Sadly, the above title should not be taken literally. That’s ruddy annoying.
A recent refresh of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2012 when planning future eating adventures (watch this space) shocked me just a little bit as the Fat Duck, the best in the world in 2005, had slipped an astonishing eight places to number thirteen this year. I am pretty certain that this is not in part to Heston Blumenthal or his team (sadly in part-transition after the tragedy in Hong Kong last year), seeing as Blumenthal’s second opening, Dinner, is right up there at number nine, as well as being the highest-placed United Kingdom restaurant this year’s list.
Still, the Fat Duck remains an exciting and exceptional place to eat – especially for those who are lucky enough to successfully negotiate the nail-biting process of securing a reservation – and rarely a day goes by when I do not think about it, but the context in which I do has changed a lot over the last couple of years. As I forge a career in Learning & Development for a large and very special hotel company, I spend a great deal of my time training our staff on service excellence and making every single experience count. As a result, I share a great deal of stories about times when I have been subjected to faultlessness; most of the time, I talk about the Fat Duck – in fact, our employees are probably sick of hearing about it.
I don’t tell them about the food. Sure, the Snail Porridge was smooth and definitely not gross, the nitro-poached aperitifs were fun and heart-stoppingly delicious and the venison with spelt and umbles? Well, that has still got to be the best dish I have ever eaten (though the Dead Hippie at MEATLiquor comes damn close). Instead, I seem to always recount what happened when we were not eating. The way we were greeted; by name (and how did they know who we all were?), the way they noticed that I wear my watch on the ‘wrong hand’ and subsequently laid up my cutlery the way lefties like it and how a restaurant that justifies presenting a check that was three quid short of a grand could be so effortlessly charming and down to earth? These are the things – sorry, three of the things – that for me, made the whole evening, the whole bloody year. And such instances, I tell our staff, are the touches which will be remembered for ever. If you think about it, the food is through you and gone within a couple of days…
Last week, the trainer became the trainee (I love that, as it effectively a day off for me) and I was lucky enough to be trained by motivational speaker Marcus Child and if I can be half the speaker and facilitator he is, then I’ll be more than happy. One thing that Child spoke about, which resonated through and through, was promoting the idea of ‘induction of state’. This is effectively starting with a positive bang!, and starting as one means to go on, and that such gestures don’t have to be grand, but simple little things that inspire and lift us on. Looking back on what I remember and recount about the Fat Duck, everything comes down to those tiny details, the stupid little sparks that to me, are unforgettable. The food? Yes, it was perfect. But in hindsight, it was a sideline to everything else.
Tasting menu £hundred and ninety-five; you’ll be looking at least £two hundred and fifty per head.
www.thefatduck.co.uk | 01628 580 333 (good luck on that one) | High Street, Bray, SL6 2AQ
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Originally published 18th February 2013.