Why Chef Blumenthal Shunned New York and Will Open in Melbourne

Heston Blumenthal spent years looking for cities outside the U.K. to take the experimental cuisine that has won him fans around the world.

You might think New York would be suitable. The British chef did at first. Instead, he has opted for Melbourne.

The owner of the Fat Duck and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal said he hasn’t ruled out a standalone restaurant in New York but has given up on plans to open in the Mandarin Oriental. That group’s London hotel is home to his original Dinner restaurant.

“We looked at New York really heavily,” he said yesterday in an interview. “We wanted to open there. I’ve got some good chef mates in the business in New York and they all said the same thing: If you can’t be union-free, don’t touch it.

‘‘We looked and we looked and we looked. It’s a nightmare. There’s a reason why both (Joel) Robuchon and (Alain) Ducasse have closed. They’ve just gone. You cannot operate a restaurant under those conditions. It’s impossible.

‘‘People used to talk about breaking America, but Asia is where everything is exploding now: Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines. Australia is that stepping stone into Asia. It’s strange because Australia’s a small country population-wise but it bats like a big country because it’s so cosmopolitan.”

Six-Month Window

Blumenthal is closing the Fat Duck in Bray, a village outside London, for six months while he installs a new kitchen. The restaurant will relocate to the Crown casino complex in Melbourne from February to August. Then it will open again in the U.K. in September. The following month, Dinner will open in its place in Melbourne.

People wait months or even years for a table at the Fat Duck. The lucky few are treated to a tasting menu featuring dishes such as Snail Porridge, Hot and Iced Tea, and the Sound of the Sea, where diners don earphones and listen to seagulls and crashing waves while consuming seafood and edible sand.

It costs 220 pounds ($362) plus a 12.5 percent service charge. Drinks are extra. There are four options for flights of wine: 139 pounds, 325 pounds, 525 pounds or 925 pounds.

If you fancy a trip to Australia to eat at the pop-up there, the hurdles are not just financial. The Crown has received 40,000 requests for tables and booking doesn’t even open until October. There will be a ballot for the 16,000 or so places in the 45-seat restaurant that will be available over six months.

“I’d put Melbourne in the top five cities in the world for food,” Blumenthal said. “It has a rich mixture of cultures, with a very diverse range of foods. It’s really vibrant, exciting. I’ve never seen a country explode foodwise like Australia has.

Australian Fans

‘‘If you want Zen-like purism in food, you go to Tokyo or Kyoto. If you want three-Michelin-star French, you go to Paris. It you go outside that level, I’d put London as the best city in the world to eat in and then you’ve got New York, and Melbourne’s really up there. The restaurant scene is booming.”

Blumenthal is a culinary star in Australia, where his appearances on the MasterChef TV show draw huge audiences. He’s also known for his Heston for Coles supermarket food and for the Sage by Heston Blumenthal range of kitchen appliances.

These include the Oracle, an espresso machine that retails in the U.K. for 1,599 pounds. We met yesterday in London in an interview to coincide with a survey by Sage of 2,000 adults that indicated a quarter of Britons consider themselves connoisseurs of coffee.

We had a cup of tea while discussing this.

(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Bloomberg. Opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines)

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