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Saturday 9 July 2011

Michelin Impossible - Meet Mr Chess Man at The Fat Duck!

Mr Chess Man is a mysterious man. A young, debonair Swedish chap in his mid-twenties, Mr Chess Man arrived in the UK for a week of extraordinary fine-dining. The Sportsman, The Dorchester, Gordon Ramsay on Royal Hospital Road and The Ledbury were just some of the places he visited during his few days here.

To say I was surprised when Mr Chess Man invited me as his guest at The Fat Duck is a big understatement. Until I had the pleasure of meeting him at Paddington Station and boarding our first-class carriage to Bray, I was unsure Mr Chess Man would even turn up. Luckily he did.

The 5th best restaurant in the world according to "The S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurant" list and one of only four 3-Michelin starred establishments in the UK, The Fat Duck hardly needs an introduction. Countless articles have been written about it, but nothing really prepared me for the experience I shared with Mr Chess Man over the few hours we were there.

The restaurant's entrance is so discreet we nearly missed it, and once we got there I was not quite sure whether we were at the front or back of the restaurant! Luckily, we made our way into the small but busy restaurant and were quickly shown to our table.

I was pleasantly surprised by the simplicity and intimacy of the restaurant - there are about 12 tables laid out over two connected rooms, the decor is rustic with plenty of exposed wood, simple artwork on the walls, and a single flower arrangement on each table.

As we perused the thick leather bound menu, we were each presented with an envelope sealed with wax and imprinted with the Fat Duck logo containing the tasting menu we were about to savour (£160 per person not including drinks). Not long after this, a welcome medley of "Nitro Poached Aperitifs" was concocted at our table.

Classic combinations of Vodka & Lime Sour, Gin & Tonic and Campari & Soda were offered as mousses, and our selection was dropped into liquid nitrogen to create a solid ice-cold cocktail ball dusted with green tea. The citrus notes were heightened with an essence sprayed into the air over our heads, conjuring up images of gin and tonic or the delicious bitterness of campari and soda on a summer's day.

Our next course was "Red Cabbage Gazpacho with Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream" - this was a combination of sweet red cabbage gazpacho with an intensely flavoured mustard ice cream; contrasting but intriguing flavours.

Stunningly presented, the third course was "Jelly of Quail, Crayfish Cream with Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast". A wooden block with oak moss was placed at the centre of our table and liquid nitrogen poured over it creating gently billowing clouds of dry smoke at the table. We were each given a small piece of film to place on the tongue - this melted, filling the mouth with oak flavours.

The cup had a light crayfish cream set over a quail jelly, the bottom layer being a velvety parfait of chicken liver. This was an exquisite composition drawing inspiration from the forest - flavours of game, truffle, oak and moss.

The fourth course, and one of the best in my opinion was what many believe to be Heston's signature dish - "Snail Porridge". Served with with Iberico Bellota ham and shaved fennel, this bright green porridge was outstandingly good - richly flavoured with plump, unctuous snails, liquorice hints from the shaved fennel and the refreshing parsley notes.

The "Roast Foie Gras, Barberry, Braised Konbu and Crab Biscuit" was our fifth course. The foie gras was creamy and utterly delicious but the accompaniments were what really impressed me. Contrasting textures and flavours from the sea were imparted by paper thin Japanese seaweed and the intensely concentrated flavour of crab biscuit, heightened by the nutty crunchiness of the sesame seeds.

We were then served the "Mock Turtle Soup" c. 1850 ("Mad Hatter Tea"). This was another dramatic dish. We were presented with a bowl containing the dry ingredients - turnip mousse in the form of a turtle egg and a delicate meat dumpling with dainty enoki mushrooms. While in another bowl a gold watch fashioned from dried beef consommé encased in gold leaf was placed and submerged in boiling water. A richly flavoured broth flecked with gold was then added to the dry ingredients to create our sixth course. This was a lovely dish but sandwiched between the exceptional roast foie gras and the seventh course (Sounds of the Sea), it was at a disadvantage.

My favourite dish was undoubtedly our next - "Sounds of the Sea". A large sea shell was brought to the table, with headphones playing the relaxing sounds of the shore. 

As I listened, I savoured the delicious cuts of sashimi (mackerel, yellowfin tuna and halibut) on a bed of "sand" (crispy baby sardines blitzed to the texture of breadcrumbs and mixed with tapioca flour) and different coloured seaweed. The shellfish foam was intensely flavoured and helped to unify the diverse elements of the dish.

Course Eight was "Salmon Poached in a Liquorice Gel, Asparagus, Vanilla Mayonnaise and Golden Trout Roe". A perfectly cooked piece of pink salmon was encased in a dark liquorice gel and served with seasonal vegetables and fish roe (similar in texture to Japanese Ikura).  I enjoyed this dish but felt that it lacked the brilliant refinement of the other dishes.

The main course "Lamb with Cucumber" (c. 1805), was served next. I really enjoyed the griddled cucumber pieces - a bizarre concept but brilliantly executed and perfectly matched by the very tender pieces of lamb served with onion and dill fluid gel and a fantastically intense meat reduction.

The "Hot & Iced Tea" was a glass of sweet earl grey. How they manage to do this is a mystery to me but it is hot on one side and chilled in the other. Crazy, weird, brilliant.

A tiny " Jelly and Ice Cream Cornet" was then served prior to our dessert.

Dessert One was "Macerated Strawberries, Olive Oil Biscuit, Chamomile and Coriander" - this was exquisitely presented with edible flower petals, alpine strawberries, and a delicate sugar frosting resembling a gingham table cloth. The dish was almost too pretty to eat, but we managed to overcome our scruples.

Dessert Two was Heston's interpretation of the classic Black Forest Gateau "The BFG". The gateau was light and creamy with an intense cherry liqueur flavour, accompanied by a velvety kirsch ice cream. A perfect dessert, light but still richly flavoured.

Before coffee five "Whisky Wine Gums" were presented, mounted on a map of Scotland. Each represented a different location and whisky style.

And as we sipped our teas and coffees, a pink and white striped bag of sweets appeared. "Like a Kid in a Sweet Shop" contained an assortment of sweets including coconut baccy (coconut strands infused with an aroma of black Cavendish tobacco), apple pie caramel with an edible wrapper and others.

I cannot think of a more memorable meal than the one I shared with Mr Chess Man at The Fat Duck. The cooking skills, ingenuity, creativity, and theatre extending far beyond the food made it an outstanding experience.

Mr Chess Man hinted that he might work for a prestigious restaurant guide but having fired questions at him for six hours, at the end of it I was none the wiser. A charming man who plays his cards close to his chest. If you ever hear from him, rest assured, he does exist.

For another perspective on this amazing menu, please see the eloquent review by Gourmet Chick here.

The London Foodie was a guest of Mr Chess Man

The Fat Duck on Urbanspoon


  1. I love their table-ware, slightly oddly shaped but somehow perfectly fitting the cuisine. I'll make it here one day.

  2. Wonderful review! Am intrigued by Mr Chess Man!

  3. Love the review, the pictures are great and Mr Chess Man sounds fabulous!

  4. Great take on the menu, an iteresting one even when i've seen the photos of the menu several times. Although reading about it lowers my own need to go there review by review..

  5. The photos are stunning Luiz! The food looks like art, almost a shame to destroy it. I want to be invited to amazing events like this too :((

  6. What a meal Luiz - sounds like you loved it just as much as I did. I will have to meet Mr Chess Man next time he is in town!

  7. I've heard of the restaurant been never been there and didn't know what to expect. Sounds very creative, with the earphones, and not 'high brow' with the fun Mad Hatter themes. You also did a wonder job photographing the food, which I appreciate can be tricky to do


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