London on a gilded shoestring – Day 6

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Nothing would have stopped us going to the Fat Duck. Even if you had told me beforehand that it would cost us an outrageous £40 to get back to Reading from Bray, I would still have gone.

B and I got to Bray (via train and feet) about two hours early so that we could do a bit of exploring. The restaurant itself is so unassuming that we walked past it twice before realising. As we were pausing to have a sneak preview inside, there was a couple next to us checking out the menu. They were laughing at the mention of douglas fir and snails, and turned to us, saying that they wouldn’t fancy eating in a place like that, expecting nods of agreement. We replied, grinning, telling them that we were actually eating there that evening, and they laughed again, wishing us good luck. Later we met up with Rod & Clair for pre-dinner drinks at the Hinds Head before the four of us then proceeded across the road.

Visiting the Fat Duck is a bit like going on a theme park ride. Unlike most theme parks, the bathrooms are clean, the food is great, and the staff very polished and knowledgeable (it was our waiter who told us about the mind boggling number of quails that go into making 1 litre of the quail jelly, and of the “meat glue” used to create the invertebrate of mackerel). A few dishes didn’t really work for me – in particular, the salmon poached with licorice. The slimy nature of the licorice gel coating the salmon was actually quite unappealing and the licorice flavour also seemed to overpower that of the fish. My favourites were the nitro-green tea and lime mousse, mustard ice-cream with red cabbage gazpacho and bacon and egg ice-cream with earl grey jelly (along with the hot and cold tea, it was the best earl grey I’d ever encountered – and I’ve tasted quite a few ever since Picard ordered his from the replicator).

Despite this, it isn’t a place that I would return to for repeat visits. The jokes wouldn’t be as funny the second time round, and the surprises, wouldn’t be… surprising, once you already know that they’re coming. But as a dining experience, it made for a very memorable night. And if that couple who stood next to us as we peered through the window, ever decided to book themselves in for a meal, I think they would have been very pleasantly surprised by how the Fat Duck simultaneously meets and confounds all expectations.

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The Fat Duck
High Street
Berkshire SL6 2AQ

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London on a gilded shoestring – Day 5

To start with the end of the day, we had dinner at Le Gavroche and rather unexpectedly, found it to be the best meal we had in London. I actually thought the Fat Duck would lay claim to this, hands down, but while the Fat Duck was great and very interesting, the food we had at Le Gavroche was amazing, and the service so warm and friendly, that it is to this restaurant that I would want to return, and not the Fat Duck. There are very few places that I’ve come across, that are able to blow you away on the strength of their sauces alone. The chocolate sauce on the hare dish I had was rich, unctuous and so beautiful, as was the golden hollandaise on the gratin of snails and langoustines. Like the memory of having your first oyster, I’ll never forget those tender, buttery snails.

As we were in a french restaurant, I also couldn’t go past the apple tarte tatin with it’s little toffee thatch and quenelle of creamy vanilla bean ice-cream that the waiter scooped from a silver container, at the table. When I ran out of ooh’s, I moved on to aah’s, every time they brought a dish over. Each dish arrived covered by a silver domed lid which was lifted briefly for your viewing pleasure, before being quietly placed on the table, then the lid completely removed with a flourish. It’s all a little bit frou-frou but seemed so appropriate to the occasion that I enjoyed all the theatrics.

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We actually started the day with a trip to the Tate Modern. The main attraction there at the time was the Carsten Höller installation in the Turbine Hall : a series of slides which you can ride down. Being school holidays, the entire place was teaming with kids taking great interest in Piero Manzoni’s Canned Poo, Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, Francis Bacon’s Reclining Woman, Juan Muñoz’s Towards the Corner, etc. The most popular was of course the slides which were booked out by noon, so B and I (the bigger kids) didn’t get a chance to have a go.

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It was way past lunch time when we exited the Tate Modern, so we picked up some pork pies from Harrods to eat along the way and salivated over the cake displays at Patisserie Valerie…

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..before going to visit Rod who works at Green’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar. As Fortnum & Mason was also in the area, we dropped in to check out the food hall. The chocolate and glace fruit counters were the most impressive, being knee-deep with customers queueing for a box or small bag of this and that. Display shelves dotting the floorspace also yielded the usual branded teas, jams, honey and more unusual objects like packaged fried crickets and scorpions. By the time we had to leave to make another appointment, I had with me, a bag containing two jams and some novelty coloured sugar.

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The appointment we had was with an electric breadmaker which we wanted to get for N & M as a thank you present. A reliable source had told us that this was something M had been considering getting for himself. Being unfamiliar with London, it took us forever to find a place that sold such a thing. Finally with the help of the internet and Google Maps via B’s phone, we stumbled into an Argos store, made the purchase, then were on our way to Le Gavroche for dinner. It was raining by that stage, so while B negotiated the large package, I was appointed chief provider of shelter. The small umbrella and my short stature didn’t help matters and I was soon fired from my position by an irate and increasingly damp B. But all was forgiven when we reached Le Gavroche’s front door where we were ushered into the warmth and dry, and proceeded to have a most fantastic meal.

Tate Modern
London SE1 9TG

Fortnum & Mason
181 Piccadilly
London W1A 1ER

Le Gavroche
43 Upper Brook Street
Marble Arch
London W1K 7QR

Next : Day 6 : Hinds Head, Fat Duck.

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London on a gilded shoestring – Day 4

It was on a recommendation that we chose to eat at maze on our fourth day in London. The idea was to have lunch, then meet a friend for coffee, and later catch the train to Reading to visit Spencer and Sarah. After reading the address wrongly and finding ourselves in Grosvenor Place, not Grosvenor Square (not quite located next to each other, unfortunately!), we eventually made our way to the restaurant, were seated, and had the menu explained to us.

I quite like the concept of maze. There’s an a la carte menu as well as a tasting menu, where you can select any number of smaller dishes (prices ranging from about £7 to £10) you want to try. We picked four savoury courses and three desserts. The highlight for me would have been the eye-catching desserts – especially the Peanut butter and cherry jam sandwich with salted nuts and cherry sorbet, and the Textures of pear with Chocolate millefeuille. The most interesting savoury dish we had was the B. L. T. : layered tomato jelly and bacon cream in a martini glass with fried bacon and onion rings, and a lettuce veloute that was poured at the table. Nice flavours, though the lettuce veloute was eventually masked by the other stronger flavours as you worked your way down the glass. The spiced Orkney scallops were also very good. I can’t remember what the scattered crunchy bits were, but they were tasty, as was the dark blob of peppered golden raisin puree.

At this point I wish that I could say maze was a-maze-ing, but it wasn’t. It was nicely presented, good food (and quite rich despite the small portions), served in quite a good looking room, but it lacked a little something (in comparison to the other restaurants we visited) that I can’t quite put my finger on. If the service had been warmer, it might also have made that extra bit of difference.

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From Grosvenor Square, it was on to Clapham, and Macaron where we were to meet Donal for coffee. Macaron was also on my list of places to visit, upon recommendation. Perhaps it was because it was a Sunday, but the range of sweets available at this shop was quite small, and later I left feeling a bit disappointed, considering all the hype surrounding this place. (Although, if the hype is more about the £7 loaf on the shelf and the kitschy-but-cool outfits of the waitresses, then I’ve approached this place with the wrong expectations.) Still, we managed to select some pastries to fill a box for Spencer and Sarah – the nicest of which was the caramel eclair.

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The train trip to Reading seemed to take forever. We managed to get on a train that stopped everywhere, but once we reached our destination, Spencer picked us up and it was a quick car ride to their house, where we got to meet the kids (Adam and Thomas) for the first time, and caught up over dinner.

(A quick tip for if you ever find yourself in Reading : apart from the music festival, it is also home to LegoLand!)

Unfortunately we missed the last train home from London Bridge station, and got our first taste of the after-hours public transport system. The system is actually not that bad, if you know what to do and where to go : the night buses come every 10 minutes or so. The frustrating thing was that no one working at the station seemed to know anything… or didn’t care. Either way, we finally rang the phone number on a train brochure (using B’s Sydney based mobile phone) and got some much needed information. Two hours and two buses later, we were home.. slightly frayed around the edges, but home.

10 – 13 Grosvenor Square
London W1K 6JP

22 The Pavement
London SW4 0HY

(There’s a cute version of Macaron’s lemon tart here on Flickr)

Next : Day 5 : Tate Modern, pork pies, a bread machine and an umbrella, Le Gavroche.



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