One of the only exceptions was at the Fat Duck outside of London, where we figured the chef (Heston Blumenthal) was cooking since we had read he's nearly always in the restaurant, but we didn't see him. And we opted against buying the cookbook since it cost something like 160 pounds, or a whopping $300. (Most of the other cookbooks we bought were around $60.) After the most expensive meal of our lives, we couldn't justify spending even more on the book, nice memento though it would be. So we were totally excited when we read last week that Heston would be signing a less expensive version of his book that had just been released for a much more affordable $50. Jay and I headed after work to the Alessi store in Soho where, champagne in hand, we finally met the man himself and told him the story of how we managed to eat at his restaurant in July due to a fortuitous last-minute cancelation.
Getting into Fat Duck – thought by many to be the “second best restaurant in the world,” narrowly trailing El Bulli, outside of Barcelona – was a huge surprise, to say the least. Eating here was really the only reason we had decided to go to England at the beginning of our culinary trip instead of straight to France. We called two months earlier to try to get in, in the middle of the night U.S. time, at first getting nothing but a busy signal for 45 minutes and then being put on hold for half an hour, forced to listen to a reading of “Alice in Wonderland” (more on that theme later). Finally, after Jay was able to speak to a real, live person, we were put on the waiting list; however, they could not tell us WHERE we were on the list. Jay was optimistic that we would get in and still wanted to go to London, but I thought that our chances were slim to none. Jay even called Fat Duck the day before we left for our trip to see if there were any cancelations, but no luck.
We weren’t sure what to expect when Jay reserved this (one-star Michelin) London restaurant as the first meal after our trans-Atlantic flight from New York. We talked about getting traditional British tea, but the menu here – creative takes on the old-fashioned tea service with dim sum with or without sandwiches, green tea scones, and Asian-influenced French desserts – sounded intriguing, and the atmosphere looked like it would be hipper than a stodgy old tearoom.