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Chefs turn the tables on their critics for charity

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Too Many Critics
Some say revenge is a dish best served cold. But perhaps revenge is giving chefs the chance to turn the dining table on the feared and revered restaurant critics that can make or break their business with a few deft clicks of a keyboard.

It's time for the critics to be critiqued. Cue evil laugh. Well, sort of. It is, as you might expect, all for a good cause: Action Against Hunger. 

The Too Many Critics event, to be held at Coq D'Argent on 9 June, will see some of the best known restaurant reviewers in the UK pop on their pinnies to show what a game bunch they really are. 

The 'brigade': Jay Rayner (Observer Magazine), Tom Parker Bowles (Mail on Sunday), Tracey MacLeod (The Independent), Bill Knott (Financial Times), Charles Campion (London Evening Standard), Joe Warwick (Metro), Lucas Hollweg (Sunday Times) and Richard Vines (Bloomberg).

A line-up of top chefs including Ashley Palmer-Watts (Fat Duck Group), Vivek Singh (Cinnamon Club), Clare Smyth (Restaurant Gordon Ramsay) and Pascal Aussignac (Club Gascon) will be in the dining room ready to make the critics eat their words. 

Fat DuckHeston Blumenthal has announced plans to launch a unique online reservation "experience" for his Fat Duck in Bray, giving prospective diners an exclusive animated tour of the celebrated menu.

On booking a table, diners will be sent an invitation ahead of their visit, to enter a secret location to view the animated world of the three-Michelin-starred restaurant's menu. The tour culminates in a trip to a make-believe sweetshop, with actor John Hurt as narrator and shopkeeper.

"The Fat Duck is the type of restaurant you may only ever eat in once and I wanted to create that almost childlike feeling of anticipation beforehand," explains Blumenthal.

"In order to achieve this, I needed to push the dining experience beyond the traditional time we spend inside the restaurant at the table. If I could use a metaphor to explain the feeling I hoped to create for my guests, it would be 'like a kid in a sweetshop,' so with that in mind an idea started to develop."

The concept, which has been in development for a number of years, aims to counterbalance the busy reservation process: the Fat Duck can accommodate 42 guests at 15 tables yet receives more than 30,000 calls a day.

Bookings can be made online or by phone and are available three months advance, but the new reservation process is designed to make the fun start immediately.

Blumenthal worked with Manchester-based creative studio the Neighbourhood and sonic branding house Zelig Sound to create an Alice in Wonderland fantasy animation world, which is described as reminiscent of falling down the rabbit hole.

Guests will receive an email around a month ahead of their scheduled visit offering access to the animation, and the link will allow a maximum of four visits.

Here's an example of the animations and intro: 

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for What the Critics SayDinner by Heston Blumenthal is the inevitable topic among the food critics in this week and it seems the new restaurant does live up to the hype.

According to Giles Coren, writing in The Times, Blumenthal's pure genius makes Dinner the best new restaurant in the world. "It is the first new dining room to open in Knightsbridge for 100 years that is not incredibly boring, ugly and joyless. And that is saying something. And the menu is thrilling. And believe me, I am not easily thrilled by menus," he says.

The Guardian's food editor, Matthew Fort, says Dinner reclaims and reinvents our own cooking heritage, reinvigorating the tired and ordinary orthodoxies of traditional British cooking: "Over two sittings, I tasted virtually all the 25 dishes on the menu. It says a great deal that even under these intense circumstances so many startling dishes, and some outstanding ones, emerged from behind the terse menu labels."

Meanwhile, the London Evening Standard's veteran critic Fay Maschler finds a few faults at Dinner but loves the meat fruit and desserts. "Were a vegetarian to stray misguidedly into Dinner, he or she might well be disappointed by the £20 dish of Braised Celery (c. 1730) with Parmesan, pickled walnuts, apples and onion, which we shared," she complains.

Finally Matthew Norman writing in the Daily Telegraph says if there's been a more flawless and exhilarating restaurant opening in the past decade than Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, he missed it. "The best thing of all about Dinner is a quality never before associated with a Michelin deity. It is colossal fun," he enthuses.

In other reviews, The Guardian's John Lanchester says Japanese restaurant Koya is very good at making noodles, while The Independent on Sunday's Lisa Markwell says Alan Yau's Busaba chain still offers the same comfort 10 years after its launch.

The Observer's Jay Rayner has a patchy experience at the Devonshire Brasserie, Bolton Abbey, North Yorkshire and the Sunday Telegraph's Zoe Williams says the food at Kopapa is dramatic but it just all depends whether you're pro or anti that kind of thing.

Heston BlumenthalThe opening of Heston Blumenthal's eagerly awaited London restaurant has been delayed.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, which was set to open at the five-star Mandarin Oriental hotel in Knightsbridge on 1 December, will now not open until the end of January.

Booking lines, which were meant to open today, have also been delayed and the restaurant will now start taking reservations from 1 December on 020 7201 3833.

Dinner is Blumenthal's first restaurant venture outside Bray, where he runs the three-Michelin-starred Fat Duck and the Hind's Head and the Crown pubs.

The kitchen will be headed up by the Fat Duck group executive chef Ashley Palmer-Watts, with the menu celebrating the best of British produce and inspired by recipes dating back to the 16th century.

Dishes will include bergamot cured mackerel salad; slow cooked short rib of beef; and scallops with cucumber ketchup and peas; with a set lunch menu priced £25 for three courses and dinner starting from £55 for three courses à la carte.

Blumenthal's restaurant will be housed in the space formerly occupied by the Mandarin Oriental's Park and Foliage restaurants with expansive windows offering views over Hyde Park.

Interiors will be developed by US-based designer Adam D. Tihany, who said the restaurant will reflect the chef's modern take on tradition. Features will include floor to ceiling glass walls between the kitchen and dinning room as well as a pulley system modelled on a 16th century design for the Royal British Court's kitchens resembling an oversized watch, mechanically rotating a spit over an open fire.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal will be the second high profile opening at the Mandarin Oriental, which earlier this year opened renowned US-based French chef Daniel Boulud's Bar Boulud.

Heston Blumenthal and Gordon RamsayCelebrity chefs continue to dominate the UK's dining scene, according to the latest edition of The Good Food Guide, which lists Heston Blumenthal, Gordon Ramsay and Raymond Blanc's restaurants as the top three in the country.

The Good Food Guide, which this year celebrates its 60th anniversary, has named Blumenthal's three-Michelin-starred Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire, the top UK restaurant for the third year running awarding it the top score of 10/10.

Ramsay's three-Michelin-starred flagship restaurant in London came in second place scoring 9/10, with Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons in Oxfordshire in third place with a score of 8/10.

The remainder of the Top 10 UK restaurants is dominated by establishments outside of the capital including Simon Rogan's L'Enclume in Cartmel, Cumbria; Restaurant Nathan Outlaw in Rock, Cornwall; and Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham.

"Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay continue to delight us with their stuff of genius, world class style and truly memorable dining experiences," comments Elizabeth Carter, consultant editor at The Good Food Guide.

"But we've seen significant changes in the UK restaurant scene over the last year.  A crop of talent has sprung up all over the country, pushing London restaurants out of the top spots with their culinary delights."

The Good Food Guide 2011 will be published on 8 September priced £16.99.

UPDATE: The Good Food Guide today released its Top 10 restaurants but industry blogger Chef Hermes got his hands on the list of all 60 restaurants. See list below.

The Good Food Guide 2011 Top 60 restaurants (thanks to Chef Hermes):
1. The Fat Duck, Bray, Berkshire (10)
2. Gordon Ramsay, Royal Hospital Road, London (9)
3. Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons,Great Milton, Oxfordshire (8)
4. L'Enclume, Cartmel, Cumbria (8)
5. Restaurant Nathan Outlaw,Rock, Cornwall (8)
6. Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire (8)
7. Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, London (8)
8. Le Champignon Sauvage, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire (8)
9. Pied-à-Terre, London (8)
10. The Square, London (8)
11. Hibiscus, London (8)
12. Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, London (8)
13. Adam Simmonds at Danesfield House, Marlow, Buckinghamshire (8)
14. Whatley Manor, Easton Grey, Wiltshire (8)
15. Le Gavroche, London (8)
16. Tom Aikens, London (8)
17. Restaurant Martin Wishart, Edinburgh, Scotland (8)
18. The Waterside Inn, Bray,Berkshire (7)
19. Bohemia, St Helier, Jersey (7)
20. Fraiche, Oxton, Merseyside (7)
21. L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, London (7)
22. Murano, London (7)
23. Anthony's Restaurant, Leeds, Yorkshire (7)
24. Fischer's Baslow Hall, Baslow, Derbyshire (7)
25. Gidleigh Park, Chagford, Devon (7)
26. Robert Thompson at the Hambrough, Ventnor, Isle of Wight (7)
27. Midsummer House, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire (7)
28. Tyddyn Llan, Llandrillo, Wales (7)
29. The Ledbury, London (7)
30. The Crown at Whitebrook, Whitebrook, Wales (7)
31. The Pass, Lower Beeding, West Sussex (7)
32. Mr Underhill's, Ludlow, Shropshire (7)
33. Michael Wignall at the Latymer, Bagshot, Surrey (7)
34. Hambleton Hall, Hambleton, Leicestershire & Rutland (7)
35. Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, Auchterarder, Scotland (7)
36. Simon Radley at the Chester Grosvenor, Chester, Cheshire (7)
37. The Creel, St Margaret's Hope, Scotland (7)
38. Harry's Place, Great Gonerby, Lincolnshire (7)
39. The Old Vicarage, Ridgeway, Derbyshire (7)
40. The Greenhouse, London (6)
41. The Kitchin, Edinburgh, Scotland (6)
42. Purnell's, Birmingham, West Midlands (6)
43. Artichoke, Amersham, Buckinghamshire (6)
44. The Sportsman, Whitstable, Kent (6)
45. Club Gascon, London (6)
46. Ramsons, Ramsbottom, Greater Manchester (6)
47. The Yorke Arms, Ramsgill, Yorkshire (6)
48. La Bécasse, Ludlow, Shropshire (6)
49. The Hand & Flowers, Marlow, Buckinghamshire (6)
50. Galvin at Windows, London (6)
51. Chez Bruce, London (6)
52. Northcote, Langho, Lancashire (6)
53. Read's, Faversham, Kent (6)
54. The Cellar, Anstruther, Scotland (6)
55. Arbutus, London (6)
56. Zafferano, London (6)
57. The Peat Inn, Peat Inn, Scotland (6)
58. The Capital, London (6)
59. Seven Park Place, London (6)
60. Alimentum, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire (6)

Heston Blumenthal creates food range for Waitrose

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Thumbnail image for Delia Smith and Heston BlumenthalGood news for wannabe culinary wizards: celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal has created a range of packaged food products for supermarket Waitrose.

The three-Michelin-starred chef patron of the Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire, has created a range of 20 different products for the supermarket.

The items - including chilled ready meals and storage-cupboard products - will go on sale at Waitrose later this year, with a larger selection of goods coming out in time for Christmas.

Priced from £3 upwards, with most products costing in excess of £10, Blumenthal's will be the most expensive range of products sold at Waitrose. The items will include Scottish salmon smoked with Lapsong Souchong tea; Japanese Ponzu dressing; and coriander and rose salt.

The move follows Blumenthal's joint advertising campaign for Waitrose with celebrity domestic goddess Delia Smith.

Blumenthal commented: "We have had an enormous amount of fun developing the different products in the [Waitrose] range and hope that it will offer a little something for everyone to taste and enjoy."

Michelin Great Britain and Ireland Michelin's guide for Great Britain and Ireland has awarded its top accolade of three stars to French celebrity chef Alain Ducasse's eponymous restaurant at London's Dorchester hotel.

It is the first time since 2004 that Michelin has handed three new stars to a UK restaurant and brings the total of restaurants holding three stars to four including Gordon Ramsay's flagship restaurant on Royal Hospital Road in London, Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck and the Roux's Waterside Inn, both in Bray, Buckinghamshire.

The Ledbury in London is the only restaurant in this year's Michelin guide to have been raised to two-star-status, while 18 establishments have been awarded their first star.

This brings the total of Michelin-starred restaurants in Great Britain and Ireland to 140, the highest number in the guide's 36-year history.

Among the new one-star restaurants is the Harwood Arms in London, which sees Ledbury and Harwood Arms chef Brett Graham as the big winner in this year's guide being awarded a total of three stars at his two restaurants.

Other restaurants celebrating their first Michelin star are: Galvin at Windows, Apsleys A Heinz Beck Restaurant at the Lanesborough, and Texture, all in London, as well as the Samling in Ambleside, Cumbria, The Goose in Britwell Salome, Oxfordshire, and Paul Kitching's 21212 in Edinburgh.

Fifteen restaurants have lost their stars in the 2010 Michelin guide for Great Britain and Ireland, with the most high profile loss being Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's in London. The Capital in London, and the Vineyard at Stockcross in Berkshire have both been demoted from their respective two-Michelin-star status, following the departure of their respective head chefs Eric Chavot and John Campbell last summer.
 

Michelin has identified four restaurants as rising stars including Simon Radley at the Chester Grosvenor in Cheshire, who has been tipped as a future two-star establishment.

The Marquis at Alkham, Kent, the Black Swan at Oldstead, North Yorkshire, and Rosel and Co in Padstow, Cornwall, have named as rising one stars.

The 2010 Michelin Guide for Great Britain and Ireland has named 28 new restaurants as Bib Gourmands, a move reflecting a continued trend within the UK dining market towards competitive pricing.

The Bib Gourmand status is awarded to a restaurant offering "good food at moderate prices" at £28 or less for three courses (€40 in Ireland). The 28 new Bib Gourmands bring the total to 31. 

What the Critics SayRestaurants at opposing ends of the culinary spectrum - a Michelin-starred eaterie and a college offering - both came in for fulsome praise in this weekend's national newspapers.

Simon Rogan's fine dining restaurant L'Enclume in Cartmel, Cumbria, scored five out five in the Daily Telegraph, with critic Jasper Gerard arguing it could possibly be the best restaurant in the world. 

Comparing Rogan to Heston Blumenthal, he said L'Enclume was the Fat Duck of the North: "Blumenthal deserves his three Michelin stars, but it's absurd that Rogan has only one."

At a very different level, the Vincent Room Brasserie at London's Westminster Kingsway College offers first class cooking and friendly service at reasonable prices, according to The Guardian.

"We left utterly charmed by a venture that combines the indulgence of youth with professional rigour far, far better than this review," Matthew Norman enthused.

Thumbnail image for Little-Chef-logo.jpgDoes anyone remember the Channel 4 series Big Chef Takes On Little Chef, in which Heston Blumenthal reinvented the roadside restaurant chain's ghastly menu into something people might actually want to eat?

If so then you'll remember the group's chief executive Ian Pegler, whose annoying "blue sky thinking" mantra drove not just Heston but also thousands of viewers insane.

Well, Pegler's back. Unbelievably he's launched a "national campaign to promote the concept of blue sky thinking as a recipe to get Britain out of the recession".

He's jumped on the Conservative bandwagon because "the Tories are offering a bue sky and Pegler is backing them to win the next election".
 
"Pegler is launching it as a national campaign and has started by painting the ceiling of the flagship Little Chef in Popham with a blue sky," a press release issued by Little Chef informs.

Now I don't need to go into the details of why this is completely ridiculous but one thing I will point out is that Pegler is in fact taking credit for something he had nothing to do with.

He didn't paint the the ceiling in Popham - Heston did. What's worse is that Heston did it in an effort to take the micky out of Pegler after his "blue sky thinking" catchphrase drove him to swear on national TV.   

Some people really are shameless.

Ferran Adrià accused of poisoning diners with additives

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Ferran AdriàAfter Heston Blumenthal came under fire following the outbreak of norovirus at the Fat Duck last February, fellow molecular gastronomist Ferran Adrià has now been accused of inadvertently poisoning his diners.

German food writer Jörg Zipprick has accused the chef patron of the iconic three-Michelin-starred El Bulli restaurant in Spain of poisoning his diners with additives.

Zipprick claims Adrià's menus should carry health warnings about the additives in his new book, The Unappetising Underside of Molecular Cooking.

"These colorants, gelling agents, emulsifiers, acidifiers and taste enhancers that Adria has introduced massively into his dishes to obtain extraordinary textures, tastes and sensations do not have a neutral impact on health," he says.

"It would not occur to any fast-food chain to stuff us with 20 or 30 dishes full of chemical additives."

Zipprick's criticism follows last year's attack on Adrià by fellow three-Michelin-starred Spanish chef Santi Santamaria, who also accused him of poisoning his diners. 

Adrià responded at the time by saying: "Obviously, if you consume too much of anything it's bad for you - too much roast beef, sugar or salt is bad. But 80% of the products I use are ecological, and the additives under debate account for just 0.1% of my cooking." 

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