The booking was inspired by a minor Masterchef obsession and the lure of a challenge: Can anyone get a booking at Heston's? The invitation when it came was a rhetorical question in the form of a text message from Lovely Boy that read: "Hey sweets, would you be up for going to Fat Duck on Tues 2nd August with me, Chris and Chris's mate? X" Like I said, rhetorical question.
My experience with whacked gastronomy has never really been fully documented. It was two years and five days ago exactly that I went to Barcelona to meet my dear friend Tori and her husband for a trip to El Bulli, then the number one restaurant in the world. It was a sensory, culinary, emotional, artistic odyssey my mind still trips over and one of those "I can't believe I got to do that in my lifetime" moments, the enormity of which meant I was never able to articulate it, then or even really now. Thankfully though my brilliant friend did manage to - here, here, here and here....
I won my place at that table thanks to my art credentials as Ferran Adria was and is the only chef to have ever been invited to participate in Documenta, the prestigious five yearly art event held in Kassel, Germany. He was 'there' in 2007, the same year I happened to go though I didn't encounter Ferran, his table or his masterpieces as unbeknownst to me, El Bulli had been designated a satellite venue with two Documenta visitors a day flown to the Costa Brava for dinner. God only knows what dreadful art I was looking at while someone was handing out those winning tickets but Documenta proved, as El Bulli did two years later, a confusing, exhilarating, at times exhausting, surprising, philosophical, profound experience. People pooh pooh-ed Ferran's inclusion but as the man himself said, "In the end, the visitor decides what is art and what is not."
And so, since we're on the topic, let me say that I think art, great art, is confounded expectations, it's confrontation, curiosity and revelation. What I didn't know, until I sat down at El Bulli, was that it could also be exploding mimetic peanuts.
All of which is a veeeery roundabout way of getting to Fat Duck. Then number two restaurant in the world, it's currently sitting respectfully at number five and for me the appeal, apart from Heston - obviously - is that thrill of the unexpected and the promise of childish delight.
It was a bit of a mission to get there, with a tube to Ealing Broadway, a train to Maidenhead and then a taxi to Brae and so the unassuming frontage was almost an anti-climax when we finally pulled up. Inside, the decor was unpretentious, warm and the kind of relaxed posh that whispers, never screams darling, EXPENSIVE. But we'll get to that.
Much is made of the "Sound of the Sea" dish with its accompanying shell soundtrack of crashing waves and squarking gulls but for me, with its tapioca 'sand', fishy fish and pungent seaweedy foam, well, it tasted like low tide after a storm.
Thank god for dessert - macerated strawberries and a 'picnic blanket' of malleable white chocolate with an olive oil biscuit and chamomile and coriander jelly. WITH a delicate earl grey tea ice cream cornet with a bottom filled with strawberry jam. Love it want it could eat it forever.
By the time the sweet bag arrived I was somewhere between full and completely stuffed so I took it home with me to savour this afternoon. Which I did. The Queen of Hearts playing card beyond brilliant - delicate, delicious, hilarious. Yum.
We didn't get home last night until well after 1am so today has been hard work, not least of all because I've lost my voice and an ear infection is now also surely aknocking but I don't care. The insanity and the extravagance (of the gesture as much as the bill) are part of the whole experience and when I think back to El Bulli I have no idea how I ate 35 courses but I remember every bite and every emotion. I suspect Fat Duck will be the same.