Reheating Cold Rice - The Fat Duck, Melbourne.
I just found out that Zomato, the food review website shut down operations in Australia … three years ago.
Oh no, all those food bloggers with their rankings and food photos and reviews, and self-worth.
Oh no, a business bought over a perfectly functioning competitor (Urbanspoon), rip its guts out, and left.
Like Marie Kondo.
She basically shat all over the west in 2015, telling us how to unhoard our lives, fold our clothes, how to hug inanimate objects to extract feelings. She was the culture queen, telling you yes, no, yes, no, no, you filthy pig, no.
Tell me I didn’t imagine all that.
Tell me thousands of women and men didn’t lose their self-esteem over her life-changing, joy-sparking magic of tidying up.
And now she says ‘now that I have kids, I concluded it wasn’t a big deal after all. Be messy, learn how to accept who you are, and buy my new book.’ *Japanese emoji*
Tell me that isn’t textbook gaslighting.
Perhaps, she gave birth to something that didn’t spark joy, yet couldn’t be disposed of into the recycle bin?
The twist here is that a Japanese woman walked into the homes of Americans, telling them what they could and could not keep.
An Indian company colonised an Australian company and left with k thx bye.
No Zomato means Yelp and Google run the town now.
No Zomato means I could tell this story now.
In 2015 I was invited to a #ZomatoMeetup because I wrote about my dining experience at the Melbourne Fat Duck.
At the meet-up, Asians and non-Asians sat separately.
(Apparently, 2015 and 1965 weren’t that different.)
I remember people addressing each other with their ‘blog names’.
They introduced themselves as ‘Kenny Ate Something’, the ‘Baconister’, Miss ‘Hungry Go Where’, and I had to keep a straight face.
Cameras floating in the air before each dish, amen.
Everyone remember to post about Sun Moth, namasite.
I mean, that was all good, until I asked the table what was their favourite dish to cook at home.
The top 50 ranked food bloggers on Zomato, did not cook.
Sure, you don’t have to be a pilot to know a helicopter on a tree isn’t a good sign, but if you don’t cook, how do you even understand basic flavour profiles, seasonal ingredients, that getting a lasagna almost immediately after ordering is not a plus?
A Twitter quote by Elizabeth Hackett came to mind.
You’re not a foodie. You’re 24. You went to a restaurant.
These kids, they didn’t care about food, nothing was about the food.
They just post pictures and write descriptions.
A pure transfer of information.
Farm to table, camera to social media.
So that put me off food writing, I did not want to be a part of the problem.
Until the pandemic, until the cookbook.
Eight years later, did it get any better?
Don’t answer - the question was rhetorical.
Having said that, there’s an energy of excitement and pride in my Zomato reviews, especially with The Fat Duck. The good thing about reheating cold rice, is that fermentation happens. Also, it’s old enough to reset a cycle, right? I have younger friends now to entertain, and we learn stuff from time capsules all the time.
If Marie Kondo can backtrack all her gibberish and not be forced to commit seppuku, I can revisit the most expensive meal I’ve paid for in my life. With inflation and rising wages and a growing child, I will not be able to experience the same food with the same enthusiastic frame of mind again.
So after the longest introduction ever, let’s roll opening credits to this week’s feature.
That Fat Duck in Melbourne, 2015.
When Yuuki messaged me about the extra seat at Fat Duck, I felt like I’d won a lottery ticket I did not purchase in the first place.
In this case, a ticket to spend $525 on lunch.
And that is the beauty of the ballot system. You enter a draw, and then if you’re so lucky to win, you are then prompted to pay and secure it. Two firewalls. No one is pointing a gun at your head. So if you still walk out complaining about the food and price, then you’re the idiot for not doing your research, really.
If you’re still rolling your eyes over the price, stop it. Never have I seen Melbourne so hung up about the ethics of food pricing. People seem to think of all things wrong in Australia, nothing is worse than a casino overcharging its patrons. Why are we spending tax money to destroy the Great Barrier Reef? Why drive an Audi when you can cycle? Why bother with modern art? Why fly to Europe? Why get so excited when you scored tickets to the AFL VIP booth? Why drink organic cola? Why ride a hot air balloon? Why buy a million-dollar house? Why pay to watch Beyonce when you can YouTube? BOTTLED WATER? WHY?
The truth is, we simply like to splurge to feel better about ourselves. For the experience. Don’t over analyse, don’t feel obliged to take the moral high ground. Just accept the twisted, unfair, incomprehensible actions we call human nature. (2023: still true.)
One thing worth mentioning, is my company. Half of my table has been to the original Fat Duck in Bray, TWICE. One of us even ordered the most expensive $1000 wine pairing. So there was a certain melancholy mood throughout the meal. They knew what was coming most of the time, and did not make such a big ‘whoop’ out of every dish. In fact, there was an overall relief when they realised there was a photographer on the table. (We can enjoy our meal without taking out our phones!)
Even so, I have no idea how to judge my experience in Fat Duck, because I had no other comparison prior to this. When was the last time you had a Waldorf Rocket in popsicle form? How much broth melted from a golden watch have you tasted in your life? How does their licorice-poached gel salmon compare against your mum’s? How did your last Alice in Wonderland-inspired degustation go?
My point is, I was a Heston virgin. And I’m pretty sure most of the 52 diners on that Thursday afternoon were no different.
Every dish was a new experience. And since we did not receive the menu until the very end (sealed in an envelope with wax), it was an exercise of tastebuds-to-brain stimuli. The chicken liver pate in Golden Gaytime form was undoubtedly the table’s favourite. It usually comes as a Magnum ice cream, but they customised it for the locals. Another dish tailored made for Aussies was a roasted marron, with shiitake, confit konbu and sea lettuce. It seems weird to me lately, that all ‘Aussie’ spin on dishes ends up having Japanese ingredients in them. Oh Aussie? Here’s some macha-infused soba and sashimi with a side of tataki and onigiri seasoned with togarashi spice topped with Kombucha. There, that should be Aussie enough. (2023 edit: still true!)
I personally liked the Hot and Iced Tea. When you consume it, the left side of your mouth feels cold and the right feels warm. Science. The word ‘viscosity’ was tossed around the table.
I am still unsure about the “Sound of the Sea”. I read about it, I saw photographs of it, and at this point, I’ve experienced it. But, I am still unsure about the “Sound of the Sea”. I know the vfx of sea waves splashing is supposed to enhance my experience, but I don’t think the dish is incomplete without the earphones. Maybe it worked better in Bray, because it was a brick cottage in a small town, more in-tune to nature, more susceptible to nostalgia. For me, it was the only dish that made me feel extremely self-conscious. If there were ever a wank meter, that was probably the point it went 'Wank! Wank!'
The wank meter experienced another jolt near the entrance, where the glass dildos reside. There was nothing playful in the last sentence, it was really labeled as glass dildos from MONA Tasmania, catering to the sophisticated modern art crowd. Seriously, we will not think less of you if you do not have glass dildos at your reception. Not to forget the part where we each get a jigsaw puzzle, to complete a square, which will form a bigger part of a mural, with Heston in the middle. By then, one of us on the table (the one with the expensive wine-pairing) shouted: “WHY IS HE SUCH A NARCISSIST?!” It was probably the $500 Royal Tokaji talking, but she did have a point.
Another dish outside of my comfort zone was the nitro-scrambled egg and bacon on french toast. I know it’s to juxtapose our normal dining experience. (Breakfast as dessert, hot becomes cold, salty is now sweet, eh? Eh? EH?) But I still like my scrambled eggs hot and savory. It is always risky to play with something fundamental and personal such as scrambled eggs on toast.
I liked the whiskey wine gums. They were basically edible info-graphics. By peeling the wine gums off the map, you associate taste with geography and physical interaction. Ok, now I’m setting off my own wank meter.
But it is true. We are not really eating food at the end of the day, are we? We are consuming design, science, technology, history. We expected to be entertained. And speaking of design, never have I realised the importance of plates. Every dish complimented the colour, texture, and size of the plates.
One cannot avoid comparing Fat Duck to our very own Vue De Monde, (I vaguely remember Shannon saying he is pals with Heston during a shoot), but I’d say everything was just taken up a notch. I’m not saying VDM is not as good, because they were not given the chance to charge twice as much to entertain us.
The one other thing that jolted me back to reality, was the beverage list. When I saw the $120 price tag next to a cup of Pu-Erh tea, I was ultimately reminded that yes, I’m in a casino, and people need to pay rent, and exploit the weak, to make money. The money we paid, goes to marketing, branding, and their renovation in Bray. After this meal, after these six months, when the final giant Heston mural is completed, all 90,000 of us, with our instagram and blog posts will effectively serve as human billboards for the new venture.
We’ve been brainwashed enough by Heston’s TV shows and thick glasses that we already understand what his food is all about. Like H&M and Uniqlo, we are only happy that someone famous is finally here in Australia. The current trend is probably foraging, which I am certain no one in Australia is ready to pay money for. (2023: still correct! Kind of.)
But one thing I cannot fault, one thing that was world-class, was the service. The staff-to-customer ratio was (feels like) 1:1, and sometimes there’ll be eight waitstaff surrounding our table. They adjusted the cutlery for the left-handed guests on our table without a cue, we dropped a fork and it disappeared, they present and cleared the plates in sync, and yelled out ‘snail porridge’ with jazz hands in unison. Creepy, but dedicated.
From a photography point of view, it was a joy trying to find different compositions to accentuate the main features of 14 different dishes. And since I have the same amount of time as a normal diner, I had to make snap decisions, while obeying their strict rule of not standing up.
The final surprise came in the goodie bag we took home. An edible queen of heart card, which was actually a raspberry tart. For me, that represented the whole Heston Blumenthal brand. They should sell them in supermarkets.
Overall, I enjoyed my experience very much. (2023: Who cares what you think?) Probably because most of us at the table understood what we paid for.
Had I dined with my parents it would’ve been a completely different experience. Why so much smoke? Why so much bubble? Why so bland? Why so sweet? Why so salty? Why so complicated?
I went back and reprocessed some of the photos so it wasn’t entirely copy pasta. Click here for more photos. Every old fart says this, but it was really the golden age of molecular gastronomy. I don’t think we’ll get to experience this level of fine dining anymore. The Fat Duck became Dinner by Heston which was plagued by all the worst things you can think of about hospitality. The next big thing to follow was Noma in Sydney and we know the ending of that story too. Before Escoffier, we ate what the restaurant gave us, he brought us ala carte, where a man can have steak and the wife can choose fish. And then the kaiseki/degustation menu came up and we had to eat what the restaurant gave us again. Currently, in Melbourne, we have Society bringing back the glam on ala carte and hospitality is but a big flat circle. We are at the mercy of the system and the only way out, I think, is to cook. Cook at home and undo the shackles of this endless cycle. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed reminiscing on the old days. Rebecca and Yuuki I can’t believe it’s been eight years.