The first restaurant to harness the culinary potential of liquid nitrogen is a worthy addition to the Best of The Best hall of fame. Its chef, the mercurial Heston Blumenthal, was an early adopter of sous vide cooking and the man to develop outré creations like snail porridge, bacon and egg ice cream and the now world-famous triple-cooked chips. He has brought the world many culinary wonders and he couldn’t have done it without the main stage for his eccentric performance: The Fat Duck.
The sleepy countryside village of Bray, an hour’s drive from London, was not known for much before it landed on the gastronomic world map with the arrival of The Fat Duck in 1995. Blumenthal himself was similarly unknown: the self-taught chef learned classical French cooking while working as a credit controller and repo man, and has never worked in anyone else’s kitchen. And yet his flagship is hailed as a global gamechanger and was duly voted The World’s Best Restaurant in 2005.
Molecular gastronomy is perhaps the term most commonly associated with Blumenthal, but his vision of what it means is more about the science of cooking, rather than test tubes and pipettes. He prefers to talk about multi-sensory cooking, the role that hearing, smell, sight and touch all play in people’s enjoyment of eating. Defining that style is Sound of the Sea, a dish that made its debut in 2007 and now comes in the form of seafood and edible sand plated to resemble the seashore and served with an iPod in a conch shell playing sounds of seagulls and ocean waves.
Blumenthal is nothing if not a constant reinventor. His drive for endless experimentation was part of the reason he temporarily closed The Fat Duck after 20 years, filling the six-month gap with a pop-up in Melbourne before reopening in 2015. The renovation of the 16th-century, Grade I-listed building cost £2.5m and included a much bigger kitchen and a £250,000 mechanical sweetshop that dispenses petit fours. Further changes ensued in 2018 when executive chef Jonny Lake left after 12 years, but Blumenthal’s inimitable cuisine lives on through head chef Edward Cooke and the group’s executive chef, Ashley Palmer-Watts. Almost 25 years after its opening, The Fat Duck is as relevant as ever, and remains one of the most influential restaurants in the world.
Go inside The Fat Duck: