Gastronomy Geekin’ – Heston style

Last night I was very fortunate to be able to go to Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant in Bray to partake of the tasting menu. I was there as a guest with @elemming‘s work colleagues who had agreed to celebrate a particular milestone. I have been a fan of Heston’s work on TV and have watched everything he has done. It is because it is not simply cookery but science and art combined. He talks about food experiences in terms of memories that they evoke not just the taste. He pursues ideas on the transformation of food in the same way many makers and tech geeks combine things just to see what will happen. There is a lot of snobbery and pretentiousness in food and drink, yet somehow for me he cuts through that with that youthful enthusiasm and passion, making the complex simple.
I am not going to attempt to be a “food critic”, I was there and in the zone enjoying and absorbing it all, like all wonderful experiences there will be bits and pieces of meal that will surface in memories over time. There were at least 14 courses over the space of the 5 hours we were there which is a little above the brains 7 +-2 things to retain in short term memory!
The evening started with a wine list experience that was such a weighty tomb it looked like a spell book from Harry Potter. I was driving and have decided not to drink at least until after my Choi Kwang Do black belt grading, but I still enjoyed watching the choosing experiences. I also was very impressed with the depth of knowledge and detail the sommelier had. Thousands of bottles of wine and he almost knew the GPS coordinates of the individual grapes by heart. It is not a cheap night of food but the wine prices put anyone thinking they are a bit flash back in their place. The most expensive was £8000. That was not one for our table!
I had a fruit juice to drink but the process to create it and the addition of Chamomile to the blood peach extract that was not squeezed but teased from the fruit over several hours was an instant eye and taste bud opener. Yet it was rather nice!
The menu does a explain a little of what follows but does not indicate the depth of attention detail and distilling down of flavours and textures that just keep coming throughout the experience. It isn’t supposed to be a meal, it is an art gallery or a concert. The day after I am left with ringing taste buds the same way I am left with ringing ears after a really good music gig.

Having an aperitif that is foamed, flavoured egg white that is poached in a vat of steaming liquid nitrogen at your table is not only fun but amazing science in action. The resultant spoonful had already got me interested and fascinated. It was the start of a theme of textures and transformations. The poached meringue had a solid structure, yet melted and almost evaporated as you put it in your mouth.
There were a number of things that on stopping and admiring the work it was amazing how things had not just crumbled, melted or shifted on the plate. Or jelly like layers that were incredibly rich reductions that a tiny taste of filled your mouth with flavour.
The Mad Hatter’s tea party presents you with a gold watch style tea bad. The watch and its gold leaf dissolves in the the clear tea put releasing a rich stock. It is fancy Bisto, but the mechanics are fascinating.
The Hot & iced tea just before the main dessert was a trick that uses unusual ingredients to create a very strange effect. The glass of tea is presented and you are asked to drink it in the orientation that it is deliver in. As you sip the tea, the left side of your mouth is warm , the right side is cold. It uses a non starch Gel to make an almost runny liquid but one that retains its form so it does not flow into the opposing temperature side. It is rather like floating cream on an irish coffee but not in horizontal layers but vertical ones. Wonderful stuff!
The main dessert was called Botrytis Cinerea and it is where I finally buckled and took a photo. I was trying to not get obsessed with taking snaps of the food. There were people in the restaurant with SLR cameras pointed at each plate that arrives, but you can’t consider that rude or weird in a place that is there be a multi sensory experience. (There is also not specific dress code, just a come as comfortable attitude).
So this dessert

looks like a still life sculpture of a bunch of grapes. It is the name of a fungus that eats into grapes a grey mould. So this dessert looks like grapes that have gone mouldy? Yet this mould in nature has two sides to it. One side destroys but the other called “noble rot” enhances the sweetness of dessert wines. Obviously we were not eating the rot, well I don’t thing we were, but it led to a really amazing dish..
Each of the ‘grapes” was a complex combination or preparation. The large green one had a crisp shell, had runny caramel inside but was also peppered with space dust so crackled as you ate it. Some of the others that looked solid were in fact delicate sorbets and ice creams. The meringue one again was solid to the touch but instantly disappeared in a puff of flavour on the tongue.
Every dish had had elements like that. The tapioca transformed into sand (with microscopic sardines/krill added to it) and the crab/fish flavoured froth of the “sound of the sea”. (This dish comes with a large conch shell with an iPod hidden in it and earphones so you can listen to the sound of the sea whilst you eat your way through a beach scene of flotsam and jetsam)
It wasn’t all “tricks” though. The main course was an Anjou Pigeon, delicately cooked so that it had a rich flavour linked to a soft texture.
So yes it was good. we all enjoyed it immensely.
In someways I wish I had not seen the dishes on the TV before so the shock and surprise would have been greater, however in other ways this was like when we went to see BB King in concert. A legend of the blues. I had heard the songs before, even tried playing them but nothing beats the live experience and the event itself after you are already immersed in that world. Rehearsal, practice and simulation are are brilliant but they also need to lead up to the real thing too.

3 thoughts on “Gastronomy Geekin’ – Heston style

  1. That sounds like the most extraordinary evening!! Thanks for recap!! 🙂 Savour it!

  2. WOW!!!! That might just be the most creative, stunning looking plate of food I have EVER seen!

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