Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester
53 Park Lane Mayfair
London W1K 1QA
Tel: 020 7629 8866
Food type: French
Food rating: 7/10
Nearest tube: Green Park
Website: Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester
I had a difficult decision to make for graduation dinner. My mom is a very fussy eater and doesn’t really like food full of cream and butter. You know, what the French term cuisine classique. I wasn’t too keen on Gordon Ramsay – I don’t really like to be rushed through dinner whislt at a two star level Le Gavroche and the Square were immediately off the list as the food there tends to be very heavy. On the other hand, Pied-à-Terre, Marcus Wareing and the Capital were a tad disappointing when I visited and I think Claude Bosi’s food at Hibiscus would be too challenging. So, I was left with Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester (ADAD). I mean, it wasn’t the worst choice because I did have a pretty good meal there back in February and the service was stellar. Another bonus is that there is of course the glitzy Table Lumière, private dining room which would be ideal for such an occasion.
Just to quickly recap, the Table Lumière designed by Patrick Jouin is a table encircled by a curtain of 4,500 cracked fibre-optic strands which falls from the ceiling. The result is a shimmering curtain, like a white cloud which encircles you. Food is served on Hermès china and cutlery and Saint-Louis crystal. When ADAD first opened 2 years ago, dining in this very exclusive table would cost a mere £1,350. Nowadays, with the on-going recession, prices are slightly ‘cheaper’. As long as you are dining with 5 other guests, the room hire fee of £200 is waived if all guests opt for either the tasting menu (at £115) or the menu printemps (at £180). The small catch is that you will have to choose the menus in advance AND pay for it in full.
Now, a bit of a rant. I have no problems with picking a menu in advanced – they after all claimed that this would allow the chef adequate time to prepare for the event(!) – as I was assured that it would not be changed on the night. Guess what? They changed it on the night. I was not even warned about this the day before via e-mail or even a simple phone call. No explanations were offered on the night either. What really grated was that the main course of Limousin veal served with morels cooked in Arbois wine was instead substituted with Beef Rossini, especially given my dislike for British beef and the fact I knew this dish wasn’t that good to begin with. Moreover, substituting a dish which was exclusive to the ridiculously expensive menu printemps with one readily available on the A la Carte menu is simply not on. The reason I didn’t bring this up on the night was simple – my guest had arrived and I did not want to create a scene which would have ruined the night.
Dinner began with a bottle of Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 1998 to celebrate my success and some of the canapes on offer. Having arrived slightly late, I was rather annoyed that the restaurant had already brought out the canapes to the guests meaning that they were lukewarm by the time I got to eat them. Nevertheless, they quickly saw sense and brought us a new serving, piping hot and fresh from the kitchen.
I have already talked about the cheese goujeres during my last visit and they were as good as I remember them. Light, airy, salty, sharp with a little spike of heat from the paprika and black pepper these were a joy to eat, especially when washed down with some bubbly. (7/10)
A second nibble, one not present during my first visit, were barbajuans – a bit like fried won-ton parcels stuffed with spinach and ricotta. Perfectly crisp, yet virtually greaseless, these little treats were well balanced with the flavour of the spinach coming through very well and the ricotta adding an element of richness to each bite. I could have eaten a bucketload of them. (8/10)
As with last time, bread is still made in house and annoyingly still served cold and consists of a selection of classic French Baguette, sourdough, black olive, hazelnut & raisin and the very good ‘hair bread’. These were still very good and comes accompanied with a choice of salted butter from Neal’s Yard and a pot of the very addictive Fontainebleau. (8/10)
Chilled Scottish Langoustine in a Rich Nage, Caviar from Aquitaine
The meal got underway with an ‘amuse bouche’ of three chilled langoustines wearing a jet black necklace of Aquitaine caviar, sitting on top of a rich nage. The langoustines themselves were fine if a little too soft for my liking, but the star here was the creamy nage, made from stock the langoustines were cooked in. I am yet to be convinced with the use of farmed Aquitaine caviar, and at these prices perhaps a more luxurious caviar could have been used instead. At least, they were generous in the dishing out of the caviar. (7/10)
Hand-made Ravioli of Foie Gras, Fresh Herbs, Duck Consommé
Ravioli of foie gras was not as impressive as before – the foie gras’ livery flavour was muted at best, lacking intensity to deliver any significant impact. The duck consommé was completely unbalanced, both by the distinct lack of seasoning as well as the heavy use of black better. A shame really, because the consommé was well made – clean tasting and ethereal. (6/10)
Salad of Scottish Lobster, Warm Vegetables, Coral Jus
Things got back on track with a warm salad of lobster with a generous pouring of coral jus. The Scottish lobsters were firm, but by no means overcooked. I particularly liked the intense tomato ‘fondue’ which had pretty good taste , marrying well with the coral jus and natural sweetness of the lobster. All the better because the vegetables on the side were simply adequate. (7/10)
Baked Fillet of Sea Bass, ‘French Style’ Green Peas
A nice piece of sea bass and peas a la francaise was very good. The fish, nice and firm, flaking without much effort, topped with bubbly brown, nutty beurre noisette was spot-on. This was dish was simplistic yet elegant – a reflection of Ducasse’s cuisine, with the peas and its puree giving a refreshing lightness to the dish. A little drizzle of meat jus helped give some body. (7/10)
Fillet of Beef and Seared Foie Gras Rossini, “Sacristain” Potatoes, “Perigueux Sauce”
And then of course there was the much maligned ‘steak and chips’. In all fairness, a lot has been done to the original dish and this was a very posh version of steak and chips with the grilled fillet of Aberdeen Angus beef accompanied by a generous slice of foie gras sitting on top of a brioche crouton. In keeping with maestro Rossini’s original dish, the black truffle and madeira jus were combined into one in the form of the sauce perigeux. Sweet and sticky, the sauce was sadly lacking in a significant truffle punch – after all, it is currently summer (despite the wonderful British weather doing its best impression to convince us otherwise) and truffles right now have as much taste as a paper clip.
Even more disappointing was the simple fact that my piece of steak was overcooked. Rare fillef of beef? More like medium-well, thank you very much. This is a basic schoolboy error, and the piece of meat should not have, at any stage, been allowed to leave the kitchen of a simple gastropub, and not especially one with multiple stars hanging on its door. At least the sacristain potatoes – thin twirls of potato crisps were light and crunchy I suppose. (5/10)
Truffled “Brie de Meaux”
Cheese was a solitary selection of truffled ‘brie de meaux’ from Neal’s Yard with a small frisee salad dressed in olive oil on the side. I failed to ask whether the restaurant buys the cheese in and truffles it themselves (which I suspect they do) or they buy it truffled from the supplier. Either way, it was not a stunning piece of cheese – the brie not ripe or runny enough. (5/10) In hindsight, I should definitely have swapped this for the cheese selection supplied by Bernard Anthony which included his famous aged comte (aged 3 years this time).
Chocolates & Macaroons
Pre-desserts in typical Ducasse fashion were an assortment of chocolates (brought in) and their stunning macaroons – this time in three new flavours of passion fruit, liquorice and strawberry. These were even better than the ones I had first time around. (9/10)
Praline-Chocolate Biscuit & Milk/ Salt Flower Ice-Cream
To finish, we were all given a choice of desserts from the menu and I naturally opted for the classic chocolate praline croustillant which is an all time favourite at Louis XV. Here, it was much more dense and resembled a large Kit-Kat bar. The milk/ salt flower ice-cream tasted lovely but was nothing but a mere distraction. The ice-cream didn’t really work together with the chocolate croustillant. As a palate cleanser, it would have made more sense to send it as a second part after the diner was done with the croustillant to prevent it from melting. Still, this was a very good dessert. (8/10) My dining companions enjoyed an equally good concoction of rose and raspberries with white chocolate. (8/10)
No petit fours? Nope. They did not bring us the bon-bon trolley around despite each and everyone of us having either tea or coffee.
The food here was fine although it really disturbed me that a restaurant harbouring 3* ambitions can send out an overcooked piece of steak. No, seriously. If an untrained chef at Wetherspoons can cook steak correctly it beggars belief such an error was allowed to take place. Simply put, there were too many ordinary dishes and besides the desserts and barbajuans, there was very little in this meal which would have meritted 2*s.
Service on the night was frankly all over the place and deserves a special mention. By that, I don’t mean that anyone was rude to us but there was a distinct lack of care and attention to detail. I was first to praise their service so it pains me that I have to crucify the poor service this time around. When you are dining in a private dining room, it is only natural that you are detached from the main dining room where you could easily flag for attention. It was a bit surprising that no one was assigned specifically to our care. If a restaurant like Pearl Liang can afford to allocate us a dedicated server throughout an entire evening I do not see why this was not the case here. We were simply brought the food, left to eat it, and they would then come back perhaps 30 minutes later to collect the plates. No checking with us if everything was ok or if our wines needed topping up. In my case, they didn’t even bother to enquire if there was a problem when I left half a piece of my over-cooked steak on the plate. Nor do I enjoy getting up each time I want them to clear the plates or top up my glass of wine. With all these delays and slow service, the entire 6 course meal (7 if you include the chocolates and macaroons) took a ridiculous 4.5 hours. To give you some perspective of this, a meal 2 days later where I enjoyed no less than 15 courses took 5 hours. Oh and please don’t remind me that they did not bring the bon-bon trolley around. Did they just assume I wasn’t aware of it despite the trolley conveniently placed next to the room or that we were too full?
Rising 3*s? Don’t hold your breath.