Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Fat Duck - An Extensive and Indulgent Lunch (Part 2: The Desserts)

Lunch at The Fat Duck had been an exercise in extravagance, and the desserts rounding off our meal kept up the luxe factor while also being a great deal of fun. The first was named Verjus in Egg, Egg in Verjus. My brain immediately screamed "Meta!" and almost wandered off to the vicinity of strange loops, but I quickly pulled it back from pondering the mysteries of the universe - I had this plate in front of me to consider first. Much like the Meat Fruit, this egg-that-was-not-an-egg had been beautifully rendered to resemble the real deal, complete with a smattering of "excess calcium" you sometimes see in eggs. When I ran my finger gently across the surface, it was exactly as smooth-rough as an actual egg shell. The egg sat atop a nest of spun sugar and verjus jelly. I'd never even heard of verjus before this lunch, but the sour grape juice had featured in two of my courses already. Fragrantly fruity and mildly acidic without being citrusy, it was quite a delightful discovery. The dessert proved to be extra amusing for me, because I'd once had a cocktail at the Ritz's Rivoli Bar called the Ramos Fizz, which involved a frozen goose egg cup set similarly on a bed of spun sugar. Not quite a chicken or egg question, but I wondered which came first. 

Fancy Kinder Surprise at The Fat Duck

To eat it, we were told to gently tap the shell open with our spoons, much like you might do with a poached egg. Things were a little harder than that, which resulted in a bit more violence than you normally see at Michelin-starred dining table as we attempted to crack the shells open. I was just thankful everything managed to stay on my plate, rather than flying across half the table. Much like a Kinder Surprise, this had a layer of white chocolate on the inside, but instead of a plastic capsule containing a toy, there was a spoonful of parfait that had been hidden in the base of the shell, and what looked like so many of the slightly ruined boiled eggs I've made, the yolk sadly dribbling out. Bonus points for realism! The creamy cool parfait was a contrast to the egg-white textured vanilla panna cotta, and surprisingly not quite as sweet as the sweet verjus yolk. The sweetness of the chocolate shell was also tempered by the verjus jelly, for an overall dish that was remarkably well-balanced. 

Opening the Chocolate Egg To Find Verjus Within

Our next dessert was perhaps my favourite of the whole afternoon. Originally created for a dinner organized by Chateau d'Yquem, it was the result of a collaboration between the head sommelier and the pastry team to create a dish reflecting the rich and complex taste of the wine house's Sauternes. I'm not keen on sweet wines in general, and the closest I've ever come to a Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes was at Hedonism, separated from the bottles by a wall of glass as I gaped at the astronomical prices. Here, I finally understood what the fuss was all about. Like Tokaji, Sauternes is made using grapes affected by Botrytis Cinerea, and the dessert paid homage to this noble rot, which concentrates the flavours in the grapes. For all the human effort put into viticulture, there remains something wild about the spread of this fungus, and the resulting wine is never quite the same from year to year. The dish captured this perfectly - artfully arranged as each element was to resemble a bunch of grapes, one false move and the whole thing would crumble apart. 

Tokaji Grape Dessert The Fat Duck

Each individual 'grape' piece represented a different aspect of the Sauternes flavour profile, from caramel oozing out of a green grape chocolate, to a decidedly alcoholic gummy. I personally love the taste of frozen grapes (Stick a bunch in the freezer, take them out a while later, enjoy. You're welcome.), and there was a purple ice ball that tastes exactly like it. There was also a mouthful of popping candy, and some honey meringues, but what I thought was the grooviest bit were the cheese flakes housed in a broken candy ball shell that represented the blight. Taken individually, everything was grapes or a straightforward sweetness, but scatter some of the cheese over and the savoury-saltiness just elevated everything. It was marvelously poetic, and so deliriously tasty.

Chateau d'Yquem Inspired Dessert at The Fat Duck

Our Whisk(e)y Gums were served on picture frames, with each bottle-shaped gummy laid over a map indicating where their respective makers hailed from. Four were Scottish, while the extra (e) in the title was a nod to the odd one out from Tennessee. The gummies had been arranged almost by their levels of peatiness, before being rounded off by the Jack Daniel's, so we followed the key to get the most out of our mini cross-country boozefest. 

Whisky/Whiskey Gummies

For gummies, they were rather delicate, and as I peeled each off the board I kept worrying that I might accidentally mutilate them. Thankfully, nothing untoward happened, and each one remained whole before gently dissolving away on my tongue. We began with a mild, smooth Speyside Glenlivet, to a slightly richer West Highlands Oban. There was a greater hint of peatiness in the Orkney Highland Park, but the real kicker was the beautifully smokey Islay Laphroaig. After that, I'm afraid the Jack Daniel's didn't quite compare. 

Orkney Whisky Gums

Some people take their Sweet Shop bags to go with them, but we were determined to stick the entire meal out at the restaurant proper. The cheery pink and white bags might be reminiscent of a time and place I've never personally witnessed, but my inner child exulted all the same. The bags all came with a little card saying "Smell Me!", and though the Alice in Wonderland connection we'd had all afternoon did plant a tiny seed of doubt in my mind, we all obeyed. It smelled plummy with a bit of bubblegum and cake, and at no point did anyone shrink or expand. 

Smell Me!

I knew that one of the sweets had an edible wrapper from the special signed menu card that HE'd received after we mentioned we were partially there to celebrate her birthday, but at first glance, I didn't know which one of the three items it was. Two of the sweets had been wrapped in clear plastic, so my eye was drawn to the only one that wasn't, helped along by the very eye-catching bright red seal. "Maybe the envelope is made of some kind of ridiculously smooth and thick rice paper," I thought to myself, and nearly bit into it before TK put a halt to my folly. 

TK: Abigail, stop, no! The edible wrapper is the one around the brown candy. What you're holding is actual paper, don't eat that. 

Not Quite Edible Wrapper The Fat Duck

The Apple Pie Caramel was the one with the edible wrapper, and when I took it out of its plastic holder I was astounded at how I managed to miss that. It was a good candy, with a welcome bit of teeth-sticking toffeeness to it

Apple Pie Candy With Edible Wrapper The Fat Duck

The other little sweet was an Aerated Chocolate with Mandarin Jelly, deceptively smooth until you flipped it over and discovered the bubbly inside. It was an airy truffle, and for all that I'm not a fan of oranges in my chocolate, this went in some way to winning me over. 

Bubbly Chocolate Orange

After the Inedible Envelope near-miss, I saved the white envelope for last. Called The Queen of Hearts: She made some tarts... the dessert in the form of a playing card was a sight to be hold when I finally took it out. We were duly informed that the red seal affixed to the paper was not made of wax but chocolate, so at the bare minimum, there had been something I could have rightfully consumed. I decided to try the chocolate seal first. The red dye used must have been some powerful stuff, because my fingers were stained for ages afterwards. I probably could have used it to rouge my cheeks. 

Edible Chocolate Seal The Fat Duck

The Queen of Hearts was a Strawberry Tart, both sides stamped in intricate detail, encasing an evenly spread out compote center. It was a brilliant end to the meal. 

The Queen of Hearts Strawberry Tart The Fat Duck

Before we left, we received menus in envelopes that were buttery-soft to the touch. The staff took great pains to inform me that this particular seal was wax and that nothing about this envelope was edible, so I definitely wouldn't try putting this in my mouth as well. Full and happy, we opted to take a walk back to Maidenhead instead of getting a cab, the better to settle our stomachs. It had been a wickedly fun once in a lifetime experience, and one we'll remember fondly for a good long while. 

The Fat Duck Menu




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