Once my interview with Heston was over, it became clear that to truly understand some of the things he was talking about I needed to experience them myself. Apart from getting the chance to eat at one of the world’s most influential restaurants (I was pretty giddy with excitement), I wanted to see how all this talk of personalisation and multi-sensory dining made its way from Heston’s ten-miles-a-minute mind to the dining tables in The Fat Duck.
Weeks before the meal, you’re asked to fill in a questionnaire about your favourite holiday, ice cream flavours and fruits; this is how the team start to collect the info needed to begin tailoring the menu to specific people. After a quick follow-up call full of slightly enigmatic questions (‘does your partner have a favourite chocolate bar?’ and ‘where was it you stayed on your holiday?’), the day soon approached. I don’t want to go into the details of every dish and write a play-by-play of the evening; it would take far too long and if you’re planning to go it’s much more fun not knowing what to expect. But in terms of multi-sensory, personalised dining, there’s plenty to talk about.
The building itself is pretty unassuming – you could quite easily drive through Bray unaware that you’d just passed by one of the best restaurants in the world – and if it wasn’t for the hologram that appears in a fireplace when you set foot in the entrance, The Fat Duck dining room could pass for any upmarket restaurant in the UK.
But then you start noticing the little things. Beautiful chairs emblazoned with Heston’s coat of arms on the back; small lights above each table that change with each course; the waiters carrying levitating pillows instead of plates (perhaps that one isn’t so subtle). The attention to detail is mind-boggling; the toilets, for example, are panelled with burnt charcoal, which naturally absorbs odours, and the hand soap was specially created by Miller & Harris to not interfere with diners’ olfactory senses. Even the toilet itself is one of those all-singing, all-dancing Japanese ones that lights up, opens automatically and God knows what else. Every single thing inside the restaurant has been thought about – the kitchen, recently refurbished to the tune of £2.5 million, ensures no sounds or smells upset the neighbours. There’s even a quaint, low-maintenance garden out the back to make the restaurant fit in with the houses along the street.