Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester
53 Park Lane Mayfair
London W1K 1QA
Tel: 020 7629 8866
Food type: French
Nearest tube: Hyde Park Corner
Website: Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester
We returned to the Dorchester recently to celebrate our wedding anniversary. One year has flown by very quickly for us. This time last year, all I could remember was the stress of wedding planning leading up to the big day. Thankfully, this is something you only have to do once in your lifetime. Restaurant Alain Ducasse holds a lot of sentimental value for us as I proposed to my wife here (dining at the Table Lumiere) and of course, our wedding reception took place at the hotel.
Much has changed since we last dined here, almost a year and half ago. Former Executive chef Jocelyn Herland has now moved to Ducasse’s restaurant at Le Meurice (Paris) and in his place is Jean-Phillipe Blondet, previously his 2nd in command. He brings with him a more contemporary style of cooking compared to Jocelyn’s more unashamedly classical style. Restaurant Director, Damien Pepin is one of London’s finest Maitre Ds and recognised us immediately on arrival. After all, he was responsible for helping to ensure that the engagement went smoothly. After handing us the menus, he made our choices a lot easier by offering us a bespoke tasting menu to allow us to try some of chef’s favourite dishes making use of the best seasonal ingredients. As a side note, given that menu prices in London have pretty much skyrocketed in the last couple of years, the prices here have remained relatively the same. The tasting menu is now £140 compared to £135 2 years back, and the seasonal tasting menu is still £180.
We start with a mound of goujères – today they are flavoured with Emmental and Gruyere and dusted with a crack of black pepper. The restaurant does vary the cheeses that they use to make the goujères – in the past I have had Comté and Parmesan for example. These are incredibly airy although in more recent years, I have noticed that they have been dialling down on the cheesiness of them. This is the first time we have managed to finish a whole plate of them. Achievement Unlocked! A second nibble is in the form of some Barbajuans, a Monegasque dish of ‘fried ravioli’ filled with swiss chard and ricotta. Blondet’s version is a lot smaller than Herlands, but the flavour is remarkable. In fact, I would say that his version is the better of the two. I’m sure the recipe is the same, but I think it is the fact that such a small mouthful can deliver a huge impact of flavour is what impressed me the most. Interestingly, not all tables are served the barbajuans. My guess is they are brought to guests who order from the main menu rather than the concessions lunch menu.
Plenty of variety including the classic baguette and pain d’epi, rye bread, bacon fougasse and a Scottish milk loaf made from pork fat. Ducasse is insistent on serving his bread cold. Apparently, this is to prevent diners from over indulging in bread. I certainly had my fair share of bread – the bacon fougasse remarkably good and the milk loaf an excellent vessel to mop up all the lovely sauces. This came with unsalted British butter and whipped fontainbleau cheese.
Just look at the size of that Langoustine, that is a fantastic specimen. It is cooked ‘mi-cuit’ as the French would say, just enough to set the flesh, but still retaining a soft, velvety texture. The pairing with daikon radish (both raw and cooked in citrus) is interesting as it gives a hint of bitterness as a counterpoint to the sweetness from both the shellfish and the fruit. The accompanying langoustine consommé is an old Ducasse signature that I first came across at Plaza Athenee, here given a British twist with a gentle infusion of Earl Grey. It makes sense though, since the flavour of Earl Grey is bergamot, bring the citrus element full circle.
Next was foie gras with morels cooked in vin jaune. Three elements on the plate but three elements done flawlessly. The duck foie gras simply seared to give a nice caramelised, almost crunchy crust with a molten interior. Not rocket science cooking but the execution is spot-on. This has been prepared very well since there was hardly a vein in sight which my wife finds off-putting. The morels are stuffed with chicken mousse and cooked in a vin jaune. On the side, there is a little walnut ‘condiment’ with a dusting of morel powder. This is a sinfully good dish, the morel-vin jaune sauce an example of top-notch sauce making and worth the price of admission alone.
Simply titled ‘Halibut, oyster and seaweed‘, an incredible amount of work has gone into the dish. Halibut has never been a favourite fish of mine since it is relatively lean and prone to drying out. It is just an unforgiving fish with timings, even more so than lobster or razor clams. Yet, I have never been disappointed with the halibut dishes at Ducasse. The fish here is classically cooked with plenty of butter and is perfectly timed – the flesh glistening with moisture as can be seen in the picture. Hidden amongst the ‘seabed’ on the right is seaweed in various guises, a poached oyster and chargrilled Roscoff onion petals. The dish is finished at the table with a seaweed beurre blanc. I think the intention of the chef is really to transport you to the coasts of Brittany, as the overall effect of the dish is to taste like the sea.
We followed with lobster which was my favourite dish of the day. The native lobster is poached and glazed with a little lobster oil. The meat is firm but yielding, unless you are my wife who tries to cut the lobster with the wrong side of the knife. Seriously, this has happened twice now. Both times at Ducasse! They use female lobsters for this dish – the coral used to cook the celery. No, the red stick is not rhubarb! This cooking process transforms the flavour of the celery, removing some of its peppery and grassy notes which could otherwise overwhelm the dish. The sauce homardine is as textbook as you can get, reduced to the perfect consistency. The omission of cream means you get a lighter sauce with pure lobster flavour.
Main course on the day, selected by chef, was pigeon roasted on the crown. Again, three elements on the plate which have been executed extremely well. The supreme has a nice crispy skin and is cooked medium rare. The sauce here is an offal jus which is big on flavour, yet is kept relatively light because there is plenty of acidity within the jus. I suspect the pigeon legs have also gone into the sauce. This is once again terrific sauce making. I think ADAD is peerless in England when it comes to sauce making. There is also a little whole grain mustard hidden between the charred leeks to provide more acidity. As is trendy these days, the whole leek, including roots (deep-fried so they are crispy) is served.
They don’t do a cheese trolley here, but what they have on offer is nevertheless stellar stuff. Today we had a plate of Comte Garde Exceptionnelle, cru 2014. Bernard Anthony’s 3 year old comte, served here with a little black truffle condiment and dressed salad. On the side, an excellent warm fig & walnut bread and some crackers. I have never understood the British tradition of cheese and crackers, but my wife swears by it. The comte is in excellent condition, at an age where it has started to develop calcium crystals but still relatively fresh and moist. In some ways, I prefer his 3 year old specimen vs the 4 year old stuff which can sometimes develop a bitter secondary characteristic.
We had a couple of desserts to share to finish off the meal. My dessert was a citrus composition which was a nice, light way to end the meal. The citrus component consists of kalamansi lime and clementine. The tarragon element is very nicely balanced and avoided the dish from tasting like a sweet Bernaise sauce. Loved it.
A visit to Alain Ducasse at ADAD would not be complete without a sampling of their Baba au Rum. This is hands down the best baba that I have eaten – ethereally light and moist. The savarin sponge is sliced open at the table, before rum (a 3 year old Caribbean one in our cases) is poured over it. It is then finished with plenty of Chantilly cream. Today, the Chantilly cream is even lighter than I remember from our previous visits. Having eaten many Baba’s in my lifetime, and in fact only the week before we tried Darroze’s Armagnac Baba, in my opinion, Ducasse does the best Baba in England.
This was another excellent meal we enjoyed at Ducasse. I really enjoy Blondet’s cooking approach which is contemporary yet still retains all the classical elements, in particular the excellent sauce making. Aside from the halibut dish, all the other plates of food were minimalistic – often times featuring only featuring three components. I enjoy this style of cooking, since the dish feels more focused. Like the chef is concentrating all his efforts into ensuring that all the elements on the plate are maximised to their full potential. The restaurant is peerless in England when it comes to sauce-making. And then, there are of course the desserts, often such a letdown in English restaurants, but here are something that ends the meal in the grandest of styles. Service is flawless, slick with excellent product knowledge. An example of the attention to detail is that the restaurant remembered what wine we drank on our engagement night… 3 years ago, and thus the sommelier was able to direct us towards something we would both enjoy drinking.