The next step, of course, is to ensure your food is ready to go too. I will return to that in my next post.

RIP Maury Chaykin July 28, 2010

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I’ll have a proper post up tomorrow, but in the meantime I wanted to pay tribute to Maury Chaykin, who passed away yesterday. He was a brilliant actor, and provided the best interpretation of the Nero Wolfe character that I have seen. He pops up all over the place in film and TV; one of my favourite non-Wolfe appearances was his turn in Wargames as a hacker. He provided (and will continue to provide) hours of entertainment and he will be missed.

Eurovision madness June 1, 2010

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Ah, the craziness of the Eurovision Song Contest. I have long been a fan of the spectacle and sheer extravagance of Eurovision. This year, we decided to let Eurovision guide our culinary journey for the weekend, creating a number of dishes from all over Europe. Some of these you’ll see in the next couple of weeks, but here’s a glance at some of the things we ate on the weekend!

Antipasti from the mediterranean…

Pasta from Italy (with a tomato and anchovy sauce)…

Fondue, of course…

And – douze points! – pierogi with saurkraut and mushrooms.

While I was disappointed that my favourite entry, Lithuania, did not make the final, there were plenty of other acts to see. And we certainly ate well!