Monday, August 23, 2010

Down Memory Lane

I don't know what possessed me to buy a packet of Green's Carmelle from Hock Choon today. For those of you who born in the mid 80's and beyond, you probably have no idea what I am talking about. Carmelle (creme caramel) is an instant pudding that has been around for ages. Obviously people still buy it since they have it to this day. It was something my mum used to let me make myself, unsupervised. That was a big deal. So easy - heat up some milk, pour in the powder mix, stir and pour into moulds. And the best part was, two hours later dessert would be ready! Cuz and I use to complain how stingy they were with the caramel provided to create that lovely brown sugary topping. When I made opened up the box, I see nothing has changed. Why so stingy with the caramel? Anyway, I could've sworn it tasted different. I remember it to me much smoother, like flan. This had the texture of firm tofu. Not altogether unpleasant but I can see why I used to like it so much. Its like milk pudding with caramel sauce. Kinda tacky but brings back good memories!

Just recently I was craving ice lollies and was surprised to see Tropicana was still around. Although I don't quite remember it being so krytonitely green! Its still as good as I remember it to be. But what I really miss is Lion stick. Does anyone remember that from the 80's? It was just orange flavoured ice but somehow I can still recall that tangy sweetness with such clarity. The other thing I miss all the time is artic roll. Vanilla ice cream wrapped in a blanket of strawberry jam and swiss roll sponge. It almost makes me want to cry. You know why? Because I just found out after doing a search on google that they have recently reintroduced it back on the UK market in 2008! Crap! I could've had it the last time I was there! Read more about it here.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Fat Duck - finally!

Red cabbage gazpacho with pommery grain mustard ice cream. This unassuming dish was probably one of my favourites because it is so simple yet so sophisticated on the palate. It was so refreshing and lovely. Jelly of quail, crayfish cream with chicken liver parfait, oak moss and truffle toast. The waiter brings out a bed of moss and places it on our table. My first thought was, we aren't eating this are we? Then the waiter places our dishes infront of us before pouring what looks like dry ice over the bed of moss. Its like being on a the set of sci-fi movie! Dry ice overflows the table leaving a trace of earth aroma around us.

There is something sinister afoot in the sleepy town of Bray. Mutterings of a mad scientist dabbling in molecules and mayhem! Strangers from all over flock to see this phenomenon that is The Fat Duck. I've been wanting to go for the longest time and finally we had good sense to book two months in advance. Or rather Lem did. The first time she called she got through immediately but they told her she can only book 60 days in advance. So exactly 60 days before the intended date, she called only to be told it was completely full! In the end, we got a table for the following day which was the day before we left London. Talk about cutting it close!

To be honest, I’ve been avoiding writing about my experience at The Fat Duck because I really am at loss for words. There are some experiences that simply can’t be articulated. Describing it at length seems to takeaway the magic. Its like describing a magic show to someone, from the trick to the lighting and music. You know its just not the same as being there. All I can say is that it was worth £150 that was a 4-hour dinner and show really. Any one who has a kid in them would enjoy dining here. I think even the most jaded diner would warm to the experience and remember that there once was a santa claus and all things magical.

I'm wasn't sure what I was expecting to see at the restaurant but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was quite ordinary looking. Crisp white table cloths and waiters in smart uniforms, it could be a brasserie anywhere. All the better to focus your attention on the main star I suppose. The maitre d seemed to have appeared out of nowhere and was very informative about the menu and asked very thoroughly if there were any dietary restrictions. I told him I was pregnant and he very efficiently explained the things which I might not be able to have and came up with replacement suggestions. Impressive. When the bread basket arrived, I got pale pasteurised butter while Lem and Hunky got a very luscious looking unpasteurised version. First up, a mysterious palate cleanser in the form of nitro poached lime and green tea mousse. While we popped these curious green gems in our mouths, the waiter spritzes lime essence around us to "further bring out the lime in the mousse". I knew then the show had begun.

Snail porridge with jabugo ham and shaved fennel. Salmon poached in liquorice with artichokes, vanilla mayonnaise, golden trout roe and manni olive oil. Just looking at this dish was so wonderful. The salmon arrived with a shiny black lacquer only to reveal that lovely coral pink within. So pretty! Roast foie gras with rhubarb, crab biscuit and braised konbu - divine! Powdered anjou pigeon with blood pudding and confit of umbles - I couldn't eat this as I found the pigeon alarmingly gamey but then again, think it was just the baby. The blood pudding was gorgeous! It tasted like velvety chocolate cream! How does one make something so unattractive appear so luscious?!

For me, there were some more amazing than others both for the showmanship and taste. I think we all agreed that the mock turtle soup was by far the most fun because it was so elaborate and well thought out. We were given a brief introduction to how mock turtle came about and a quick reference to an excerpt from Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland. The wait staff first laid a soup dish of various strange things before us. Then teacups were brought out and filled with hot water. This was certainly getting “curiouser and curiouser “. We were then presented with a glass box which contained one gold pocket watch for each of us and were given instructions to dunk the watch into the teacup in manner of Mad Hatter and March Hare. Except that this was no ordinary pocket watch; it was infact the most gorgeous consomm√©, condensed and shaped into a disc and gold leaf was added to create a watch! Isn’t that just so fucking amazing?! We were like small children watching as our watch dissolved into a rich brown consomm√©. We then poured it into our soup dish and voila! Mock turtle soup. Honestly, I can’t even remember what was in the dish except that there were both contrasting and complimentary textures within a really nice consomm√©.

The amazing mock turtle soup experience

The other one I really enjoyed was “sounds of the sea”. By far the most surreal experience of the day. If Magritte was to cook you a meal, this would probably be it. Conch shells were placed before us with ipod shuffles cleverly placed in them. We were told to put on the earphones while we ate what looked like part of a beach on a glass platter. Here I had the non sashimi version but I don’t think I lost out in the experience as whatever they substituted the fish with worked wonderfully. The sand was A-mazing! It was salty and sweet at the same time and definitely a lot more pleasant than real sand! And together with the audio experience, it was altogether quite a melancholic experience. I let my mind drift off and guess what? I actually got sea sick and that quickly snapped me back to the restaurant. Seriously, I’m not exaggerating. It was really quite something. My other favourite was the hot cold tea which was self-explanatory. It really was half hot and half cold. How did the do it? Who the fuck knows?! It was just seriously disconcerting having half your mouth feel hot and the other cold! Crazy! It sounds so simple but it packed a big “wow” punch!

BFG - Heston's take on black forrest gateaux with kirsch ice cream. It was delicious but considering the amount of effort, it was little lackluster for me. "Sound of the sea" - a thoroughly disorienting but enjoyable experience. Whisk(e) wine gums which came stuck onto a frame with a map of origin. So cool but so gross, it was like eating a shot of whiskey. Listening to the conch pod. Taffety tart caramelised apple, fennel, rose and candied lemon. For the first time ever, the desserts failed to thrill. Wish I had had the space for bacon and egg ice cream!

Time flies when you are having fun! It definitely did not feel like we had spent three hours in a restaurant by the time we got to dessert. I was looking forward to the bacon and egg ice cream but it had been replaced with Heston's BFG. Black forrest gateaux like you've never had before. We noticed the table next to us had requested for it. Dang! We were sorely tempted but we were so full by then that we figured we would not have been able to appreciate it. The bag of sweets came last. It was aptly titled "Like a kid in a sweet shop". We couldn’t fit anymore in so we took our bag of sweets home with us. The level of detail is beyond what I ever expected. Among the assortment of sweets, there was one called Queen of Hearts that was sealed in a small white envelope. And when I say seal, I mean the posh wax kind of seal! Inside was a super slim white chocolate shaped and detailed like a playing card and it was filled with lovely tart strawberry jam! Taking the first bite was difficult but shame to waste food eh?

Trains run regularly from Paddington to Maidenhead and the journey takes between 30 mins to 50 mins depending on which train you catch. From there its a 5 minute cab ride to Bray. Oh don't try walking. Judging from the cab ride duration, you would think its walking distance when its actually about an hour's walk along a treacherous motorway. We were a little early so we decided to have a drink at the pub next door which is also owned by The Fat Duck. Even the pub menu sounded divine, very comforting pub grub. I know its not the same but if you want to just wing it without a reservation, at least you can be assured that there will be one good meal one way or another. Or you can always visit the other Michelin star restaurant in Bray. Yes, 2 in one small town! How lucky to be living in Bray!

The Fat Duck - click here to go to their website.