Eat your heart out, M Chirac: French critic raises a glass to the Fat Duck

How could the world's best restaurant be a place called the Fat Duck which serves egg and bacon ice-cream? How could the world's best restaurant be found not in Paris, not even in France, but in an English village?

France's most fearless, and feared, restaurant critic stormed over the Channel to find out - and adored what he found (even the ice-cream). François Simon of Le Figaro is a man whose acerbic opinions make even French three-star chefs tremble over their copper casseroles. Last month he booked a table - incognito - at the £200-a-head, Fat Duck, in the village of Bray in Berkshire, recently identified by a British foodie magazine as the "best restaurant in the world".

"The Fat Duck reminds us that in England you can eat divinely (just as you can in Finland)," Simon reported.

Without mentioning the president's name, this was a clear rebuke for Jacques Chirac, who said in July that British cuisine was the world's second worst, superior only to that of the Finns.

In his review, published on Saturday, Simon admitted that he travelled to Bray ("a charming village 50 minutes from London") with a degree of Gallic scepticism. Which restaurant, he asked his readers, was recently named as the world's best after a poll of 500 food experts from all over the world? "Are you sitting down?" he wrote. "An English restaurant. Yes, there is no misprint." Worse still, only one French restaurant - Pierre Gagnaire in the Hotel Balzac, just off the Champs Elysées in Paris - made the top ten in a global league table published in the summer by Restaurant magazine.

Simon - known for his outspokenness and refusal to make friends with France's top chefs - went on to give the Fat Duck and its owner-chef, Heston Blumenthal, a lyrical review.

Mr Blumenthal's cooking, he said, demonstrated a "disarming poetry", a willingness to be both experimental and classical. He was reminded, he said, of the quirkiness of the movie Mary Poppins but also of the work of an imaginative French, regional chef, Alain Chapel.

"There is in Mr Blumenthal's cooking the reverie of a madman, an attractive candour, the twists and turns of a whirling dervish, an approach which is both spontaneous and highly technical." The "bacon and egg ice-cream", he said - one of the Fat Duck's specialities - was a "crowning moment...both excellent and hilarious". The bill, printed in Le Figaro, showed that Simon and his companion each had a "tasting menu" and a "tasting" wine selection - in other words a medley of the restaurant's dishes and wines. The bill, with coffee and water, came to £438.19 for two. "Expensive? Yes," wrote Simon. "Too expensive? No. A meal like this should be approached like your wedding night. To prepare, you should go on a diet and dress up your heart for a wonderful, new experience."

On the question of whether the Fat Duck was the best restaurant in the world, Simon was more circumspect. It was "absurd" he said to try to establish a "vertical hierarchy" but the Fat Duck, was, in his opinion, one of 20 restaurants in the world which were breaking the ground for a "new epoch in gastronomy".

It was long past the time, he said, when France could claim to be the gastronomic champion of the world. He took a swipe - as he has done before - at star-name French chefs who "duplicated" their ideas in money-spinning projects around the world, but were unwilling to stay in the kitchen and demonstrate the "incandescence of their talent".

Mr Blumenthal at the Fat Duck, he pointed out, was "really there, in his own kitchen, which is also a taste of what the future of gastronomy holds".

Simon refused to be drawn into the zero-sum arguments - British cuisine was much better; therefore French cuisine was now rubbish - beloved of the British press. France, he said, remained a "sweet and marvellous, gastronomic paradise" But the talented, younger generation of French chefs had been too timid to challenge a clientèle "spoilt" by tradition. They had been slower than chefs elsewhere to abandon the most rigid aspects of French cuisine and to join the "facetious" and imaginative revolution in world gastronomy. "But, take heed," he concluded, "All that's beginning to change."

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Harry Redknapp. Mark Hughes and Ryan Shawcross
footballNews and updates as Queens Park Rangers host the Potters
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
New Articles
i100... with this review
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
New Articles
i100
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam