2009 United Kingdom

A (two) visit(s) to Heston Blumenthal

Part 1. Hinds Head

For those who know us it comes as no surprise that the both of us love our food and if there is one chef who has always blown us away with his dishes it was without doubt Heston Blumenthal. And that was by only seeing him perform his magic on television. In 2008 I had the opportunity to visit his Gastro Pub, Hinds Head, whilst on a training with my colleague Willy Lange in Reading.

Being able to see the Fat Duck from the outside was as close as I got. And if there was one place high on our list to see from the inside it was clearly The Fat Duck, at that time voted to be the 2nd best restaurant in the world and playground of Heston Blumenthal and his team. Long time Paul and I had the desire to go to this magical place but then dining over there does not come cheap and getting a table is something that is almost mission impossible so why bother…

That was till we saw some more episodes from the Search for Perfection and we seriously started talking about going. We had a timeframe where we could take leave and then the nail-biting process started of making a booking. Every day at 9 o’clock UK time I was on the phone only to come through when it was fully booked. But the one who perseveres wins and so I was able to book a table for a Thursday night. Not exactly during the weekend as we preferred but hey, we got a table so why complain it is not on a Saturday!

With the table arranged we booked our crossing, a hotel nearby and informed daddy we would be coming over for a couple of days after. The waiting had started and our excitement was high. It was a dream coming true…

But it was not meant to be this time… Days before we were supposed to drive to ray we received a terrible phone-call with the information that the Fat Duck had to be closed due to the outbreak of a noro virus, a highly infective virus that left Heston with no other option but to close the Fat Duck for a couple of weeks until the source was found.

Devastation is an understatement for our state of mind but it did not take us long to decide to go to Bray anyway and book a table at the Hinds Head. Our hotel and crossing were booked and not cancelable so what other option did we have.

We made a booking for dinner at the Hinds Head so at least we could sample some of Heston’s fine food and made our way to Oakley Court, the hotel of our choice. Oakley Court is a quintessential country home, location where the rocky horror picture show was filmed, amongst many other films. It has it’s own polo club and even Her Majesty the Queen as a visitor. Well if it is good enough for her… A haunting combination of Gothic and Victorian architecture, a brilliant place to relax, read a book (I could not find a better location to read the latest Harry Potter than this library), or wander alongs the Thames. Absolutely Stunning!!!

In the evening we took a taxi and enjoyed a truly magic meal at The Hinds Head. It might have been slightly simpler than we originally anticipated for but we have to be honest, the taste was perfect.

Back at the hotel we had a good night sleep, still enjoying the experience which was nothing less than classy English pub food at it’s best.

Next morning, after we had an excellent breakfast we had a swim, read a bit more in the library and then it was time to return to the Hinds Head for having lunch with our good friend Vicky. As usual meeting her was a guarantee for a good laugh, and so it was. Time went by far to quick for our liking.

I left my Big Fat Duck Cookery Book behind to have it signed by Heston as we already made up our mind we would return to the Fat Duck once it was opened again. Then we drove to Horsham to stay at daddy’s place for a couple of days. In spite of the initial disappointment of not dining at the Fat Duck we could only  look back at a fantastic experience.

Part 2. The Fat Duck

As our original booking had to be canceled due to health and safety reasons we now were privileged to renew our booking on a day we wanted to and we were not constrained to a two month booking timeframe before our reservation. That allowed us to secure a table on the much sought after Saturday evening. Now going to the Fat Duck might be as crazy as it gets but we decided to make it even crazier… Take the train from Geilenkirchen to London, travel on to Bray and dine at the Fat Duck , only to return the day later. Why not? You only live once, Carpe Diem!

Three trains, a tube ride, another train and a taxi later we arrived at our hotel. We did not have to think long about where to stay. As our last trip had been so perfect we simply knew we had to return to Oakley Court for our second attempt.

Once again we received visitors as Rana, Miles and Percy came over to see us and enjoy lunch together. We knew we had to be careful with what we were eating (and drinking) as we had a long evening ahead. Like last time the weather was splendid so we sat outside enjoying our lunch and our fabulous company. When they said their goodbyes we had a swim in the pool and relaxed a bit.  Slowly anxiety for the evening was growing…

Have we done the right thing, is it worth the hype, will it be as good as seen on TV? We should not have worried but nevertheless both of us were still a bit nervous when we took a taxi to Bray for the second time…

This time however we had not received a devastating e-mail, no this time we were not standing before a closed door and once we opened the door we were warmly welcomed and brought to our table as we were already expected. You should have seen the big smiles on our faces as everything worked out and we were ready for an evening that would most likely never be matched in our entire life.

Whilst we were sipping our champagne we had a look at our 16 course menu… Several of the dishes looked familiar, we had already seen them on television or read about it in the Fat Duck Cookery book (which was sent back to me within a week after I left it at the Hinds Head, but now personalized and signed by Heston). But reading about it and sitting there, ready to experience it are two entirely different things.

Needles to say we were blown away by the menu and both of us were so extremely happy that after a false start we now made it to a place we had been dreaming of for a long long time. Dreams do come true and we felt extremely fortunate to be in a position we could do so.

Dining at the Fat Duck was our first Michelin three star experience and was it good? Was it worth the effort? I think you already know the answer. It was a magical evening full of surprises and taste sensations. Nothing has come close to what we experienced on this evening. Excuse me, can I serve you breakfast? Ehh, excuse me?

It was great to look around in the restaurant as there were apparently two groups of people. First there were the genuine foodies like ourselves who most likely had to save a great deal in order to have the pleasure to come and dine over here. Secondly there were the people who just came to “tick off” a star just to say they had been there. Some of them where obviously bored, something we could absolutely not comprehend. For us it was a once in a life time experience, something we thoroughly enjoyed and will bring an enormous smile on our faces every time we think of it.

At the end of the evening we not only received an astronomical bill (which was expected anyway) but also a letter and a small gift from Heston, apologizing for the inconvenience caused by the cancelation of our first booking. The gift, a cooking book was already in our library (that was also to be expected) and as all the other books would double up in our collection it was decided the champagne would be taken of our final bill.

Back at the hotel we could only smile and bring back memories of an evening in heaven. Next morning we enjoyed breakfast and started our return journey to Geilenkirchen.

We could think of worse ways to spend the weekend!!!