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Fat Duck May Reopen Next Week After Being Closed by Food Scare

Feb. 28 (Bloomberg) The Fat Duck, chef Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant west of London that is famed for its snail porridge, may reopen in the coming week after being closed because of a food scare.

Almost 40 customers called over three weeks to say they had fallen ill, Blumenthal said today in a telephone interview. The one-week closure may cost about 100,000 pounds ($143,000) in lost revenue. Blumenthal aims to open again on March 4 and plans to call the sick diners to persuade them to come back as his guests.

“Every restaurant gets people phoning and saying they’ve got sick, but we’d never had anything like this,” said Blumenthal, 42. “There’s been a virus going in this area, and we thought it might be that because we are fastidious about every aspect of hygiene and the symptoms were developing 60 to 70 hours after people’s meals.”

The Fat Duck, which has held three Michelin stars since 2004, was named the world’s best restaurant in the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards in 2005 and has been in the top two for the past five years. El Bulli, north of Barcelona, which now holds first place, is owned by Blumenthal’s friend, the chef Ferran Adria.

Tests in the Fat Duck and on the raw food and cooked dishes have failed to reveal any problems as have tests on the restaurant staff, said Blumenthal, who alerted health officers from the local Windsor and Maidenhead Council. The restaurant has examined records of which waiters served which customers, which dishes the diners ordered and where they sat without finding any correlation.

Decision March 2

Blumenthal will make a decision about reopening on March 2, after the last test results come in, he said. The Fat Duck has used an independent company, Food Alert, for four years to monitor hygiene and it is involved in investigating the complaints, he said.

The chef was in France for the Omnivore Food Festival in Deauville when he took the decision to close on Feb. 24.

“It’s really upsetting,” he said. “You know how much time, energy, effort and emotion goes into doing what we do, and I don’t want anyone to leave the Fat Duck with even a headache because food is my life, my labor of love. People plan for months to come and we didn’t want to close, but you can’t put people at risk even though there’s not one iota of any sign of food poisoning.”

220 Pounds Per Head

The restaurant normally serves more than 80 customers a day, and each spends on average about 220 pounds, Blumenthal said. The tasting menu costs 130 pounds for about a dozen courses such as snail porridge; salmon poached in licorice gel; and the Sound of the Sea, where customers don earphones and listen to lapping waves while consuming seafood washed up on what looks like a beach. The sand is, in fact, a mix of tapioca and fried Japanese breadcrumbs.

Matching wines for the menu cost 90 pounds or 165 pounds.

Other restaurateurs expressed sympathy for Blumenthal.

“Heston is massively fastidious and he wouldn’t cut any corners,” said David Moore, who owns the two-Michelin-star Pied a Terre in London. “Safety at the Fat Duck would be second to none. There’s nothing more serious in restaurants than food safety.”

The popularity of the Fat Duck means there can be a long wait for tables, particularly at weekends. Blumenthal now faces the task of fitting in the 400 to 500 diners affected by the closure, including some traveling from overseas. He said he is unclear whether the restaurant’s insurance will cover the shutdown.

The closure was reported earlier today in the Times of London.

(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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