Fat Duck and Dom Perignon: an alchemical wedding
- Wednesday 22 February 2006
To celebrate the release of the 1996 Rose (around £220 a bottle), Dom Perignon winemaker Richard Geoffroy had got together with world-renowned chef Heston Blumenthal at his restaurant the Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire.
During a five-hour dinner that was as much theatre as cuisine, Blumenthal produced course after course of his signature dishes, and others created purely for the Champagne, for an unreluctant audience of the UK's top wine writers.
The 96 – ‘dramatic and black’ as Geoffroy described it – was served as an aperitif, and two older vintages, the 1990 and 1978, accompanied the food.
An army of waiters took to the floor, bringing Nitro-green tea and lime mousse, a squirt of foam plunged into a mini-vat of liquid nitrogen, which deliquesced in the mouth leaving a memory of taste. Then came oyster and passion fruit jelly, mustard ice cream, jelly of quail and langoustine, truffle toast and oak moss film – the last like the breath fresheners that dissolve on the tongue, giving a taste of oak in preparation for the truffle.
And those were just the starters. There was the snail porridge – the meat melding perfectly with the crunch of the oatmeal – foie gras with cherry and chamomile, ‘sardine on toast’ with sake, salmon and liquorice, anjou pigeon, tiny cones of fragrant ice cream and mini sherbet fountains.
The fact that Geoffroy and Blumenthal had spent some time collaborating on the meal was not lost on the diners. ‘I thought the match of the 1978 with the salmon and liquorice was pure genius,’ Serena Sutcliffe said afterwards. ‘Somehow there was a hint of liquorice to the wine, and to spot it was brilliant.’
Sutcliffe also praised the staff, whose ‘lightness of touch’ added to the enjoyment.
Some matches were less successful – the 96 was deadened by the oyster and passion fruit for example, and several diners said they would have given anything for a glass of pinot noir with the pigeon – but the meal was made by touches of inspiration.
Veteran wine writer Hugh Johnson said, ‘there were combinations that were so illuminating. The mackerel (a ‘ballotine of mackerel invertebrate’ with sake) was incredible.’
As for the wines, Sutcliffe praised the 96 as ‘a wonderful aperitif’ while Johnson suggested it was too ‘contained’ to be really ready. He said the 90 was ‘sensational – the wine of the night, without doubt.’
The verdict as the meal finally ended around 1.30 in the morning? ‘Fabulous,’ said one tired hack. ‘Once in a lifetime. It was a performance, not a meal.’
The Fat Duck has three Michelin stars and is a former Decanter restaurant of the year, among other honours. Heston Blumenthal has been awarded an Honorary degree of Doctor of Science by the University of Reading for his research and commitment to the exploration of culinary science.