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Truffle Series: Butter poached crayfish with seafood linguine

What did I do with the other half of that Pemberton truffle I posted about with my pie recipe?

Two words: Crayfish. Pasta.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure this dish would work – I’m so used to eating and cooking with black truffle in heartier dishes and ingredients with deeper flavours. But I had done red meat – beef cheek, lamb – and I had done mushrooms to death, I had done simple things like a cheesy gratin or soup or even scrambled eggs and toasties that really let the truffle shine. What I hadn’t used truffle with was seafood. For some reason (*ahem* Masterchef Australia, I’m looking at you) I was suddenly really desperate to make a crustacean stock and also had a craving for some succulent, sweet, fresh crayfish. Plus, I had all that truffle butter that I had made, and I thought that I must be able to build a dish around all of these semi-disjointed ideas.


In the end, I made a very rich and flavoursome crustacean stock and worked it into a decadently creamy, buttery pasta sauce, truffled some scallops and butter-poached a crayfish tail. I was pretty happy with the outcome, though I wish I had used better linguine (you can!) because that almost ruined it.

Truffle butter poached crayfish with seafood linguine

Truffle Butter

For the truffle butter, I just sliced a block of good cooking butter into 5 pieces and stuck very thin fresh truffle shavings in between them, and put them back together into one block. I surrounded the block with more truffle shavings, and wrapped everything in up in cling wrap, put it back in the fridge overnight.

The next day, I took out the butter and let it soften at room temperature for about 20 minutes. Then I put it into a metal bowl and used a spoon to work and mix it until the truffle was distributed pretty evenly throughout the butter.

The Main Event

6 scallops
6 king prawns
1 crayfish tail
1 large shallot (diced)
3 cloves garlic (minced)
300mL (approx) vegetable or mild chicken stock
200mL (approx) dry white wine
150mL (approx) heavy cream
tarragon (chopped finely)
parsley (chopped finely)
fresh black truffle shavings (approx maybe 20)
1 red chilli (optional)
1 tablespoon corn flour
2 servings of linguine (dried or fresh)
1 tablespoon olive oil


  1. The night before cooking, wrap scallops individually in cling wrap with thin slices of truffle on either side
  2. Peel and de-vein the prawns, set shells aside. Remove the crayfish tail from its shell, set the shell aside. Remove the membranous bits of the underside of the crayfish as best you can.
  3. Break apart and smash the crustacean shells from above. Place shells in a tall saucepan/pot, add half the vege stock and all of the wine, and a couple of pinches of salt
  4. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring from time to time, until visibly reduced
  5. While that’s happening, in a separate pan, melt a tablespoon of truffle butter from above, then saute garlic and shallots (and a little bit of chilli if you like) until the shallots are translucent. Set aside.
  6. Remove crayfish and prawn shells from stock; strain the stock through muslin or a very fine sieve, then return to saucepan
  7. Turn heat to low and add about 100g (yes, that much!) of butter to the stock, in 6-8 separate chunks. After adding each chunk, stir slowly until fully mix, before adding the next chunk. Do not let the stock boil or the butter will separate from the stock.
  8. Add some tarragon and parsley to the stock, and a little more salt to taste. If there’s more than 5cm of liquid at the bottom of your saucepan, remove some of the stock mixture and set aside.
  9. Quickly sear the crayfish tail (about 45 secs each side on high heat if small, 1 minute each if a bit larger). Then add the crayfish to the buttery stock that’s left in the saucepan.
  10. Poach crayfish on a very gentle simmer for about 7-8 minutes (turning halfway through) – but check it this as it will depend on the size of the crayfish, the liquid level in your saucepan. Remove when just cooked and very tender. (If you removed any stock before, now re-add the the stock you removed to the saucepan.)
  11. Add the garlic and shallots sauteed before. Add in the rest of the original vege/chicken stock. Bring back to a gentle simmer
  12. Bring a big pot of water to a rolling boil. Add plenty of salt, olive oil, and cook the linguine until al dente. Set aside with some olive oil mixed through to prevent sticking.
  13. Stir in the cream very slowly in 2-3 batches.
  14. Pan-fry the prawns and scallops in truffle butter until the scallops are golden brown, then set aside.
  15. Mix the corn flour with 2/3 tablespoon of cold water until mixed fully, then add to the saucepan. Stir in and simmer gently until the sauce thickens a little, simmer for two more minutes, then turn off the heat.
  16. Either slice the crayfish tail in half down the middle, OR, you can slice it into 3 cm pieces. I like biting into a nice, juicy crayfish chunk so I choose the first option.
  17. In two pasta dishes or shallow bowls, place one serving of the linguine in each. Spoon a small ladle of the sauce onto the pasta and mix gently until it coats the linguine.
  18. Distribute half the crayfish pieces, three scallops and three prawns into each dish on top of the linguine. Ladle more sauce on top of the pasta and seafood until attractively covered.
  19. Top dish with finely shaved or sliced truffle, chopped chervil and one sprig of chervil.


Potluck Staples 4: Smoky Vegan Gumbo

Do you like dishes that are spicy and packed with flavour? If you said “yes”, you might really like this gumbo. If you said “no” to the spice bit – don’t worry, you can always adjust the chilli levels in this recipe!

Some of you who don’t hail from North America may also be wondering what the hell “gumbo” actually is. Gumbo is a stew that originated in Louisiana in the 18th century. It’s thick and hearty and flavoursome after simmering for ages in a big pot of awesomeness – and it’s actually the perfect kind of dish for a large gathering. You can throw almost any ingredients in a gumbo, and there are different traditional types (Cajun vs Creole) — or, you can be a bit non-traditional, like this one. I’ll leave you to research more of the cultural and culinary history of gumbo if you want, but I really just want to help you make and eat it.

Like my last “potluck staples” series recipe for mushroom pho, this one is vegan. You may wonder why I have so many vegan sharing-friendly dishes up my sleeve. In 2014, right after my April Veg Challenge month, I decided to organise a multi-course vegan dinner for friends and acquaintances, for several reasons – to showcase how delicious food with no animal products in it can be, to raise some money for a deserving animal welfare organisation, and, you know, to just have a fun night filled with food, drink and laughter.

Everyone had such a good time, we decided we had to do it all again (and again, and again); but since just three of us made all four courses for over 20 people, and it was exhausting, we thought it might be a lot better to turn it into an everyone bring-a-plate affair for future events. It would mean moooore food, more variety, and everyone would get to share their favourite dishes! (And we still gave some people the option to not bring anything and just donating more to our chosen charity instead, as cooking’s not everyone’s cup of tea).

A couple more dinners later, with friends-of-friends joining in, we’re pretty much an established club now – in fact, we actually have a Facebook group! And we’d love to grow even more – so join us, if you’re interested? You don’t have to be vegan or vegetarian – everyone is more than welcome, you just have to like food and not be a horrible person. The next event is on Saturday, August 29th, 2015. If you want to come feast with us, book here and join the Facebook event!

/shamelesspromotion *ahem*

Right. Gumbo.

Smoky Vegan Gumbo

Serves: A lot of people
Prep and cooking time: 1 – 1.5 hours
Note: Gumbo is usually served with rice. The recipe below is only for the stew itself, so just cook rice as you normally would! In the photo above, I’ve served the gumbo with wild purple rice, and it worked a treat!

The Shopping List

½ cup plain white flour
½ cup canola oil
1 large or 1 ½ medium onion
7 cloves of garlic
2 stalks of celery
mixed chillies (habanero, poblano, jalapenos etc – quantity depending on your preferred spice level)
1 large or 2 small carrots
2 zucchinis (ie. courgettes)
8 cherry tomatoes
10 okra
1 litre vegetable stock
200mL craft beer (preferably dark ale)
2 cups tomato passata
1 tub tomato paste
chipotle sauce
Mexican-style chilli sauces – eg. habanero, jalapeno
liquid smoke (optional – available from gourmet food stores, eg. The Essential Ingredient in Prahran Market, Melbourne)
1 medium pack of medium-firm tofu
200g vegan sausage (optional)
1 bunch fresh thyme

dried spices
smoked paprika (good quality)
ground cumin
dried oregano flakes

Make the thing

  1. Make a roux with a 1:1 ratio of the flour and canola oil.
  2. When roux turns beige or very light brown,
  3. Add:
    onions (diced)
    garlic (minced)
    celery (chopped to 1cm sections)
    finely chopped chillies
    1 litre vege stock
    ^ Stir constantly, cooking for 5 minutes

  4. Then add:
  5. carrot (chopped chunky)
    zucchini (sliced to 1cm sections approx)
    roasted cherry tomatoes (pre-roast these in the oven until caramelised before adding)
    okra (chopped 1cm sections)
    1-2 cups tomato passata, to your preference
    ^ Stir and cook for 10 minutes

  6. Then add spices:
  7. smoked paprika
    ground cumin
    dried oregano flakes
    thyme (preferably fresh, chopped)

  8. Add sauces:
  9. tomato paste to taste
    chipotle sauce, if you have some, otherwise one of those mexican chilli sauces like habanero, jalapeno etc. Chipotle is the best as it gives off a really smoky flavour
    ^ Stir and cook for 10 minutes

  10. Theeeen add:
  11. More vege stock IF required
    A nice craft beer (optional – but a deep, dark ale will give this an amazing flavour)
    Medium-firm tofu in 2-3cm cubes
    Sliced vegan sausage (optional)
    ^ Stir and cook for 10 mins

  12. Then (last bit) add:
  13. A dozen or so drops of liquid smoke

  14. Keep cooking for another 5 mins or so or until the gumbo has been going for at least 40 minutes in total, excluding the roux-making time at the start.

Truffle Series: Mushroom, leek & cheddar pie

Ah, another truffle season, another visit (or two) to the wonderful Madame Truffles, (now also open at Queen Victoria Market)!

Okay, so I’ve been pretty busy with work and life and what-not, so I’m not going to write a big story or blurb with this one. There’s always time for truffles and cooking with truffles… but superfluous writing to pad out blog posts? Not so much.

My first truffle of 2015 was another from Pemberton, Western Australia – which is apparently becoming one of my favourite truffle growing regions – and with one half of it, I decided to make pies. Buttery, flaky, hearty, cheesy pies – the kind you’d find freshly baked and definitely not reheated at your little local corner bakery in New Zealand… the kind that you can also find (*cough* in an inferior form *cough*) in Australia. My favourite pie growing up was always the classic mince and cheese, with a good gooey gravy. I always try and do something vegetarian with my truffles, though, so I decided to use mushrooms and leek instead, but kept the dark, hearty, rich and flavourful gravy (made even better by having a mushroom base, I have to say).


To ensure I had a strong and solid base yet that all-important fluffy, flaky upper crust, I made the bottom of the pie casing with shortcrust and the top with puff pastry.

Now, it had been a few years since I last made pies and it was the first time I made shortcrust from scratch, so I was pretty happy with the delicious result!

So without further ado:

Mushroom, leek & cheddar pie with black truffle

This recipe is designed to make individual-sized pies in pie tins or ramekins, and it would make about 6 to 8 pies depending on their size.

Truffle Butter

For the truffle butter, I just sliced a block of good cooking butter into 5 pieces and stuck very thin fresh truffle shavings in between them, and put them back together into one block. I surrounded the block with more truffle shavings, and wrapped everything in up in cling wrap, put it back in the fridge overnight.

The next day, I took out the butter and let it soften at room temperature for about 20 minutes. Then I put it into a metal bowl and used a spoon to work and mix it until the truffle was distributed pretty evenly throughout the butter.

Shortcrust Pastry

2 1/4 cups flour
170g butter
80g truffle butter
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3 tablespoons cold water

  1. Mix the flour, salt and both types of butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  2. Whisk eggs and the cold water until combine.
  3. Pour liquid mixture into the flour mixture, combine evenly, and knead gently until it comes together. Don’t overwork it.
  4. Break dough into 6-8 pieces (depending on how big your pies will be) and roll out into 2-3 mm thick sheets. This will be the pie bottom, so you will want it sturdy and a little thick.
  5. Stack pastry sheets on a plate with baking paper and a tiny bit of flour in between to keep them separated. Refrigerate for 2 or more hours.

Puff Pastry

I just use store bought puff pastry as I couldn’t be bothered making two types of pastry this time around. You can do the same, or find a good puff pastry recipe online.


Pie Filling

12 swiss brown mushrooms (sliced)
10 white button mushrooms (sliced)
2/3 leek (chopped roughly, no long pieces)
1/2 large brown onion (diced)
thyme (chopped finely)
parsley (chopped finely)
garlic (minced)
cracked black pepper
120mL dry white wine
300mL cup (approx) vegetable stock
1 1/2 tablespoons Massels Supergravy granules
100mL thickened cream
a little corn flour (see method below)
fresh black truffle shavings
vegetable stock
truffle butter
cheddar cheese (sliced – one slice per pie)
dried beans or pie weights
1 egg
black or white sesame seeds


  1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  2. Add about a tablespoon of truffle butter to a saucepan. Saute mushrooms, garlic and onion with a pinch or two of salt and pinch of thyme for 5 minutes.
  3. Add white wine to the saucepan and simmer until reduced by about 1/3, then add vegetable stock and continue to simmer until reduced a little more.
  4. Dissolve approximately half of the Supergravy granules in cold water (according to instructions on pack). Add to the saucepan, stir until mixed evenly and the mushroom sauce starts to thicken. Repeat with the other half. Remember, you are adding cream after this, so it’s ok if the gravy is quite thick at this stage.
  5. While that sauce is going, lightly grease your pie tins or ramekins, then line them with the shortcrust pastry you made and refrigerated earlier, making sure the sheets go a little over the lips/edges of the tins. Fill the pastry-lined tins with a layer of dried beans (these act as pie weights, so the pastry doesn’t lift up off the base). Blind bake these pastry bottoms for about 10-12 minutes, or until they are a little golden. Once done, remove from oven and set aside.
  6. Go back to the saucepan; slowly stir in the cream.
  7. Check the consistency of the sauce – it should be a reasonably thick gravy mixture that would hold in a pie but not too gloopy. If it’s too thin, add some corn flour to thicken (after dissolving first in cold water) – start with a third of a tablespoon at a time. If it’s too thick, add more vegetable stock.
  8. While mushroom sauce is simmering, in a separate pan, melt half a tablespoon of truffle butter. Saute leek until a little brown, then add into the mushroom sauce.
  9. Add a little more fresh thyme and simmer the sauce for 5 more minutes.
  10. Add a generous amount of cracked black pepper to season, as well as more salt to taste. I used some smoked salt, which is amazing stuff.
  11. Fill the pastry-lined pie tins with the mushroom gravy mix to three quarters full. To each pie, add a few black truffle shavings, then add a slice of cheddar cheese.
  12. Increase the oven temperature to 200C. Cover the top of each pie tin with a sheet of puff pastry (pre-cutting the sheet to shape and size will help), pressing gently and sealing the pie.
  13. Beat the egg lightly until mixed, then brush a thin layer of the mixture to cover the top pastry of the pie. Make 2-3 thin cuts to the pie top, then sprinkle with some sesame seeds.
  14. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the tops of the pies are golden brown.


The Fat Duck Melbourne – Part 3: Farewell to Wonderland :(

So, here it is, the end of the road…

If you haven’t already, you should read Part 1 and Part 2.

*    *    *

After sitting at our table for maybe four hours at this point, we were well into the late afternoon. So naturally, it was time for breakfast!

Adventurous as my palate is, it’s never been as open with overly strange desserts. Creative, cutting-edge gelatarias may experiment with sausage ice cream (hint – they do) but I probably wouldn’t try it unless coerced or dared. I made one exception with this next dish – the Not-so-full English Breakfast – and this skeptic was certainly schooled.

This course was really the most fun I’ve ever had eating out anywhere. Let me present-tense it for you so you can live in the moment: A waitress arrives at our table with a trolley and tells us she is going to serve us bacon and eggs. She shows us an egg (with the Fat Duck logo subtly marked on it) and “explains” that their eggs taste just like bacon and eggs, because they feed bacon sandwiches to the chickens who lay them, oh and they flew them all the way over to Melbourne from the UK – all this with a straight face, mind you, and I could imagine the more gullible maybe believing her.

The eggs of bacon-sandwich eating chickens

The eggs of bacon-sandwich eating chickens

The young woman then cracks some of the magic eggs into a saucepan to cook; oops, she then says, she has forgotten the gas – how is she going to cook the eggs? Oh look, here is a silver jug inexplicably handy, “I carry this with me everywhere and it seems to solve all of my problems, so I’ll just try it…” The jug just happens to contain liquid nitrogen, which she pours onto the eggs and then stirs with a wooden spatula. After hardly any time at all, the mixture inside the saucepan looks exactly like scrambled eggs, except that it has a “mysterious” cool mist surrounding it, and *gasp* – it’s actually ice cream! Magic and bacon sandwiches, indeed.

Some sorcery is happening here

Some sorcery is happening here

Some other wait staff then appears with plates of thick sticky brioche French toast. The slice of toast on each plate is topped with a thin strip of streaky candied bacon – beautifully glossy, satisfyingly crunchy and sweet. A generous helping of the nitro egg-and-bacon ice cream then tops it all off; and while the ice cream itself isn’t mind-blowingly amazing, eating all three elements on the plate together, the result is a glorious party in your mouth. On the side, an adorable little jar of marmalade each with a red gingham lid which just happens to be edible.

Nitro egg and bacon ice cream with candied bacon on French brioche toast

Nitro egg and bacon ice cream with candied bacon on French brioche toast

Marmalade with edible lid

Marmalade with edible lid

Oh, but that’s not all. We’ve all been given tiny, individual cereal boxes with a cartoon of a wizard Heston and the Fat Duck Melbourne clock printed on the front, and on the back, the story of how Heston came up with this amazing dish. Cereal is inside the box, yes, but 1) the cereal isn’t made from any type of grain but actually flakes of dried, sweet root vegetables and pop rocks and 2) there’s also a very inedible piece of chunky jigsaw puzzle. I’ll get to the puzzle piece later. To go with our all-natural not-cereal, there’s a surprisingly creamy and delicious parsnip milk. Quite simple, so good – I wish this was my breakfast every day.

The story of Heston's Not-So-Full English Breakfast

The story of Heston’s Not-So-Full English Breakfast

Carrot and parsnip "cereal" and my puzzle piece

Carrot and parsnip “cereal” and my puzzle piece

*    *    *

Just before the next course, we got our chance to forever leave our mark on the Fat Duck. Well, at least for the next few months – I don’t know what they’re planning to do with the massive jigsaw puzzle on the wall when it’s finally complete at the end of the Fat Duck’s Melbourne run. On the back of the puzzle piece we each received, there is a unique ID which both tells you where your piece physically goes, and I guess so you can brag to people that you were puzzle piece T19 S47 (*ahem* that’s me) and be forever commemorated as a 2 cm bit of super-thick cardboard. Yes, each diner gets their own unique bit of the puzzle, but you don’t get to (have to?) walk up to the monstrous thing on the wall and figure out where to put it – a staff member comes by your table with a 9 x 9 board specifically for the time period of your reservation (eg. Lunch, Wednesday 6th May) which greatly narrows down the area in which you have to hunt for where your piece belongs.

My piece of the Fat Duck Melbourne puzzle

My piece of the Fat Duck Melbourne puzzle

*    *    *

Being deathly intolerant to strong liquor, there’s not a lot I can say about the Whisky Wine Gums which marked the end of our journey, not counting take-home goodies. It was clever and cute that they arrived stuck to the glass of a framed map of Scotland – each candy is made from a different Scotch Whisky and is placed on the map at the region in which the distillery originates. I had a small bite of each whisky gum (in order to not die, and saving the rest to take home), and even to my extremely inexperienced palate, each one was distinct in flavour and strength – some were smokier, some were sweeter, some tasted “more alcoholic”. Okay. That’s all I’ve got.

Scotch whisky wine gums

Scotch whisky wine gums

*    *    *

We certainly weren’t to be sent home empty-handed. After the whisky gums, we were each given a gorgeous pink-and-white striped paper bag with a card entitled “Like A Kid In A Sweet Shop”, with a menu of the bag’s contents listed underneath. The card also said “smell me” – I felt as silly as Alice when I obeyed, but it smelt like, well, a sweet shop. I definitely felt like a little kid right then. Certainly no candy shop today would give me such an adorable paper bag to put my sweets in, so it was like I’d stepped into a 1930s movie where I was out of my depth.

While we would have had plenty of time to open up each of the goodies while still chatting leisurely at our table, we all opted to take them home to extend our Fat Duck experience for as long as possible.

Like A Kid In A Sweet Shop

Like A Kid In A Sweet Shop

So, what was inside? My favourite was a thick playing card made of white chocolate – Queen of hearts on the front and a classic card design on the back. Perfectly printed – how do you print a sheet of chocolate this perfectly? Or is it hand painted that precisely with food colouring? There was a little dome of dark chocolate – lightly aerated like a high-end Cadbury Bubbly and filled with mandarin jelly, an “apple pie caramel” wrapped in a clear edible film, and lastly, the “oxchoc”, made of wagyu nougat (who knew?), Guinness and beef caramel. The strange combination of this last one prompted me to save it in my fridge for three long days before I finally gave in and devoured it – not because I was worried about it being too weird but because I wanted my final tangible remnant of the Fat Duck to be as adventurous and interesting as the whole wonderful afternoon was for me. This last surviving candy turned out to be rich and delicious, but the flavour wasn’t as beefy or Guinness-y as I expected – it was there, but subtle. A satisfying end.

Queen of Hearts white chocolate playing card; aerated chocolate and mandarin jelly; apple pie caramel; oxchoc - wagyu nougat and Guinness beef caramel

Queen of Hearts white chocolate playing card; aerated chocolate and mandarin jelly; apple pie caramel; oxchoc – wagyu nougat and Guinness beef caramel

*    *    *

At the beginning of this epic, monstrous thing, I mentioned spilling very expensive juice everywhere. I also mentioned in the FAQ that we received a tour of the Fat Duck’s main kitchen. I’ll explain both –

I really did spill strawberry and pepper juice across half the table. This was a good thing. Why? Well, while they were cleaning it up, they discreetly whisked us away to the kitchen for a little tour! This had me thinking I should strategically spill drinks at all upmarket restaurants if I want to see what goes on behind the scenes.

One of the kitchens of the Fat Duck Melbourne

One of the kitchens of the Fat Duck Melbourne

We were told that the kitchen we were standing in was one of the three kitchens where the Fat Duck magic is cooked up – we were in the hot kitchen, and there was a cold kitchen, and another one downstairs somewhere. It was very quiet for a commercial kitchen (great, now I’ve done that thing where I’ve typed “kitchen” so many times it doesn’t look like a word anymore) but with no lack of bustle and activity. It was super organised, with no yelling, and every chef was focused intently on their task in their workspace.

During this little impromptu kitchen tour, which I later confirmed definitely was not a privilege extended to all guests (just VIPs or especially clumsy ones, I guess), we gained some other titbits of insight into the Fat Duck Melbourne. For example, there are 35 or so chefs working in the kitchens all up, and about the same number of front-of-house personnel. This means that the number of staff at any one time exceeds that of the number of diners that can be seated in the restaurant at a time (56).

Plating up the roast marron in the kitchen

Plating up the roast marron in the kitchen

Taking into consideration their wages, the cost of the superior ingredients and fancy equipment and the probably astronomical rent prices in the Crown complex, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think Heston couldn’t possibly be making much profit out of the restaurant from the seemingly exorbitant prices alone. Plus, it took the top two Masterchef contestants – who had been cooking under time constraints daily for three months – five hours to create just one course; I can’t begin to imagine how many hours of work goes into the preparation of the entire repertoire of culinary wizardry.

I had the good fortune of dining with companions who also realised this, and fully appreciated the entire experience. Although I had never met two thirds of my table before that day, we all got along fabulously through our love of food – conversation followed easily with casual discussion of the dishes and banter with the staff.

The Great Fat Duck Melbourne Jigsaw Puzzle

The Great Fat Duck Melbourne Jigsaw Puzzle as at the beginning of May.

Would I go back? Yes. But probably not for the next couple of years at least – not merely because my poor bank account needs time to recover (or that I don’t have chance in hell of getting another reservation anytime soon), but because I want to give Heston and team a chance to create some new weird and wonderful dishes before I visit them again. Due to how much time, science and ingenuity goes into dreaming them up and perfecting them, the courses offered at the Fat Duck don’t change as much as at other high end restaurants – it can take some years to be retired, while a few stick around as iconic staples. So, while my afternoon in Wonderland was amazing, I’m not in a hurry to drop another seven hundy until I get to try a good proportion of totally new things.

But I will be back, Fat Duck. Bye for now and thanks for a great time.

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The Fat Duck Melbourne – Part 2: The adventure continues

You should go and read Part 1 HERE.


Okay, let’s go.

*    *    *

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party is a Very Important Course, not only because it’s one of the most talked about, but it’s also the symbol, the icon of the current Fat Duck brand, which, if you hadn’t noticed, is full of Alice in Wonderland motifs and references both sneaky and obvious. This dish is essentially a mock mock turtle soup. For anyone who doesn’t know, actual mock turtle soup is a soup made from cheap organ meats that imitate the texture of actual turtle meat used in green (non-mock) turtle soup. Yep – nothing like a bit of light 1700s food trivia. Well, there are no calves brains here at the Fat Duck in 2015, and nothing is as it appears. There is something that looks so like an egg, you would never believe it wasn’t if you weren’t told by your waiter that the egg yolk was made of swede and the egg white of turnip – not a single ounce of vessel-of-potential-chicken-embryo in it at all.

Mad Hatter's Tea Party - Mock Turtle Soup

The tea party bit goes like this – you are given a clear teapot and a clear teacup. In the teacup sits the aforementioned not-an-egg. Planted in the mock egg are tiny golden enoki mushrooms. Arranged around this are tiny cubes of ox tongue (I think!) and pickled turnip and cucumber, garnished with tiny micro parsley. Then you’re presented with a “gold watch” that is not gold nor watch, and is used like a tea bag, except it’s also not a teabag. Confused? Drop the not-a-teabag-or-a-watch in your clear teapot and when dissolved in warm liquid, it disappears and turns the darkening liquid into a beautiful mushroom-y stock. Pour this into the teacup with the not-an-egg and voilà, your mock mock turtle soup.

Mad Hatter's Tea Party - Mock Turtle Soup

Mad Hatter's Tea Party - Mock Turtle Soup

But wait, there’s more! The soup is served with little mini sandwiches with toasted bread that includes among its delicate fillings black truffle, bone marrow butter, egg white salad and a really good mayonnaise. Of course, not even sandwiches can be presented ordinarily at the Fat Duck so the platter is decorated with a big, feathered top hat – on theme as ever.
If I had to describe this course with one word, it would be whimsical. If I had three words, I would add weird, and what-is-this-sorcery? As much as I enjoyed the experience, I honestly believe my brain was too confused to form a truly accurate and critical assessment of the actual tastiness. I think it was delicious?

Mad Hatter's Tea Party - Sandwiches with bone marrow butter and black truffle and other stuff

Mad Hatter’s Tea Party – Sandwiches with bone marrow butter and black truffle and other stuff

*    *    *
Well, that chaos was followed by Sound of the Sea, another course that engaged many senses. First, you’re given a giant seashell – each person at our table had a unique one. You notice fairly quickly that there are some earphones poking out of the shell; place them in your ears and you’ll actually hear a soothing soundtrack of waves crashing on sand and other (you guessed it) sounds of the sea. The edible part of the course is served upon on beautiful glass-topped block and arranged beautifully to represent a beach. There is the fluffy foam ocean (made from seaweed stock), various flora and fauna of red samphire, green samphire, butterfish, abalone and kingfish, all resting on a bed of convincing coarse textured “sand”, magicked up using fried baby anchovies, tapioca starch and nuts.

yes, those are earphones poking out of a giant seashell.

yes, those are earphones poking out of a giant seashell.

Despite the combination of taste and sound elements, it actually didn’t feel like a complicated dish by Fat Duck standards, at least to the diner sitting at the end of the undoubtedly painstaking preparation process. As with “Walk Through the Forest”, Heston no doubt wants to bring to mind our own personal experiences – this time, memories of sand and sea, perhaps a childhood summer at the beach. I can tell you that this worked quite well on many people, even making some diners quite emotional. Being a bit of a robot at times, I’ll say I enjoyed the dish for other reasons – I love fresh seafood in all its forms, so I loved this course, and thought it was as clever as I was coming to expect from this restaurant.

Sound of the Sea

Sound of the Sea

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Before the next course was served, I was delivered my fourth tea – Bohea Lapsang from Fujian, China; a hong cha (straight translation: “red tea”, closest actual translation: “black tea”). The bohea had an unbelievably smoky aroma and taste, very complex, and so rich. This might have been my favourite tea, or perhaps it was only because it was by far the best tea and food pairing of the day – it went so well with the dish that came next that everyone at my table agreed that it was a better match for it than the wine.

a crowd of tea, all for me

a crowd of tea, all for me

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The salmon poached in liquorice gel arrived at the table with little pomp and ceremony; yet the dish looked gorgeous, with the salmon encased in a glossy chocolate-coloured coat of liquorice, topped with golden trout roe, lying beside prettily browned witlof and surrounded by morsels of juicy king grapefruit, with droplets of fragrant vanilla bean mayonnaise and dots of balsamic reduction livening up the plate.

Salmon poached in a liquorice gel, vanilla mayonnaise, balsamic reduction, endive and king grapefruit

Salmon poached in a liquorice gel, vanilla mayonnaise, balsamic reduction, endive and king grapefruit

I’m not normally a fan of liquorice at all (what is the point of it?) but it was quite subtle here – striking a gentle balance between its slight savoury-bitterness and the sweetness of the salmon and caramelised witloof – and the gel casing helped retain the juices of the perfectly cooked fish. Yes, the fish, by the way (having been cooked sous-vide, I’m told) was melt-in-your-mouth tender, almost creamy; and, I’ll admit that the liquorice likely had a strong hand in helping the flavour of this dish meld so perrrrfectly with the smoky bohea tea.

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Saltbush lamb saddle, caviar oil, cucumber and caraway

Saltbush lamb saddle, caviar oil, cucumber and caraway

Calling the Lamb with Cucumber the least memorable course of the day wouldn’t be untrue, but it also wouldn’t tell you that it was still a lovely dish. There was no bad food here – how could there be, with each course having be developed, refined, served and improved over many years? Nevertheless, my recollection of the main part of this lamb course is pretty fuzzy, most of my strong impressions from the stunning accompaniment of lamb consomme jelly infused with mint – dark and meltingly rich, topped beautifully by a borage flower and served with crispy quinoa biscuit. Also on the side were cubes of lamb tongue, heart and scrag, a variety of textures, each full of flavour. The main plate of saltbush lamb saddle – with cumin, cucumber with green pepper and caraway, caviar oil and a gel made from fish stock and mint butter – was as well-cooked and pleasant as you’d expect, but failed to blow me away, though others named it as a favourite dish.

Lamb consomme jelly, quinoa biscuit

Lamb consomme jelly, quinoa biscuit

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The next course was understandably recommended with no accompanying beverage. Seeing that it was the Hot & Iced Tea, it would have been especially awkward to pair a “tea” with another tea. The little glass of amber liquid that turned up looked simple and unassuming, but oh boy, did it pique my interest. Exactly one half of the content of the glass was cold as iced tea and the other half (occupying the other side of the glass) was warm as, well, a nice cuppa. The drink is a somewhat thick, syrupy consistency that is not truly a liquid, but actually a gel made up of millions of tiny bits of broken down jelly – this is how the separation of the hot and cold sides is achieved (well, that’s the easy version – if you want the full method and explanation, chemistry and all, just ask Google). We were instructed by wait staff not to wait too long before drinking and not to turn the glass before drinking – advice which made sense once we understood that it was served at the perfect angle to present even proportions of the hot side and the cold side on first sip. The tea itself? As far as I could tell, it was a regular earl grey with hints of lemon and honey – tasty but not unfamiliar flavours.

it's warm, it's cool, it's hot and iced tea.

it’s warm, it’s cool, it’s hot and iced tea.

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Okay, I’ll be honest here – I’m kind of running out of steam after writing about one, two, three… twelve courses and four teas, and the final tea (Cassia oolong from Fujian, China), served right before the dessert courses wasn’t all that memorable for me. Honestly, if you’ve read this far, then… well, I’m surprised that you’ve read this far. Anyway. Moving on.

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First up of the sweet courses was the Botrytis Cinerea – no doubt now famous among ordinary Australians due to its starring role in the grand finale of Masterchef 2015 (and this is how I know I’ve waited too long to post this blog). This captivatingly gorgeous – and I mean seriously beautiful – dish was introduced to us as a “tribute to dessert wines on a plate”. Botrytis cinerea, we were told, is a type of mould that can grow on grapes and some other fruits.

Rather embarrassingly, my Fat Duck lunch happened well before the Masterchef season had even started, but I was grateful for Heston showing up in that final episode, because oh boy, did his explanation of this dish save me a lot of time recalling and researching and zooming in on my photos.

Botrytis cinerea - really, "grape fungus". But fancy.

Botrytis cinerea – really, “grape fungus”. But fancy.

The botrytis fungus comes in two forms – a grey rot, and a “noble” rot. It’s this second type, the result of dry conditions following wet or humid conditions, that helps create a great dessert wine grape. “The grapes shrivel up, they lose their moisture and they develop all these really complex flavours. So, what we’ve done is taken the flavour characteristics and then we’ve also looked at what molecules create those flavours and we’ve used that to inspire the ingredients.”

The base of the dish plays on the dessert wine and cheese idea, and is made of a soil of dried parmesan and Roquefort blue cheese powder. Some of the elements on the plate include peach jelly (a sort of wine gum), compressed red grape dipped in nitrogen, a grape fluid gel, citrus sorbet, aerated saffron (kind of a meringue), a green-grape coloured white chocolate sphere filled with pear caramel and popping candy, a stunning gold sugar ball filled with citrus-infused yogurt, and a stalk made of churros. And there’s more – oh, so much more. Tenplay has decided to publish the full recipe on their website, although I’m not sure how many home cooks are keen enough to attempt this thing or even have the equipment that seems to be required!

Oh, my impressions? Delicious, interesting, delightfully varied textures, pretty – definitely favourable, but not my favourite. I tend to most love the savoury dishes in a tasting menu, or maybe I just don’t have a full appreciation for dessert wines due to my intolerance to them. However, there’s no doubt that this dish is an absolute masterpiece and I was completely in awe of its stunning presentation and complexity in flavour, textures and execution.

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Read Part 3

Still to come:

  • Egg & bacon ice cream?
  • Yet moarrr tea!
  • Clumsy me is clumsy.
  • What does a Heston kitchen look like?
  • Why was it so worth it?
I have no idea what this is. Seriously, don't ask me.

I have no idea what this is.

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