The phone does not stop ringing at the hotel de Ville. It must be the first Monday of the month. This is the only day you can book a table at Fredy Girardet’s Restaurant Girardet fg in Crissier, not for the coming month but rather 3 months in advance. Their phone is ringing constantly mine, well to be exact my friend’s Kobi‘s auto dialer is working overtime and the line is engaged all the time. Luckily autodialing prevails and Kobi books us a table for two at Fg, the 80’s are about to end in a year or two and we’re about to meet the chef of the century and his creations for the first time.
Great meals or dishes leave us with memories that linger on for a long time beyond the event. A good meal at a perfect restaurant is an event, a lifetime event. This is surely the aspiration of every chef, cooking a meal for his guests. A meal to remember, but alas very few manage to attain this goal.
Contrary to the notion that the perfect wine as a whole, is relying on the imperfection of its parts: (https://wine4soul.com/2012/05/02/perfect-wine-and-the-paradox-of-perfection-12/), A perfect meal must be perfect in all its aspects: The products, cooking technique, balance within the dish, balance between the dishes on the menu, the decor, ambiance, service, wine list, general atmosphere, even light or the ability to see the food or read the menu and many more. But above all, it is the chef’s declaration of his own taste and preferences as they are expressed in each and every dish. No “almosts”, no trying to aim slightly low, to a mediocre common denominator taste, but rather a declaration: Welcome to my restaurant here you will be served (with the outmost of courtesy) my dishes, spiced the way I like them, presented the way I see them and Bon Appétit !
A perfect meal is a memory for life. Some people even have to talent to be able to relive the memory / experience as a real sensation of lingering heavenly taste. I for one carry these good memorable memories and they last a very long time, forever? I can only hope so.
I must say I had quite a few of these memorable culinary moments, that enriched the “essence” of my life, or as defined in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), JING:: 精; it is the Chinese word for “essence”, it is considered one of the Three Treasures (Sanbao) 三寶. Ancient Chinese sages said we are born with a fixed amount of Jing, consume Jing continuously in life; by everyday activities and when jing is completely consumed… we die. Jing can rarely be replenished, mainly by forms of stimulation such as meditation, Chi Gong, sex practices etc. I guess that being a part of an event I describe as a perfect meal is without a doubt one of the few Jing replenishers. It is good for the mind, body and soul, the perfect medicine.
Reminiscences of great meals are a great joy and to start my Gastronomic diary, a meal at Fredy Girardet fg Restaurant is the most fitting prelude.
Fredy Girardet was born on 17th November 1936 in Lausanne Switzerland. At the end of September 1996, Fredy Girardet, chef of the Century and owner of restaurant fg in Crissier, Switzerland, announced that he will retire from the Restaurant business at midnight on 30.11.96 as he turned 60, and the world of gastronomy Cried.
After 40 years of work in kitchens, twenty year of them at his own restaurant (at the hotel de Ville at the center of the village), he deserved a break but what about us????
As a child all Fredy wanted, was to become a professional football player. During a wine-buying tour in Burgundy for his father’s restaurant, a vintner took him to La Maison Troisgros in Roanne. Girardet describes the meal, his first visit at a renowned restaurant, as an almost “spiritual experience”, that convinced him to become a chef. When his father died unexpectedly at age 56, he took over the bistro. He started cooking in classic French cuisine style, it did not take long before he began to experiment with lighter and more innovative styles, joining forces with his contemporaries to develop the emerging nouvelle cuisine movement, no one knew than that he had decided almost from the start to “hang his apron” at the age of 60
Freddy Girardet is not just chef, the Gault Millau guide awarded him the Gault-Millau Cle d’Or and selected him Chef of the century with 19.5 points out of 20 the title of honor received together with Paul Bocuse and his good friend Joel Robuchon.
In my view after dining several times at the restaurant for Dinners, through the years he was the personification of the genius of culinary art. A combination of rare stimuli of all five senses in one creation, A DINNER. There isn’t an artist in any one of the arts who can successfully stimulate all of the senses, Freddie, Ladies & gentlemen did it every day for a small group of happy 84 Diners, 42 around noon for Lunch and then again 42 lucky ones for a Dinner Event, 84 happy winners of the chance to dine in the Artist’s atelier: the Restaurant at the Hotel de Ville in Crissier.
It was he who provided me, whenever I visited the restaurant with everything and anything I always expected from a meal. The meal always combined all the wonderful elements that make a meal at a three-star Restaurant an exciting event, an unforgettable experience. Every detail was perfect, starting from respect for the food product and their origin, details of the finished dish, the pure balance between tastes color, even position on the plate. Of course the restaurant’s location, décor and service, the staff attitude towards their guests, all “thrown into one neat careful “packet”.
The photos were taken in an era of analogue cameras and film/prints documentation (late 1980’s) most are slightly out of focus due to the effort to take the pictures without flash not to disturb the other diners. I have decided to include them as is.
Royale de blanc de poulette aux truffes a la crème de celeri pistachee
Imagine a consommé of chicken frothed with truffled celery cream that is so smooth clean and delicate. got it? That’s it! And with the array of wonderful breads and first class butter, who can complain?
The meal is very laid back, there’s a “wait” of 20 minutes between dishes, after a while you get the hang of it and see the reason behind the pace, calm down this is not an eatery, enter the experience of a meal event…and it works well we’re sipping on the wines, now about the wines we did not have the knowledge to order the right wines and let the sommelier guide us through the huge wine list/book for the white he picked the ultimate white wine for this meal:
Domaine Ramonet Chassagne Montrachet Les Ruchottes 1986 At the time I thought what a wine, although this wine improved and reached its peak only at around 2000 -2003, it was crisp yet rich with exotic white & yellow fruit aromas, excellent concentration but the wood oakiness felt on the slightly strong side with little minerality and great fruit. powerful at its young age still delicate with a very long buttery finish. (I had this wine on many occasions later when the wood all blend in and it still kept it’s freshness and fruit)
Raie bouclee a l’agretto de Montevertine en verdure de poireaux
Reduction of sweet Italian vinegar (Agretto de vino santo) from Montevertine in Toscana with blanched young green leaks sauce. The touch is very delicate feels almost steamed done to perfection with a great balance between the fish and the leak complementing and flavoring each other, melting in your mouth on each bite…remember me…remember me! (We did).
A double fillets of thornback ray, this kite shape exquisite looking fish, is so delicate in the sea and on the plate.
Greque de Langoustine safranée aux legumes croquants
A single large langoustine forming a bridge over a delicate saffron vegetable and langoustine stock, clear and light, yellow orangey in color with an arrey of crispy squares of spring vegetables, each done to perfection and precision in cooking time. This is what we came here for I have never had 3 consecutive dishes so precise in execution and each projecting the essence of all its products, BRAVO! This is the ultimate glimpse into the secrets of genuine Haute / Nouvelle cuisine. This is the base of what we all eat today in great restaurants, Thank you Fredy.
Coquilles Saint-Jacques aux oignons nouveaux, jus beurré au thym citronné
A fresh Saint-Jacque steamed over onion infusion served in its shell with the Saint Jacque liquor reduction of butter lime & thyme frothed over.
Why do all these dishes fell as if they where steamed and not cooked in any other cooking method? I guess this is the secret, the touch that separates the premier league players, teams and managers from all the others, this guy scores goals (around his kitchen) every time he touches the ball (our meal products)
The white wine is all gone and it is time to choose our Red wine, unfortunately not knowing better at the time we opted for a Bordeaux and were proposed by our Maitre D’ the Château Sociando-Mallet 1987 ( he said “The 1986 is too powerful”) thankfully we opted for his advice and the wine which is according to Jancis Robinson in the list of this wine’s “Over-performing vintages” it was light, Smooth, Supple and approachable with cassis and light cedar notes. It gave us great pleasure throughout the next part of the meal. (nowadays I would opt for a Bourgogne wine but I was young than)
On the menu the next dish is the Cote de veau but our devoted Maitre D’ Louis Villeneuve saw that we came to sample as much as we could (who knows when we would be able to revisit this experience), so he kindly offered treat us with 2 separate meat dishes and allow us to share 2 different dishes off the menu which is extremely irregular for a menu degustation for two, it is the small gestures like that that enhance your dining experience at the palace of the KING. Almost a year later when we revisited the restaurant for another meal his utmost professionalism as a Maitre D’ (head waiter / “master of the establishment,” ), when while ordering our menu he pointed out: “You had this dish last year so I will change it for you to another dish off the menu” What a bliss, this guy saw us once, it is true we are full of enthusiasm and expectation allowing ourselves to be immersed in the meal experience, still he saw us once in his entire life and remembers minute details? Another piece in this puzzle of perfection. Thank you Louis Villeneuve the dedicated liaison between the kitchen and dining hall, who welcomed the guests, recommended wines, did the meat and poultry carving on a pedestal table, in front of the guest (an old custom he has reintroduced in Crissier), and was rightly awarded the “Welcome and Service Prize” by the International Academy of Gastronomy, the first time this prize was awarded to someone who is not a chef . I don’t know about you but I am impressed not surprised though. So, first we were offered (off our menu as I said):
Volaille de Bresse en cocotte aux morilles at asperges vertes.
The flesh of this chicken from Bresse is juicy full of delicate poultry flavors bursting in your mouth, mind you “chicken roast” is probably the most difficult dish to serve at a sophisticated restaurants but give Fredy a product and trust him to raise it to gastronomic heights after all this poultry posses a gamey depth of flavour, with fine, tender flesh and delicious clean-flowing fat together with the fresh morilles and asparagus which are in season this time of the year, the jus of the Bresse chicken is sublime.
The cocotte as you know is a shallow individual baking dish the rest of the secret lies with Fredy.
Côte de veau en casserole à la fricassee de béatilles at aux asperges.
A casserole of milk veal with a fricassee of “tidbits” mixture of inner organs: liver, sweetbreads, kidneys etc. in a casing of Vol-Au-vent or puff pastry shell.with asparagus and casseroled new potatoes, carved and served by the table to the last drop of the light sauce, delightful.
Than came a large selection of cheeses from the trolley (a very large selection I might add, which surprised the young cheese waiter attending to us) cheeses from the various appellations of France and Switzerland to “die” for with the breads they were perfect, enhanced I might add with a glass of Port Porto Barros 1963 and a glass of 1985 Chateau Suduiraut, Sauternes,.
Just before the Chariot de desserts with at least 18 different desserts of fruits, tarts, cakes and other delicious sweets on a trolley, we politely asked if we can share before sampling (most) of the desserts the famous Passion fruit soufflé, which was served to us with great pleasure I guess (it was on the house, looking now at the bill which I found amongst the menu and photos all of these contributed to enhancing the memories of this meal) from the deserts pears in white wine and vanilla (had it on a different occasion as white peach in vanilla) .
Now the soufflé as you see in the picture is served in a Porcelain Ramekin puffed up and fluffy, a slightly warm lightly sweetened passion fruit juice is poured in the center and you get to eat a passion fruit cloud that dissolves in your mouth both passionate and calming (I think I’m gonna try and make it for tomorrow’s New Years dinner (Jewish New Year) the recipe is in the book Cuisine Spontanee – Fredy Girardet (Papermac UK edition 1986) .
We were also served 3 types of sorbets: Banana, Raspberries and red grapefruit but the ice creams chocolate and sublime Vanilla and the two spoon serving method I encountered for the first time are still in my mind. We ended the meal with pettit fours and coffee and a glass of Armagnac XO, not noticing that we are the last guests in the room, guests were sitted along the walls and the center of the room was left for the service crew to function. (at 42 diners each sitting this is possible.) Mr. Villeneuve with the utmost politeness told us he took the liberty to order us a taxi so we don’t get stuck in Lausanne before the last train to Genève takes off around 1.00am, and so we left after a short visit to the already clean and polished kitchen.
Fredy entered the room after the last diner was served his main dish.His apparent shyness, his modesty (felt when he would enter the dinning room at the end of each service) was not expressed in his style of cooking, that was exciting, creative, full of imagination and always accentuated the flavor of the main product of this dish be it a vegetable, fruit, meat, poultry, fish, or seafood, each in its short season. He called it cuisine spontanée, I call it HEAVEN!
The secret of the approach was that sophistication was born out of simplicity. The approach was: minimum cooking, maximum flavor, minimum vanity, maximum service, minimum talk, maximum action, Maximum occupancy, all tables are booked months ahead 48- 49 weeks a year for lunch and dinner day in and day out. Max points 19.5-scoring and no compromise in quality.
The restaurant lies in the neutral zone at the border between Italy and France, in a small town. There were significant touches of French and Italian influence, Italian truffle risotto and frogs legs. An amazing combination of exquisite and refined cuisine of both worlds and all the ingenious touch won slightly reminiscent of greatness in the ultimate meeting of the three basic cuisines: French Italian and Chinese cooking.
These elements brought out the artistry of cooking to produce a meal that left every guest who dine on a table thinking as if he was the only guest at a special one off occasion that was not like it before and who knows if there will ever be such an experience any time after. A feeling that repeated itself on each and every visit.
He was rightfully awarded the: Gault&Millau golden key, agricultural Knight of Merit, an entry in the Petit Larousse, honored for outstanding achievements in cooking, Golden Form Award given by the International Food & Wine Travel Writers Association, cook of the century at the same time as Paul Bocuse and Joël Robuchon, international grand prix in the Art of Cooking, awarded by the International Academy of Gastronomy, plus 19.5 points awarded by Gault&Millau, “Memory and Gratitude” grand Prix, awarded by the International Academy of Gastronomy, Knight of the Legion of Honor, 3 stars in the first edition of the Michelin guide for Switzerland. So although I use too many superlatives and adjectives of awe and amazement they are all justified.
Thank you Fredy for opening the gates to the world of true cooking for me, my perspective was changed completely after visiting Crissier. Thank you Kobi for being persistent on the phone, for being a good companion throughout the years, on all our food trips, for having such a good taste And Thanks for the memories…
“Bring the sense of FUN”.
A Feast at The FAT DUCK
10:38pm Late September 2011 a “rain” of emails from my old buddy Spike in London, came pouring down on me: Hey Buddy – we have a table for lunch @ the Fat Duck next Tues. – really really really looking forward to it buddy sweet dreams SPIKEY X”
“The table is booked 12.30 as that was all they could get so we have 2 leave earlier – fergus p.r@ st J. did it & he said it was a right carry-on lets make sure we get there on time innit?
looking forward 2 it buddy sweet dreams SPIKEY X”
The buzz of enthusiasm caught me as well, a visit to the Fat duck, is a meal I “promised” myself for the last 10 years (since the Restaurant got its first Michelin Star) and the raves regarding a new star in the culinary sky started to tickle my taste buds and imagination, but somehow I never got down to arranging it well ahead enough and kept missing my opportunities for a meal at “The Restaurant at the end of the Universe”. This is: “The ultimate hot spot for an evening of apocalyptic entertainment and fine dining, where the food (literally) speaks for itself”. (From “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe”, by Douglas Adams.). Spike, through his web of connections finally managed to arrange a meal at the Fat Duck, the restaurant that serves Bacon and egg ice cream, snail porridge and all, molecular cooking (As it is often described in the media) Such a sense of culinary anticipation had not struck me since I (obsessively) dined, ( 20 years earlier), with the world greatest: Fredy Girardet, Joel Robuchon, Bernard Loiseaux, George Blanc, Jacques Lamellose, Pierre Gagnaire, Alain Ducasse, Marco Pierre White, Pierre Koffman, Daniel Boulud to name but a few… As a matter of fact I like this feeling of tastes and flavors hype that engulfs you at a perfect meal, (a kind of addiction), it is as if these guys (Top Chefs), know of the anticipation and expectations most of their customers come with… and have this magic touch to form the perfect setting for that very day, for the man who came to dine (ME). I must admit I’m not much into culinary terms such as Molecular gastronomy or molecular cooking as the “great” Mr. Herve This, calls the cooking at El Bulli or The Fat Duck, or the “late” term”: nouvelle cuisine”, which is actually an old term (since the 1740s) used throughout the centuries for anything new at the time, in the preparation combination or presentation of food, for example, the cooking of Vincent La Chapelle 1735, or François Marin was described as nouvelle cuisine of the time, in 1890s the cooking of the great Auguste Escoffier, the epitome of traditional cuisine was described with the term “The modern” – Nouvelle.. I like restaurants that try and succeed to “give pleasure and meaning to people through the medium of food”. As our host Heston Blumenthal neatly put it: “Build food while predicting the effect on the eater.” We did arrive on time, and Bray is not a big place, but if you don’t look up and catch a glimpse of the Restaurants Logo you will not find it as it is well hidden behind the walls a modest looking English country House, no boasting, very dignified, and we missed it (what anticipation does to you…) so we strolled up the street to peek inside the ‘The Hinds Head Pub’ 30 yards down the road and ask for DIRECTIONS. You open the door yourself (I like that), it feels like entering your own home, no gate keepers, or other paraphernalia which is inseparable in some 3 Michelin star restaurants. Thank God I can’t stand these tedious manners. They let you settle down and do all the necessary bits and bobs of bread, water and wine. Which is if you think about it a necessity of any restaurant, but also a traditional welcome almost in all cultures: bread and water or bread and wine were served as a welcome gesture since biblical times.
So we ordered a 2004 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru, Boudriotte, Domaine Ramonet That went very well with the first half of the dishes in the menu. Now we are “all set” as the restaurant needs our full attention with the opener which I would call an Amuse-bouche, usually a “mouth amuser” which serves here as a Meal amuser The LIME GROVE- Nitro poached green tea and Lime mousse. The liquid Nitrogen is bubbling and evaporating in a white mist in a container into which a ball of lime mousse is tossed in and turned around in a freezing temperature of −196 °C as the mousse hardens, a dust
of green tea is sprinkled over and just before you’re requested to put it whole in your mouth the finishing touch of Lime fragrance is sprayed over your head and engulfs you with the aroma of lime inside and out and the mousse melts in your mouth as you bite the “hard / soft” ball of delight. It is fresh and fun and tingles your taste buds with the sense of fun it is intended, still with the correct concentration of the flavor of what it is meant to be: a lime mousse in a bite. Welcome to the Fat Duck, Here life is beautiful… The theatrical curtain opener is over, but as in the theatre the show must go on and the first course is served: RED CABBAGE GAZPACHO served with ice cream of Pommery Grain Mustard. Well, Pommery mustard, also known as Moutarde de Meaux, this is truly a culinary historic gem. This jewel of condiment comes from Meaux, France, (just northeast of Paris). It is said that French kings have been dining on this mustard since the early 1600s. Of all gourmet mustards, this particular mustards blend is on the top of the list, both for its richness and its simplicity. It is said that the secret recipe for pommery mustard originated with an ancient religious sect that lived in the town of Meaux,. In the year 1760, the secret was revealed to the Pommery family, and they have kept it safe ever since.
Back to the dish, though the photo speaks for itself, a deep purple smooth Gazpacho or traditional Russian Borscht (both would fit the description) decorated with a delicate grained white ice cream with a hint of very fine mustardy flavor that looked like the sun setting into an ocean of purple bliss, as in the Deep Purple song Lalena that came right to my mind (press play to listen to the song as you read on, to ease the pain)
When the sun goes to bed
That’s the time you raise your head
That’s your lot and life, Lalena
Can’t blame ya, Lalena!
Lalena is the name of the Russian girl eating her Borscht and sour cream… You dig? I can’t blame YA. Aren’t we having fun??? I am now as I was then, slurping the meticulously spiced almost “Gazpacho essence” with a morsel of ice cream to melt on my tongue on every bite. We’re through the first two dishes and your Tenzo is giving you a “break”, as I was given between each and every dish (of around 15-20 leisurely moments) for our five senses to sink into the meal’s atmosphere We slid down the rabbit hole and still have 10 more dishes to go,so patience my friends,
Create one mouth full of food with 3 separate flavors Feast at the Fat Duck
…We cleared our palate from the delicate Gazpacho, flavored with a hint of the tiny cucumber cubes (brunoise) and mustard, with the excellent breads on offer (which bread would you like Sir?.. a bit of both, of course! …) especially when enhanced with the voluptuous sea salted french butter, I love good bread it is so basic yet can reach heights of pleasurably delights under the loving care of a good Baker, and even better, wrapped up with some more sips of the fresh Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru, Boudriotte, Domaine Ramonet 2004 , served by the capable, gentle, and knowledgeable Mr. ISA BAL the Duck’s head sommelier . Though the 2004 is not the best vintage year for Bourgogne’s whites, Boudriotte always displays finesse, elegance with a long, ripe finish yet crisp with a strong sense of green apple peel, balanced with notes of crème patissière and toasted butter brioche. My wine of choice to fit the occasion, it went very well with the first four offerings. Now, the table is being laid down with the stage setting of act 3 of the show: “welcome to your very own tiny oak forest, the only place truffles grow…”. It is a wonderfully orchestrated Homage to Alain Chapel legendary dish Jelly of Pigeons with 3 chicken oysters and young vegetables, The FAT DUCK version: Jelly of Quail, crayfish cream, chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss & Truffle Toast. A game of associations…A long name and an elaborate setting to go with it, first a wooden box with Oak moss that looks like a rectangle piece of grass, which brought another smile and sense of fun to the table with two “fat duck Oak films” to melt over your tongue which has a delicate aroma of Oak that spreads around your mouth and evaporates through your nose with an oaky bark sensation and a touch of wet oak moss,
as the films melt over our tongues the waiter pours hot water and oak scented oil on the turf box causing vapors of oak scented mist, to crawl out of the box and over the table cloth onto our laps, what a wonderful sight luring you into an enchanted forest where truffles may be found under the Oak trees.
Quite rightly Spike said: “Heston Blumenthal must b mad as a brush!” What a load of fun… And that is the basic Idea behind all this so far wonderful meal, innit? The whole scene immediately reminded me of Woody Allen’s father’s “Piece of Land” from the movie Love and Death (Have a look and tell me I’m wrong!
The rest of the dish is laid around with sensuous pastel colors of brownish peach and some surprises after you dug in (if you dare) to disturb the beauty of the triple wrapping “Babushka” arrangement of, outer layer of liver parfait covering the quail’s jelly with the “mushy peas” inside like a savory “Mozart” chocolate (Salzburg Mozartkugeln) course you do bite on it almost impatiently, after all we came to eat!!
All the rest is a bonus. The liver parfait is light and smooth coating a concentrate of quail stock jelly that really tastes of quail stew that bursts open to reveal a galantine pea mousse a smooth “mushy peas” style flavor and all of that swimming in a bowl of Langoustine cream.
We ordered some more bread and wiped the bowls shining clean Superb!The truffle and oak toast was forgiven due to mitigating circumstance concerning the time of the year being way beyond the truffle season. Most diners, (I know I would), could easily be fooled by some drops of good truffle oil or white truffle paste to enhance the aroma and flavor of the truffle toast, we happily settled with the Oaky atmosphere that was bestowed upon us.We were in a state of constant blissful smile which threatened our facial skin so I looked around the restaurant and literally every guest was HAPPY! The sense of fun caught all forty four of us diners, mission accomplished as far as the Kitchen and the Ducks philosophy is concerned : ” We believe that cooking can affect people in profound ways, and that a spirit of collaboration and sharing is essential to true progress in developing this potential.“ So Bring in the sense of FUN in life” through food and a visit to the restaurant. I too, always felt, that this is the idea behind a good restaurant, a good meal, a good food and wine outing.
Next came the Snail Porridge, Jabugo Ham, Shaved fennel. A dish always mentioned when the restaurant is in the media. Personally I’m not too keen on “Porridge” in its traditional preparation form, it’s not a food I was raised on or “learned to like” at early age, and you can’t deny it’s an acquired taste kinda food and consistency… neither am I hot for snails, they usually disappear in tons of herbs and garlic. This is my “challenge” dish and there it came the first thing that came to mind was the fresh parsley green color the same unique parsley green color of Bernard Loiseau’s legendry dish: Escargots Au Veloute De Persil. The Porridge was not overcooked and mushy (which is probably what I dislike about porridge), and the scent of the Jabugo Ham* added depth to the dish that was decorated with some braised and then butter sautéed snails, and some shavings of fennel.
Needless to say it was again meticulously spiced and well balanced. *They say that “Jabugo breed pigs are the only animals of this species in which stored fat is redistributed thoughout the body, infiltrating the muscle fibers. These pigs consume a diet with a high acorn content their fat is of superior quality, giving the flesh its characteristic texture, aroma and flavour.
We were now served the Roast Foie Gras, Gooseberry, Braised Konbu and crab biscuit.
The foie gras was made to perfection, the pinkish late season, gooseberry coulis was a great compliment to the foie gras yearning for a touch of fruity acidity and the Konbu (Japanese sea weed) and crab thin and crunchy biscuits added antagonism in texture and taste with its sea saltiness to complete the balance. Great !!! As I went out for a short break and a phone call to my dear friend Yair to consult on the next wine I am about to order from a shortlist I have prepared the night before, I thought to myself, what a pleasure it is to enjoy a really good meal in the right lighthearted manner and pleasant fellow dinners And until I do decide upon the suitable wine I leave you till next time…with seven more dishes to go, where we’re invited to A Mad Tea-Party with ALICE.
Like Alice in wonderland we were only half way down the rabbit hole, we were falling the very deep and wondrous well, and had plenty of time as we went down, Alice, Spike and I, to look about us and to wonder what was going to happen next. One thing I was sure of the wine we ordered is about to finish and a new bottle suitable for the next 4 courses should be ordered. Now the wine list at the Fat Duck is fairly large in volume and selection and I dislike reading book size wine lists in the middle of a pleasant meal so I made the effort and looked into it, the night before (Hooray for a good internet site) such as the Fat Ducks: http://www.thefatduck.co.uk/The-Menus/The-Wine-List/ and made myself a shortlist of about 5 wines (Spike drinks only whites) after being satisfied with my first choice I thought a more “reddish” white wine will be more suitable, and the meal was so enjoyable up till now, I decided to consult with a “telephone friend”. Yair my dear friend was the obvious choice and although he and later Isa (the house sommelier) tried to direct me in a more fresh and elegant direction, and even tried to “warn” me of the extra oakiness of Mounir Saouma touch, on this specific wine. Still I knew I wanted to taste the wine of my fellow countryman Mounir who “made it big” in Bourgogne which is not a trifle matter and so I opted for the Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru, La Romanée, Lucien Le Moine 2004, which turned to be on the day a wine well suited for the rest of the meal. While the bottle is opened and given a much needed “breather” let us have another look at the oaky mist (this time) from our very own table:The break is over and I felt like the March Hare mumbling to himself: ‘Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!’ I returned to our table to get ready for the next dish: MOCK TURTLE SOUP “Mad Hatter Tea” , In the words of Lewis Carroll it is : A Mad Tea-Party (CHAPTER 7, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll 1865) As the card by our plates explains Turtle soup was highly popular in 19th century England but was so expensive and hard to get (sea turtles were rare and difficult to import) that a mock turtle soup was developed using calves head and feat (that is why Lewis Carroll, mentions in length the story of the mock turtle and John Tenniel whose drawings accompany “Alice in Wonderland” drew the Mock Turtle with calves head and feet). Welcome to our very own Mad Hatters tea party. We are each served a 24 karat gold leaf plated, fob watch, which we put (or dip) into a cup of tea and boiling water are poured over it, we’re in the scene: “The March Hare took the watch and looked at it gloomily: then he dipped it into his cup of tea”
our mock fob watch dissolves like a tea bag and glitters of gold leaf “swim” in a cup of boiling water that turns into a brownish broth (the mock turtle soup), with a deep meaty concentrate aroma and flavor. The bowl in front of us is a setting of the complimentary scene: what goes with mock turtle? Mock turtle egg It looks like an egg but the white is turnip mousse and the yolk is Swede and saffron nothing is what it is it just looks like what we think it is… confused?? Add some enoki mushrooms to keep the wonderland atmosphere going, and an ox tongue and Colonnata Lardo (from Fausto Guadagni) Terrine that gives the fatty feel of what is described as genuine turtle soup.
“Colonnata is a small village in the hills of Tuscany that happens to make the world’s best lard. Fausto Guadagni is one of the last, and best, of the traditional producers. The Lardo is treated with spices and matured for six to eight months in marble tubs, known as conche, in caves cut out of the same stone. The result is fragrant, melting and joyous.” Now, garnish the bowl in your mind with cucumber, pickled turnip, truffle cubes, and some leaves of micro parsley. pour the golden broth from the cup onto the enchanted scene bowl, and there you have it; Mock turtle soup. I trust Heston this is as close to turtle soup as you can get!! And as in the the Mock turtle sad song, on the day it was:Beautiful Soup, so rich and green, Waiting in a hot tureen! Who for such dainties would not stoop? Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup! Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!It was glorious in the bowl and wonderful on your tongue and over your palate as you swallowed each spoonful of golden fairytale in a bowl. And yes we’re still having fun and yes the wine is a bit over oaky but the bourgognian Chardonnay from La Romanee, (chassagne) is powerful enough to withstand the wood without losing its character. Can we hope to proceed with anything to match the ingenuity and originality of the wonderland soup?
A large Conch a symbol of old, is laid down in front of us with a pair of modern I Pod ear phones sticking out of it…
The conch, this is one of the most important emblems of the India God Vishnu. He is the protector of the world and the restorer of moral order (dharma). He is peaceful, merciful, and compassionate. The blowing of the conch symbolizes the primordial creative voice and Indian mysticism links it to the sacred sound OM , which is said to be the breath of Vishnu, pervading all space. This is a good sign to what is going to come, but are we going to say OM or sigh UMMM to the taste of THE SOUND OF THE SEA.
A sea shore scene on a glass slab is laid before us here’s the sand made of Tapioca mixed with fried grounded baby eels, some Japanese sea weed for taste and decoration, with a triptych of sashimi of mackerel, Halibut and yellow tail, and the foam of the sea I guess a foam of a fish consommé to “kiss” the sand and the fish. The sound of sea waves and sea gulls take you to somewhere on a British shore line, the tapioca sand is really sandy between your teeth, with a deep but delicate sea saltiness flavor and aroma added by the ground eels, and the foam is a fine touch to wrap the sea taste in your mouth and mind, we went UMMM, but felt the breath of Vishnu pervading our taste buds and nose, OM we blessed the chef…for serving us a “sunny day down at the beach”, on a plate. Today, the conch is used in Tibetan Buddhism to call together religious assemblies. During the actual practice of rituals, it is used both as a musical instrument and as a container for holy water. We kept the earphones in for a longer while as the sound is calming and the total effect is outrageous or as Spike put it on an email to his friends: “…a dish called SOUND OF THE SEA came: a conch shell with headphones 2 put in yr ears (it had an ipod inside) b4 they brought over a beach on a tray with frothing sea + sand + seafood – all edible – whilst u listened 2 seagulls + waves, I kid u not baby!” We are still before our main dishes of fish and than Pigeon and a whole lot of desserts and sweets. All or at least mostly in part 4 to come real soon. but at the moment we savor our Chassagne-Montrachet, and cherish the joy this meal is giving us.
Our next dish Salmon poached in Liquorice with Artichoke, Vanilla Mayonnaise and Golden Trout Roe, is a perfect example of cooking which utilizes the scientific knowledge of what is called Molecular Gastronomy, and turns the knowledge into eatable food of the highest quality and finesse which is in one word cooking or even Haut cuisine for some. Not the bubbling mist of ultra cold gases in their “frozen” liquid form as they warm up in room Temperature, (although I must say it is a lot of fun), or other stunning paraphernalia (I like firework displays), but cooking at its highest standard with precision and care in which the ingredients are scrupulously picked from the best producers of each ingredient around the globe, and then prepared to perfection. (Pommery Mustered from Meaux, France, Jabugo ham from Huelva, Andalusia, Spain, Konbu from Japan,Lard.From Fausto Guadagni in ColonnataToscana, Pigeons from Anjou etc.). Still, all the time keeping the flavor taste and texture of each ingredient meticulously.
Two separate ingredients rarely or never assembled together in one dish are combined together because they contain a mutual chemical compound, Asparagine; (One of the 20 most common natural amino acids on Earth). Originally the dish was constructed of liquorices and asparagus both have very high content of Asparagine, combination that in Blumenthal words brings the Bitter sweet effect (bitter being the Asparagus and sweet the liquorice) but kitchens get “tired” of the same dish looking the same and tasting the same day in and day out, so changes are made with the “decor” or the secondary ingredient of the dish, but not with the idea behind the basic thought, or the essential core that combines the dish. We were served the Salmon poached in Liquorice, with Artichoke as a veggie bitter touch. Artichoke contains mostly phenolic compounds such as chlorogenic acid, but also asparagine and other substances. Connection re achieved!!!
The substance to this dish is a nice square of fillet of Salmon which is strong, fatty and “rich” enough to withstand the overpowering strength of Liquorice. And it works! The slice of pink salmon is cooked in “the Lab” (poached in a sous- vide bag under exact pressure of 60mbar at precisely 42ºC for around 25 minutes (puphhhhhhh) thank god there’s a restaurant with all that equipment, no wonder they reach near perfection in depth of cooking, texture, color, and consistency, but I must confess all that is not good enough if you don’t have a good sense of taste and that they do at the Fat Duck.Add the Vanilla mayo, the Golden Trout Roe, and the pink grapefruit individual fruit cells, (for acidic touch, which is also glorious on the plate as decoration), combine them all in one bite, and the balance as much as it is hard to predict is amazing this is a real achievement in taste of “paring the impossible” (Though I’m not mad on Liquorice, it’s taste and after taste, I was impressed.)I will Iet you into a small secret (I left myself some of the Chassagne Boudriotte), enough to go with this dish and they went famously together.
Our next serving is POWDERED ANJOU PIGEON (c.1720) Blood Pudding Potted Umbles, Spelt and Pickles According to British historian Joan Thirsk, this is a periods of excess cereals. In post-Black Death Europe, the smaller human population meant grains could be put aside for feeding birds; similarly, the low grain prices in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries also translated into increases of raising pigeons. Spelt which is basically a wheat species, was an important staple in parts of Europe from the Bronze Age to medieval timesDuring the Baroque era, English cuisine consisted of various breads, meat pies, fresh fruit, sweets and desserts. for the first time the dining room became a clearly defined space within a house dedicated to one particular purpose-the service and enjoyment of food and all the pomp and circumstance that can surround it. In the French manner, at each course all the different dishes were placed on the table at the same time and in exactly prescribed locations. The diners would help themselves to whatever was near at hand without moving the dishes, and if necessary pass their plates to their neighbors to get food that was out of their reach. At large dinners this meant that it was impractical for guests to sample all the dishes, so it was important to have an interesting selection of foods near each guest. And this is precisely what we have here,
a plate adorned with Pigeon Ballotine (powdered with Transglutaminase powder), pigeon and duck crunchy crackers, Pig’s blood black pudding, baby turnips and Grelot onions pickled in a foam of junipers berries brine, and a second violin a bowl of Potted Umbles mousse and puffed Spelt with some whole sautéed pigeon livers on top. As in the concerto where the violins rush after each other meeting at times in a crescendo of sounds the dish does the same in your mouth, the tastes and flavors separate and join together with volume and intensity that gradually increases and all the time keeping the deep dark complex flavor of this wonderful game bird.Just looking at the photo reveals the fact that the meat was cooked/prepared to perfection with the aid of the transglutaminase but the surprise of the dish is without a doubt the smooth black pudding with a rich chocolate ganache color, feel, and look which is also quite deceiving at first and cleaned off the plate completely at the end. Magnifique !
Before we start our desserts we are served the Fat Duck Palate cleanser, HOT& ICED TEA, Palate cleansers, by nature, are used in the middle of a meal to remove lingering flavors from the mouth so that the next course may be enjoyed with a fresh perspective and that is certainly required after the intensity of the pigeon & Co.
They use earl grey tea but the aroma flavor and medicinal effects of Lemon verbena infusion could be a winner here. You have to gulp it in one go and Yes it is both cold and iced at the same time and yes it is a jelly of tea using Gellan F. to form Tea flavored jellies, cold and Hot (over 70ºC) assembled vertically in a glass.
I is THE BIG FRIENDLY GIANT –THE BFG, THAT’S ME… (by Roald Dahl) Feast at the Fat Duck part 5
Our palates are cleansed and the first dessert TAFFETY TART (C1660) Caramelizd Apple, Fenne,Rose and Candied Lemon, is served.Not before we order our dessert wine. Not because I think it is necessary but because Spike usually does…so we order by the glass, Tokaji Aszú, 6 Puttonyos, Oremus, Tokaj-Hegyalja, 2000. As tokajis go this one is a youngling to the ones I would drink at home (I love good dessert wines), but I’m not chez moi (unfortunately, wine wise I mean). TAFFETY TART (C1660) I wonder what happened in 1660 or who wrote the recipe for this tart in mid 17th century England? This is really a wonderful desert to look at and of course to sample (which is not the right word to use) since we finished it to the last drop of anything. I think a photo of spike eating it will sum up our feelings.
The elegance which you see in front of your eyes is really the call of the WILD, into this wonderful dessert which is just at the right amount of sweetness (meaning not too sweet still crisp crunchy and fresh and voluptuous, I think it “speaks for itself.
As a matter of fact “toffee” (or “taffy”) is a relatively new word, (early nineteenth century). It must surely be related to “taffeta”, which has referred to a glossy fabric since at least the fourteenth century, ad for taffeta we find recipes for Taffety Tarts, which usually contained apple. It is a spectacularly fragrant version – the apple pulp scented and flavoured with orange, quince, rose-water, and violets, This recipe is first published in The Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary” 1724) Mix a quarter of a Pack of Fine Flour, with a quarter of a Pint of Yeast, and as much hot Liquor as will make it into a stiff Paste, with two Pound of butter, the Yolks of twelve Eggs, and half a Pound of fine Sugar; make it up into small Balls, and then roll it out into thick Plates; wash round their Brims with Milk: Boil Pippins soft, peel them and scrape the Pulp from the Cores, mingle the Pulp with fine Sugar, a little Marmalade of Quinces, the Scrapings of candied Orange-peel, and Rose-water: Make up your Tarts, dry them in a warm Place, bake them, scrape Sugar, and sprinkle Essence of Violets or Roses over them, and serve them up.
So the cake we are served is a fine and delicate assembly of all that is described in the recipe above in a manner that makes sense. (I’ve read thousands of recipes and cooked from them, but the above C.1724 instructions, will amount to nothing that looks or tastes like a tart. Thanks H.B… for your High end of “tart couture”, it is indeed made in the finest tradition of Haute couture.
Taffeta (sometimes spelled taffety) The word is Persian in origin and means “twisted woven”, It is a crisp, smooth woven fabric made from silk or nowadays synthetic fibers. It is considered to be a “high end” fabric. This “Tart” is laid down in style and colors which resemble Elizabethan fashion
The Next desert is THE BFG Black Forest Gateau. During the 80’s you could find horrible BFG’s in every English supermarket or food chain which gave the cake a bad name and shivering memories down my spine – it consists of several layers of chocolate cake, with whipped cream and cherries between each layer. Then the cake is decorated with additional whipped cream, maraschino cherries, and chocolate shavings.But we’ve been in Victorian wonderland why can’t we be “thrown” into 20th century fantastic stories of Roald Dahl’s The BFG: One dark night, an orphan named Sophie is snatched from her bed by a giant, and whisked away to another world. Fortunately, her abductor is the Big Friendly Giant (BFG for short), a likeable guy who spends his time giving good dreams to children. He’s also the only one of his species who doesn’t eat humans, but as the smallest and weakest, he’s powerless to stop his brutal neighbors. As long as Fleshlumpeater, Bloodbottler, and all the rest are free, Sophie will never be safe, so she and the BFG concoct a plan to stop the evil giants and save humanity – once and for all!
This BFG is a Black Forest Gateau and it is not your everyday BFG, it is a fantasy of how this southern German dessert / cake: Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, literally “Black Forest cherry cake” should have always been it restores English German relations and gives a good name to the Black forest horrific landscapes that inspired Grimm’s fairy tales. Anyway it really burrows its name from the specialty liquor of that region, known as Schwarzwälder Kirsch(wasser) a kind of eau de vie or Schnapps distilled only from the Schwarzwälde region tart cherries. HB: ” the pastry chef at the Confiserie Gmeiner had told me that the cake should contain four tastes sweet sour salt and bitter” with contrasts in taste and colors,
add the Kirsch and sour cream ice cream and you have the complete requirements in a compact dolls house of 8 layers of various chocolates mousses and cherries hidden behind the chocolate dusted outer layer with an amarena cherry on top and as before the secret remains well hidden until the first bite of cut through the cake. This BFG restores this traditional cake’s reputation.You like wine gums? I do I always did not the sticky artificial flavor version we have today … The Whiskey Wine Gums in the “spirit” of wine gums, arranged over a map of Scotland Ireland (and one from the American Colony in Old Tennessee) all 5 wine gums, taste different in strong whisky flavors as if your having a deep sniff into a glass of well distilled spirit.
My favorite was No.2 West Highlands Oban-The little Bay and so it is, look it up in the Map.
With our coffee we receive a pink stripped paper bag (like the goodies bag you get on birthday parties) Called Like Kids in a Sweet Shop bag which contains sweets and “surprises” (all edible of course including the wrappers) and all tasting deliciously rascally. Each and every one winks at you with a childish mischievous look.
Well our dinner is over and we are happy, satisfied and amused and what more can you ask from a dinner I ask you and myself and to those who think I am new to these occasions, and that is why I am so thrilled by this joyous Lunch experience, rest assure I am experienced enough to understand how good it is to enjoy the work of an artists whose satisfaction is your joy. All the intricacies of this meal are directed with the thought that this is their mission and I say mission accomplished Spike and I and all the diners with whom we had eye or verbal contact where feeling the same. As for the restaurants requirements from themselves let’s have a look at their goals and see if they were achieved in our view:
ONE : Three basic principles guide our cooking: excellence, openness, and integrity. Check!
TWO: Our cooking values tradition, builds on it, and along with tradition is part of the ongoing evolution of our craft. Check!
THREE: We embrace innovation – new ingredients, techniques, appliances, information, and ideas – whenever it can make a real contribution to our cooking. Check!
FOUR: We believe that cooking can affect people in profound ways, and that a spirit of collaboration and sharing is essential to true progress in developing this potential. Check!
Allow me to wave off with (almost) ridicule and contempt those who have not been WOWed enough or those who suggest that the price is too high let me tell you that for this amount of thought, use of ingredients (some very expensive), amount of kitchen stuff work, number of stuff per diner, quality of glassware and silverware, and sheer 5 hours of contentious fun and enjoyment this meal is more than fairly priced!!! As a matter of fact it is rather inexpensive at around £150 plus service charge!We slid happily down the rabbit hole and came out through the looking glass, and on the day The Mock Turtle soup turned into a real, most precise and pure consommé of turtle, like the one in Babette’s Feast, the one you saw, read, heard about but would never be able to taste, and there it was caressing my taste buds and filled my heart with childish happiness, and so were all the other dishes served upon us with love and care guests deserve.
*Although not specifically mentioned I have used “The Big Fat Duck Cookbook” (a wonderful “cook book” by the way), as a reference and insight into the ingredients and ways of prep of most dishes and Mr. Blumenthal’s “notes” on the ins and outs of the Fat Duck dishes. Thanks H.B and all at the FAT DUCK, I know I have missed some of the dishes and I do intend to return this time for dinner (we had Lunch), after I visit the new venue Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in London.