World renowned chef Heston Blumenthal in the kitchen at the launch of The Fat Duck restaurant in Crown Towers, in Melbourne. Photograph: Joe Castro/AAP
Fifteen courses over the space of six hours impress chefs and ballot winners alike, even if the $525 price tag surprised some.
Snail porridge and red cabbage gazpacho may not be everyone's immediate choice when thinking of a Tuesday night dinner, but Heston Blumenthal's idiosyncratic foray into the Melbourne restaurant scene appears to have won over diners.
Blumenthal's 50-seat restaurant the Fat Duck opened in Crown with a four-and-a-half-hour sitting for diners who paid $525 a head for 15 courses.
Those fortunate enough to be plucked from the 89,000 people who entered an online ballot for reservations were largely complimentary about the experience, which included takeaway savoury lollies and salmon poached in a liquorice gel.
Ronnie Murray, the group head chef of Hix Restaurants in London, spent six hours gorging on the food, calling it "maybe the best meal ever" on Twitter.
Murray said his dinner bill came to more than $2,000, but that it was "definitely value for money".
"It's not a cheap dinner but it's the most iconic pop-up restaurant there is, it's got to be one of the world's great treats," he told Guardian Australia. "I think it's great for the Australian food scene.
"It's good to have the classics in there like snail porridge and there are nice touches like the sweet shop bags at the end. They picked some beautiful Australian wines too, which is good.
"The atmosphere was good, there were quite a few large tables of four or six people, there was a good buzz. There was some fun interaction with the staff when they came over to the table with the liquid nitrogen and certainly a lot of picture taking by the diners."
Murray, like the other diners, was given a piece of a giant jigsaw puzzle that will be progressively completed throughout the Fat Duck's six-month stay in Melbourne. The huge puzzle features a picture of Blumenthal wearing a cape in front of a Mad Hatter-style fob watch.
Ryan Perry, who flew from Sydney for the opening night, said the meal was "unreal, unbelievable", especially the snail porridge.
"He puts it out in a little dish and it's green so you're looking at it like, er, OK, but it's like porridge with some oats down the bottom and some snails mixed in the top," he told Fairfax. "And you just close your eyes and try it and actually you wouldn't pick it as snails."
Stephanie Grentell, a board member of the Australian Jumping Racing Association, said the experience was "everything I hoped for and then some more".
Roger Copsey, who travelled with his wife, Pauline, from Ireland to visit family in Melbourne and dine at the Fat Duck, said it was "just so different" to any other dining experience he had.
While the menu wasn't overtly Australian, the head chef, Ashley Palmer-Watts, reportedly spent months chasing down the finest local ingredients. And while Blumenthal will take the Fat Duck back to the UK this year, he will have a permanent Australian outpost called Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.
Although the diners were impressed, some eyebrows were raised at the price of the meal. Your $525 doesn't cover drinks, in case you were wondering.