Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester
53 Park Lane Mayfair
London W1K 1QA
Tel: 020 7629 8866
Food type: French Gastronomy
Nearest tube: Hyde Park Corner
Website: Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester
Note: Jocelyn Herland is now cooking at Alain Ducasse au Meurice in Paris. He has been replaced by his former right hand man Jean-Phillipe Blondet.
A restaurant should never be judged on an isolated meal. After all, the front of house can have a bad day. The kitchen may make some mistakes. Yet, when you are a 3 Michelin Star restaurant, you expect nothing less than perfection. The last time I wrote about Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester (ADAD) some 6 years ago, I had a less than stellar experience. Ok they were not a 3* restaurant at that time, but they did gain the 3rd star a few months later. For many people, dining here is a once in a lifetime event, something they would have to save up for a long time, and when the restaurant has a bad night, the disappointment is even harder to swallow.
To be honest, I did stay away from the restaurant for a while, but since then have been back quite a few times. The restaurant will always have a soft spot in my heart – their table lumiere private dining room was the setting where I proposed to my fiancé. That was a night when I expected absolute perfection and the restaurant delivered on every accord. The service delivered by the front of house, led by their new maître d’, Damien Pepin, was at a level to match any of the finest restaurants in Paris. For me ADAD’s front of house is the best there is in the country.
The menu format remains unchanged – at dinner you have a choice of 3 or 4 courses from the a la carte menu priced at £95 and £115 respectively. Two 7 course tasting menus are available – one based on the a la carte menu (£135) and a seasonal tasting menu (£180) which is only available at night. Of course, the prices here are a fraction of the cost of Plaza Athénée and Le Meurice, where for the price of the tasting menu, you may just about buy a starter. As an aside, Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée remains the most expensive meal I have paid for. At lunch, an all-inclusive 3 course lunch with 2 glasses of wine, coffee and water is available at a much affordable £60 – an excellent deal if you want to dine at a 3 star restaurant on the cheap.
The meal starts off on excellent stead with a whole mound of gougères, tonight made from Emmental, dusted with a paprika and black pepper. Just make sure you do not make the mistake of stuffing yourself with too many of these, as delicious as they are especially with the rest of meal ahead. A second nibble of barbajuans, were also offered – small deep fried parcels filled with ricotta and spinach which were even better than I remember from my last visit.
Chef Jocelyn Herland has been at the helm since day one and his cooking here has evolved over that period of time with his own little touches introduced to Ducasse’s classics. Take for example his signature ‘Sauté gourmand’ of Lobster & Chicken Quenelles – the original dish when the restaurant opened involved confit chicken pieces which is now replaced with a lighter truffled chicken quenelle. A more recent tweak is the introduction of preserved eryngii mushrooms in place of wild mushrooms like girolles to give the dish a meatier texture. Herland also uses semolina to give the macaroni, bound in mascaporne cream, a crunchy texture. What has not changed is the sauce hormardine which binds all the elements together. As far as saucing goes, ADAD is on a different level than any other restaurant in England.
On this visit, one of the most enjoyable dishes was another Ducasse classic of simmered halibut with shellfish. Halibut is not a particular favourite of mine due to the fact that it is often overcooked in the hands of lesser chefs – the fish itself is very lean and as such is very unforgiving when it comes to cooking times. There is nothing worse than eating overcooked halibut which has the texture of cardboard. Here, Chef Herland chooses to gently poach the halibut in a bouillon. The result is a slab of halibut which has just set and remains juicy. On the side, the shellfish (winkles, cockles and particularly razor clams) are perfectly timed to avoid any hint of chewiness. Yet again, his saucing comes to the fore with a lovely parsley sauce with just the right amount of acidity tying everything together.
I have said on numerous occasions that the desserts here are simply on another level compared to any other restaurant in England. One dish on the menu which is deceptively misleading is their Chocolate from our Manufacture in Paris. The description on the menu may lead you to believe that the dessert is constructed in Paris before being shipped over here. In actual fact, Ducasse has invested in a chocolate factory, aptly named La Manufacture de Chocolat, to fulfil his vision of producing chocolate from cocoa beans. As such La Manufacture supplies the restaurant the chocolate which would then be turned into desserts. The composition of the dish changes from time to time – on this visit, the chocolate is accompanied by a crunchy pine nut praline base and an intense cocoa sorbet. Simply stunning.
Many people have questioned Michelin’s integrity when ADAD was promoted to 3 star status. I am not one of them. There are lesser restaurants, both in England and around the world which have 3 stars. Over a number of meals here, ADAD has been the paragon of consistency. Our most recent visit here was no different with a complete masterclass in execution. Was this the most avant-garde cooking? Of course not. Nor is it meant to be. This is Ducasse’s food we are talking about! What we did receive was course after course of French dishes executed to the highest of standards.
As far as Michelin are concerned, stars are only handed out based on the cooking. Whilst that may be the most important factor for me when deciding which restaurants I enjoy revisiting, the dining out experience is more than just good cooking. It also involves a beautiful setting, faultless service and some amount of theatre. For me ADAD delivers on all fronts.