Just tuning in to The Fat Duck serial? Here’s a recap.
Heston Blumenthal moved his world-famous restaurant, The Fat Duck, to Crown for a six-month stint. Lots of people wanted to eat there (90,000 entered the ballot). There was only room for 14,000. They each paid $525 for 15 courses, excluding booze. Internet outrage ensued.
Now the biggest Australian dining event of 2015 is coming to a close.
We debriefed with head chef Jonny Lake just before he packs up his knives on August 15. And if you ask us, it sounds like he’d rather be staying.
Broadsheet: What was your first thought when you found out you’d be moving to Australia for six months?
Jonny Lake: My initial thought was disbelief. I’ve never known of a restaurant of this calibre to be taken on such an incredible journey. That was quickly followed by sheer excitement, which eventually turned into fearful realisation of the task ahead.
BS: What are you looking forward to most about going home? What will you miss here?
JL: I actually discussed this with my wife the other day and you know, we couldn’t really come up with much. We agreed on bacon – you guys don’t have great bacon like the UK – but we don’t eat bacon that much so we were really grasping at straws.
On a professional level I am looking forward to getting back to open The Fat Duck in Bray, but we will really miss Australia. The people left the biggest impact. In such a short time we have made so many friends – Australians really are the friendliest people on earth.
BS: How different is the produce here?
JL: The produce is amazing in itself, but the real difference is the amount of different suppliers. Here, there aren’t so many options. I would say that for the food we sourced at The Fat Duck, the quality levels were really high, but the options fewer.
BS: What was your favourite dish on the menu here and why?
JL: “Sound of the Sea” was certainly one of my favourites because we had so many options of fresh fish and seaweed and beach succulents for that dish. Also, the marron dish was beautiful to cook, as it’s such an amazing product to work with.
BS: What did you and the team generally do in Melbourne when you finished service?
JL: We are not actually based in London, so the team’s after-work options are usually really limited. Here they have really enjoyed the late-night bars and food, from ramen bars to Greek. It’s been wonderful.
BS: What was one of the biggest challenges you faced during the relocation? How did you solve it?
JL: The biggest challenge was sourcing everything beforehand, but it was also great fun because that’s how we learnt so much about Australian produce. I think maybe it was more of a challenge for the front of house. Bray is a small space with a maximum of 40 guests. Here in Melbourne we had 54 guests in a space that is three-times larger. It doesn’t sound much, but when you multiply the amount of dishes that have to be delivered during service it’s a lot more work. We had to recruit locally as well as re-choreograph service to accommodate.
BS: Can you share some of the highlights?
JL: The appreciation from our guests has been the biggest highlight for all of us. Even now near the end it is still the exact same enthusiasm and enjoyment and we really feed off that. We do have lots of Australian guests back in he UK, so I was expecting to see some familiar faces, but the equality of the ballot system brought first-time Fat Duck diners, so it was wonderful to share that moment with them. Another highlight was the volume of different wineries that the sommelier team got to explore. The wine scene is vibrant in Australia and that has certainly had an impact on us.
BS: Any memorable customer moments?
JL: I remember one guy on table two; it was a table of four guests. We were serving The Mad Hatter Tea Party dish, Mock Turtle soup. As the waiter began bringing the different components to the table he asked us to hold on. Then he brought this enormous Mad Hatter hat from the cloakroom his sister had made. And I mean this hat was incredible, not just a funny felt thing, but a work of art. It was crazy and fantastic and he ate the whole course wearing it in the middle of the restaurant – I loved that.
BS: Best customer feedback?
JL: There are so many comments that really bring home why we do what we do, but for me, as a dad, there was this one kid under 10, and after his visit he did a school project on his experience. His mum showed us the work he put into it. He had taken photographs and mounted and displayed them describing the dishes and the experience. That really moved me.
BS: What’s next for The Fat Duck?
JL: September 29 – the big opening back in Bray!
BS: What can Melburnians look forward to with Dinner by Heston?
JL: A permanent restaurant, which will hopefully become part of the city serving historic British-inspired dishes dating back as far as the 14th century while celebrating great Aussie produce.
The Fat Duck at Crown closes on August 15, 2015. Dinner by Heston will open in the same site at the end of October.