Heston prepares for The Fat Duck's migration
Chef Heston Blumenthal reveals the expectations and challenges of bringing his famed restaurant to Melbourne ahead of its opening in February.
We knew a meal at Heston Blumenthal's Australian incarnation of The Fat Duck would be expensive. A seat at Fat Duck in Bray, England will set you back £220 (about $400) and serious coin has been spent fitting out the restaurant at Crown and flying the whole Duck team to Melbourne for six months.
At $525 a head - excluding drinks - not only is a meal at this fine diner a pricey affair, it'll also be making a bid for the title of Australia's most expensive restaurant when it opens in February.
The internet lit up when the price was announced, with comments and tweets riffing on similar themes: "what a joke", "only a fool would pay that much", blah blah blah.
Well, this "fool" would and will, and here's why.
"$525 is too much to pay for a meal"
That depends on the meal.
I dined at Le Restaurant Arpege in Paris in August (hey-ho, food-wanker alert!). L'Arpege sits at 25 on the prestigious (albeit debatable) World's 50 Best restaurants list. That meal was $485 before booze and only two of 10 courses involved protein.
I remember every taste, every scrape of cutlery on the plate, and every smile of the sommelier. I remember the way the side of my hand felt against the linen tablecloth and how the silverware bounced sunlight around the room. It was a spectacular afternoon.
Linda Thurlow from Adelaide was at the ballot announcement at Crown on Wednesday. Thurlow, originally from Maidenhead, near Bray, said she had eaten at the original Fat Duck in 2006.
"I want to repeat that because it was out of this world. It was the best dining experience I have ever had," she told goodfood.com.au.
I take her point. I would rather drop 500 clams on an a killer experience than spend the equivalent on grilled steaks and baked salmon to be swiftly forgotten.
Think about the best meal you've ever had. How much would you sell that memory for? I'm not saying that The Fat Duck Melbourne is going to be the greatest eating experience of your life, but it just might be.
Additionally, a dish like jelly of quail with crayfish cream, chicken liver parfait, oak moss and truffle toast takes a little bit more effort to make than scallops with bloody pancetta.
"I could eat at Attica, Sepia, Quay, or Vue de Monde for less than half that price. And Attica sits higher on the World's 50 Best list than Fat Duck."
You're comparing apples with oranges. There are loads of world-class Australian restaurants where you can eat for half or one-quarter of the price. Heck, you can probably eat at some for one-tenth of the price.
Every restaurant is a different experience.
Do you want to eat at Attica every week? Well, maybe. But while I might have just as good a time holidaying in Tasmania as I would in England, I'm still going to want pay the extra money and check out Old Blighty at some point.
"If Heston hired Australian staff instead of bringing all his team out here it would be cheaper."
Bruce Springsteen tickets would also be cheaper if he left the E Street Band, his roadies, technicians, and tour manager in the States and hired a bunch of locals who had never worked for him before. Even if a gig could get of the ground, it would sound horrible.
Also take a moment to consider how the E Street Band would feel while The Boss is rocking out Down Under with session musos and they have to find casual work for six months in New York jazz clubs.
"For the price of a meal for two I could buy a new guitar / spoiler for my car / go on a holiday."
Bully for you. Everyone has different interests. Some people like U2. I feel the new album was overpriced.
"People only want to eat here for faux prestige"
There are people who are going to want to eat here purely for Instagram bragging rights, yes. Blumenthal acknowledged this himself speaking to goodfood.com.au on Tuesday.
"Sometimes these people at restaurants can buy anything they want," he said. "People ticking a box to say "Okay, I'm here. I've done it. I can tell my mates' and I don't want that. I don't want that at all."
It will happen regardless but it's not the norm. There will be young couples eating here who own all of Blumenthal's books and DVDs and who have been saving their hard earned since The Fat Duck Melbourne was announced. Young chefs who see Blumenthal as a demigod will eat there and analyse every dish. And there will be tables of punters who just really like food and want to have night to remember.
Eating at high end restaurants is about more than just hashtagging.