Offering a slice of France in central London, Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester is famed for its exquisite food, outstanding service and relaxed ambience.
Plenty has been said of the restaurant industry legend that is Alain Ducasse. He has more Michelin stars than Angelina Jolie has children, and many of his restaurants – dotted all over the world – consistently appear on the most respected ‘best’ lists. His venues, including fellow three Michelin starred Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo, boast some of the most ornate dining rooms on the planet, but at The Dorchester he has gone for a more low-key arrangement. The dining room is inoffensive in both the colour scheme and the choice of décor, but this just allows the food to take centre stage. There are some quirky details though, including the individual porcelain centre-pieces on each table and, on a larger scale, the cylindrical curtain of fibre optic lights that enclose a private dining table.
One of the most impressive things about Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester is how it manages to avoid being stuffy. As you would expect the service is incredible, but the waiting staff operate in such a way that they almost become invisible. Like a small army, the staff continually flow in and out of the kitchen but they never appear rushed off their feet - their calm, friendly demeanour helping to maintain a relatively laid-back atmosphere. It’s one thing to be part of such a well-oiled machine, but to deliver a highly individual experience for diners each and every time is a fine art. Hats off to Restaurant Director Nicolas Defremont, as he orchestrates his crack team of minions with an admirable precision.
The restaurant’s a la carte menu is a well constructed selection of French classics of the highest order. There is also an innovative ‘lunch hour’ menu that offers up the famed Alain Ducasse experience but for the very reasonable price of £55 for three courses and two glasses of wine. This is a perfectly feasible way of enjoying a three Michelin star feast on your lunch break, and even more impressively, new dishes are introduced every week so it’s an ever-evolving menu. If you can afford it though, the a la carte menu is the way to go as you get to sample the tried and tested classics and signature dishes that are served in Ducasse’s restaurants all over the world.
One such classic is the saute gourmand of lobster. Served with chicken quenelle and homemade pasta, the dish is wonderfully creamy and aesthetically beautiful; the fiery red of the lobster pops off the plate and is further accentuated by the soft white of the quenelle, all of which is topped off by a deliciously moreish sauce.
Another tactful way to begin is to order the crayfish veloute. Served with a rich sauce at the table – with a depth of flavour that only the French can produce – the crayfish is softer than the lobster and will make you wonder why it’s not more popular than its larger, more muscular clawed cousin.
The main courses are clinically presented under the simple categories of ‘fish’ and ‘meat’, so you can easily decide upon which type of creature takes your fancy. This is the easy bit as deciding between wild sea bass, citrus and swiss chards or fillet of beef Rossini, crunchy cos lettuce and Perigueux sauce is a particularly difficult task. If you opt for the latter then you’ll be treated to the finest French dish this side of Paris. The fillet is accompanied by a seared piece of foie gras perfection and the texture play between the two is truly something to behold. The foie gras has an ever-so-slightly crisp outer layer, but inside it’s smoother than Roger Moore in his prime, and, when paired with the thick, juicy cut of beef, it really sings. There isn’t a food-related adjective that doesn’t work to describe the Perigueux sauce. It is delicious, distinctive, peppery, tangy and astonishingly rich in equal measure.
An alternative to the heavenly beef is the venison, and, as is the common theme running throughout this review; it doesn’t disappoint. Another dish that revels in its simplicity, the rib and saddle of Denbighshire is cooked to a ‘French’ medium (an English medium-rare), leaving a striking flash of pink meat through the middle. The strong, gamey flavours of the meat are softened by the sweet cranberries and silky pumpkin, and the fruity sauce really helps to give the dish a well-rounded, full-bodied flavour.
Such is the prowess of Alain Ducasse that he even has his own chocolate factory in Paris. His chocolate dessert at The Dorchester utilises this to full effect, making good use of the chocolate and praline that they produce back in the motherland. It comes complete with the very best vanilla ice cream, making for a dessert best suited to the sweet-toothed chocolate connoisseur. One of Mr Ducasse’s most famous dishes of all is the rum baba. There is a reason this dessert is served in all three of his flagship restaurants (Paris/Monte Carlo/London); it quite simply, cannot fail to disappoint. Diners can choose which fine rum they would like their baba to be doused in from a selection of the finest bottles from around the world. The baba itself is impossibly light and, served with lightly whipped cream, practically melts in the mouth. This is an elegant and simple signature dish and you simply can’t visit without trying it.
Given that it is made up of 800 bins, describing the wine list as impressive would be a grave understatement. Predominantly made up of exquisite wines from France – although it does feature bins from the rest of the world - the list is constantly evolving and is as cohesive as it is expressive. Whilst you can venture out solo, it would be a wise move to opt for a course-for-course wine pairing. The head sommelier, Vincent Pastorello, doesn’t mess around and really knows his stuff. Immersing you in the world of wine, he comprehensively explains each bin with the knowledge that one would expect from a master of his trade.
The Last Word
Although the interior could probably do with an update now, Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester is a restaurant at the top of its game. Not just an exercise in gastronomical excellence, it offers up a well-rounded experience that rivals that of any other restaurant, not only in London, but also the rest of the world.