Mystery surrounds health scare that forced Fat Duck to close

Tests fail to reveal the origins of the outbreak as restaurant loses business
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Heston Blumenthal is awaiting test results from an environmental health investigation into the mystery illness that has struck dozens of diners at his Fat Duck restaurant.

Laboratory analyses of swabs from cookers and food samples, along with further tests on chefs and waiters, are due to be released in batches today and tomorrow. The chef could reopen The Fat Duck as soon as Wednesday but there is no date set yet amid the ongoing investigation and the 42-year-old's promise to "exhaust every avenue" before declaring it safe.

Blumenthal shut the restaurant in Berkshire last week, cancelling 450 reservations at a cost of £80,000, after more than 30 diners called in over a period of three weeks to report vomiting, diarrhoea and flu-like symptoms.

Theories for the outbreak include food poisoning and a staff member carrying a virus. Yesterday Blumenthal's spokesman Oliver Wheeler called Windsor and Maidenhead council's microbiological tests "very thorough".

Blumenthal's own team, Food Alert, is also testing the menu at the three-Michelin-star restaurant, whose unusual recipes include nitro green tea and salmon poached in liquorice.

"We are waiting to see what comes back," Mr Wheeler said. "All the tests that are back proved negative in terms of hygiene. Although there have been hundreds of hours of testing, nothing has been connected to the restaurant."

He dismissed as fanciful the suggestion in a Sunday newspaper that the outbreak could have been an act of sabotage from affluent villagers in Bray disgruntled with noise and fumes.

Diners from around the world travel to eat at The Fat Duck, voted the world's best restaurant in 2005 and the only one in the UK to receive 10 out of 10 in the current Good Food Guide.

The illness has been the talk of food enthusiasts, with some commenting that the unusual dishes must have been responsible.

One reader wrote on The Independent website: "Surely, diners who consider snail porridge an acceptable feast must be used to a variety of drastic stomach and bowel reactions?"

Blame heaped on a pigeon dish by one correspondent was scotched by another: "It was not the pigeon. We both ate there last week and were both violently sick on Sunday, with Monday off work. My friend doesn't like pigeon so didn't eat it. Therefore it isn't the pigeon."

On another website, a reader wrote: "I went to The Fat Duck for the first time last month. Of course I didn't walk through the kitchen but the place looked spotless and the food was better than I ever expected," and added the meal was "playful and thought-provoking".

The publicity from the outbreak is likely to overshadow Blumenthal's new Channel 4 show, Heston's Victorian Feast, which begins tomorrow with a recreation of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party with a "drink me potion" and mock turtle soup.

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