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The Fat Duck Reopens After Health Scare

The Fat Duck Reopens After Health Scare

Mustard ice cream at The Fat Duck (photo by Charles Hayes)

Jill Lawless | Charleston Gazette

LONDON – Lovers of snail porridge, mustard ice cream and jelly of quail, rejoice.

Britain’s most famous restaurant reopened Thursday, March 12, more than two weeks after it shut due to a mysterious outbreak of sickness that left 400 people reporting bouts of vomiting and diarrhea.

That kind of bad publicity could kill an ordinary restaurant, but The Fat Duck and its chef, Heston Blumenthal – a science-loving gastronaut who has brought concoctions like bacon-and-egg ice cream to popular attention – are anything but ordinary.

“Heston Blumenthal is the only U.K. chef who is, on a worldwide level, of any interest as a chef,” said Richard Harden, co-editor of Harden’s restaurant guides.

“My hunch is the ‘no such thing as bad publicity’ aspect of this will outweigh any negative.”

Blumenthal shut The Fat Duck voluntarily on Feb. 24 and called in health inspectors, after 40 diners reported getting a stomach bug after eating there. About 400 people eventually complained of falling ill in cases stretching back to late January.

The Health Protection Agency said it had examined the restaurant’s kitchen, food, staff and sick patrons but hadn’t identified a source for the outbreak. It said its investigation likely would take several more weeks.

However, it said preliminary findings suggested it was safe to reopen the restaurant, which has agreed to comply with health inspectors’ recommendations. The agency did not reveal what the recommendations were because of the ongoing investigation.

The Fat Duck said it was open, and fully booked, for Thursday lunch. Blumenthal said he was delighted.

“Whilst they are still awaiting outstanding test results we cannot comment further, but obviously we are overjoyed to be able to get back to business as normal,” he said.

Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, said the diners’ symptoms could have a wide range of causes – food-borne or airborne, bacteria such as salmonella or a virus like the “winter vomiting” bug.

He said that unless investigators had been able to take samples from sick diners while they were still ill, the cause of the outbreak might remain a mystery.