Wonderland: The Fat Duck Down Under

When Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck waddled down under foodies were aflutter. The Fizz just wanted to know what interiors the wacky wizard would serve up...

BY SOPHIE DAVIES

It was the talk of the southern hemisphere. When news broke that culinary Willy Wonka Heston Blumenthal was bringing his megahit British restaurant The Fat Duck – and its entire staff – from Bray to Melbourne’s Crown this February for a six-month stint, foodies were beside themselves. The UK restaurant was being refurbished, hence its Australian ‘holiday’. More than 250,000 fans across the Asia-Pacific vied in a ballot for coveted golden tickets; 14,000 got lucky.

Naturally, the 15-course, four-and-a-half-hour tasting menu at The Fat Duck Melbourne is the stuff of magic (for AU$525 a head, minus the booze bill, you’d expect bangs and whistles). But does the look of the space give the courses on the plate a run for their money? Despite the mainstream location (the Crown complex sports a garish casino alongside A-List eateries), local design studio Bates Smart and London innovation agency Seymourpowell dished up enough theatre to satisfy our appetite. Here are our tasty style highlights…

Entrée
Like disappearing down a rabbit hole, guests enter the third-floor space to discover a world of typically Heston whimsy and surprise. A long, sultry tunnel beckons at the entry, illuminated at the end by what looks like a tiny door, yet turns out to be a flickering screen showing chefs at work behind the scenes. The sloping ramp creates the optical illusion of guests becoming larger, as the corridor gets smaller. A huge black glass sliding door then opens to reveal a sexily lit, dark-walled dining room, playing on chiaroscuro – bold contrasts between light and darkness.

Main course
Seating 50, the chic yet restrained dining room boasts spot-lit white leather booths, crisp-clothed tables, purple velvet chairs, plush carpet and inky lacquered panelling. Tables for two overlook the Yarra River, with wow-worthy views through angled floor-to-ceiling windows. The footprint is much bigger than Bray, with more kitchen fire power. Despite being a temporary pop-up, its ‘opulent but calm and relaxed’ feel was a hit with Heston, who also reckoned the lighting (by Melbourne firm Electrolight) was the best he’d seen in a restaurant.

TOP: The giant interactive jigsaw, starring culinary superhero Heston
ABOVE RIGHT: Mr B beside the wacky wall-mounted fob watch
BELOW FROM LEFT: Signature Duck dishes: Jelly of Quail, Marron Cream with oak moss; Mad Hatter's Tea Party with mock turtle soup; multi-sensory Sound of the Sea

Amuse-bouche
A surreal, Daliesque golden fob watch mounted on the wall counts down the days until the last of the 280 services on 15 August 2015, before the hands freeze and the Fat Duck flies home. It also tells you the time in Bray and Melbourne, and will return to Bray as a souvenir. Its inspiration was the Mad Hatter’s fob watch, which connects with the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party dish on the menu (diners dip an edible fob watch into the mock turtle soup to mimic Lewis Carroll’s famous story).

Dessert
A giant, eight by two metre interactive jigsaw takes pride of place on the main wall, bearing an image of a caped Heston in galaxy-print trousers, looking for all the world like a North Korean propaganda hero. In a playful touch, all diners receive a piece of the jigsaw to add to the picture, which will only be completed by the last guest. At 19,500 pieces it could be the world’s biggest jigsaw, according to Heston, who maintains it wasn’t his idea to take such a starring role!

Palate cleanser
We love the flock of clear glass terrariums, filled with sculptural, spidery-shaped plants, which line the glossy, black window ledge. A mix of bell jars, bendy tubes, bottles and squatter vessels in various sizes, they’re a stylist’s dream. Running the length of the room, the laboratory-chic urban garden affords peek-a-boo vistas of Melbourne's cityscape. Glass pieces and other art works are also on loan from David Walsh, owner of Hobart’s dramatic MONA (Museum of Old and New Art).

ABOVE: Terrariums on the window ledge reveal curious, alien vegetation
BELOW: Elegant yet theatrical, interiors play on bold contrasts of light and dark

Digestif? Following the return of The Fat Duck to Bray in late September, Dinner By Heston Blumenthal will take up permanent residence at the Crown Melbourne – inspired by the London original, and the only Heston restaurant outside the UK. Reservations aren’t yet open, but expect to form a disorderly queue…
thefatduckmelbourne.com

The Fat Duck, Level 3, Crown Towers, 8 Whiteman Street, Southbank, Melbourne