Heston Blumenthal opens in Melbourne
The UK chef has relocated his entire Fat Duck restaurant for six months and it opens today.
And we're off. The Fat Duck is open and the first 45 diners are eating their way through the 15 courses that make up the menu of the internationally acclaimed restaurant's Melbourne "pop-up".
Though we're not among the handful of ballot winners to first stick forks and fingers into the dishes themselves, we did get to see some of the behind-the-scenes action that helps explain the $525 price tag. As we sit waiting for our five-minute talk with Fat Duck mastermind Heston Blumenthal, a dozen waiters move around us ironing tablecloths, and measuring the distance of tables to walls to the millimetre. It's like a scene from Downton Abbey, only with more terrariums and less lace.
It's a slick operation, being carried out by a well-oiled team who have all come from the British restaurant in Bray, which will close for refurbishment during the Melbourne sojourn. Head chef Ashley Palmer-Watts will be heading the kitchen. He's been steadfastly testing ingredients for the past few months, but don't expect any eucalyptus and wallaby.
"We wanted to bring the whole Duck experience to Melbourne," Blumenthal tells us. "The dishes that we do at Bray have been on the menu for years, but they've also been evolving. None of that happens quickly so we didn't want to reinvent things."
The menu, for those who have dined before, will feature the classic dishes simply adjusted to suit flavour and textural differences between Australian and British produce. The whisky gums that mark the end of the 15 courses are made with Bill Lark's Tasmanian whisky. The poached salmon in liquorice gel with endive, vanilla mayonnaise and golden trout roe comes from Mt Cook. It's the best there is, sourced by George Kaparos of Clamms - the big boss of Melbourne's wholesale fish markets.
Here's the Fat Duck menu. pic.twitter.com/mDnIu8myjG — Fairfax Good Food (@goodfoodAU) February 2, 2015
Not surprisingly, Blumenthal has scored some of the best produce in the country. Also on the whisky trolley is a bottle of Sullivan's Cove. "We used more Western Australian truffles this last year than we did French," Blumenthal says.
And so it is that between the dishes that read like things you can't actually eat but can (salmon lollies and the "Mad Hatter's tea party" featuring "an edible fob watch, which you'll dip into a cup of mock turtle soup to mimic the scene where they dunk it into tea", according to Blumenthal) there will be moments of seemingly straightforward sanity starring roasted marron with shiitake, kombu butter and sea lettuce. Although it's equally likely this will be served frozen, on fire or in some other way whimsically jazzed up.
On the topic of embellishment, the room is no flat-pack pop-up. There's a phallic piece of glass art on loan from MONA director David Walsh. There are rich cream booths and plush purple chairs and the world's biggest puzzle featuring Blumenthal resplendent in galaxy pants. A giant wall-mounted fob will tick down the days during which the Duck will reside in Melbourne. There's no sound though, audio fans. "It's more about the theatre."
So is Blumenthal nervous? "A little. There's just been so much media surrounding it, we do everything with precision, but there's a lot of pressure to deliver."
No doubt. The stakes are high at this price bracket and this is a restaurant driven by theatre and surprise. Can that translate to a Melbourne casino? We'll be talking to the first diners this afternoon to see.
The Fat Duck, L3, Crown Casino Complex, Southbank, crownmelbourne.com.au/Heston-Blumenthal