So, here it is, the end of the road…
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.