Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurant: The Fat Duck and Chez Bruce

Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurant: The Fat Duck and Chez Bruce

Article excerpt

THE beginning of the year is a nerve-racking time for British restaurateurs. The new Michelin Guide appears at the end of January to gratify their aspirations, or confirm their fears, and this year's 26th UK edition was no exception. Among the high-profile winners were The Fat Duck, nestling beside Michel Roux's three-star Waterside Inn at Bray on Thames, and Chez Bruce on Wandsworth Common, where Bruce Poole plies his trade on the site of Hervey's, where the explosive young Marco Pierre White first sprang to notice. Each having won his first cooking star in this year's Michelin, it seemed imperative to check them without delay, especially as I had been remiss enough never to have visited either of them.

I went to both with an Irish foodie friend, Catherine Kelly, and as my sister Elizabeth lives almost within waddling distance of The Fat Duck, it seemed appropriate to invite her to dine with us there: after all, on such a voyage of discovery three tongues would probably turn out to be more useful than two. The Duck's ground-floor interior had a pleasing informality. A large room with a circular bar on one side, it has mainly circular tables of the garden variety, with round-seated, rather hard though cushioned garden chairs. The tables are unclothed and well spaced, and lighting is soft; the staff, presided over by Max, late of Marco Pierre White's Oak Room, are young, knowledgable and friendly. Chefproprietor Heston Blumenthal, still in his thirties and largely self-taught, pops in and out of the kitchen, and, if things are peaceful there, is delighted to settle down and discuss other eating places, especially in France, of which he is a devotee and connoisseur. His dinner menu is short, explosive and undeniably expensive, but then so are the ingredients.

Clearly the Blumenthal leitmotiv is unexpected combinations, and thus my choice of starter was cuttlefish cannelloni of duck, with parsley veloute, which included foie gras, and long thin turnip (16.50). This was a delicious duck sausage, the cuttlefish providing its skin, light in texture, rich in flavour, and with the taste of each ingredient remaining brilliantly discrete. Catherine's choice was no less remarkable: crab feuillantine with roast foie gras, marinated salmon, crystallised seaweed and oyster vinaigrette (15.10), which may again sound absurd, but tasted marvellous, with once again each ingredient amazingly distinct. Elizabeth did not lag behind in the originality stakes. Even if her lasagne of langoustines, pig's trotter and truffles was a comparatively simple combination, the flavours were stunning and the mixture impeccable. With these we drank a beautifully made Tokay d'Alsace Pinot Gris '96, before moving on to an exemplary Savigny Les Lavieres '91 from Tollot-Beau to accompany our main courses.

In the ladies' case this was the sharing of a poached Bresse chicken, with truffles, crepinette of macaroni and foie gras sauce at 23 per person. This was a succulent fowl whose flavour came through the richness of the accompaniment, and was greatly enjoyed. So was my magnificent whole veal sweetbread, roasted in a salt crust with hay, and sitting on a bed of confit parsnips, surrounded by exquisite cockles in their shells, and accompanied by some utterly delicious lettuce cooked in a truffle cream: this unforgettable dish was entirely worth its high price of 27. …

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