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Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester***

Friday, 12 February 2010

Reviewed by The Wild Boar

Warning: long review ahead.

Almost exactly a year ago, we went to The Square** for the PigPig’s (excellent) birthday dinner. This time, we went one further and plumped for the newest three Michelin starred restaurant in the UK, by Alain Ducasse. I would normally explain a little bit about the patron chef’s history as well as the restaurant’s early problems, but this is already going to be fairly long, I’m quite lazy, and both FoodSnob and gen.u.ine.ness covered that fairly extensively in their respective reviews; let’s just say he has 19 stars worldwide now, second only to Joel Robuchon.

We took advantage of the 20% discount offered via toptable.com and had dinner on a rather quiet Thursday night. Walking into the Dorchester, I felt relieved I had earlier checked the dress code (smart, with jacket) and worn a suit as the other men about were similarly attired.

While being shown to our table, I had a good look around and quite liked what I saw; the dining hall with 80 covers was actually quite spacious and there was generous spacing in between tables. Décor was fairly muted and simple, yet elegant. We were initially shown to a table smack in the middle of the room, but they agreed to our request to be moved to a side table so we could snap pictures without feeling too awkward. The weirdest thing about the entire place though was the table ornaments – silver pieces of vegetables (we had artichokes).

In the midst of trying to choose our options from the ala carte menu, the aroma of cheese announced itself as the grugere arrived (the name is new to me and our lovely waitress had to write it down for me but it kinda resembles pate a choux). With the flavours of the parmesan, paprika and black pepper all distinct, it was a quite unique combination and together with the light-as-air pastry, made for a superb way to start our meal. We actually finished the entire plate between the two of us.

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Soon after, some more bread was offered. The bloggers above had commented that Ducasse was notorious for serving bread cold to detract customers from filling up on it but he must have changed his mind as it was nice and warm this time. Out of the five options, I sampled the fougasse, black olive bread, sourdough and French mini-baguette. Suffice to say, they were all amazingly good and fresh (baked in-house) but special mention has to be made of the fougasse, a bread similar in texture to focaccia and with bacon bits inside (!!).

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However, the twist to this was the offering of Fontainebleau which was essentially whipped cream and cheese (I think the cheese came from that region). It’s hard to describe it exactly but it is similar to a very light foam of sour cream that lasts for only a second in your mouth before it gets vaporized. The PigPig was gorging herself on this in combination with the butter which originated from Neal’s Yard. Myself, I found the butter light in taste but strong in smell so I avoided it for the best part.

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By this time our wine had arrived and I opted for a £50 bottle of Crozes-Hermitage, which was one of the cheapest options available from the very extensive and expensive wine list. We both quite enjoyed it though, medium bodied, fruity and easily drinkable without needing much time to breathe. The PigPig also noticed the sommelier trying the first bottle he took out for us but it obviously disagreed with him as he discarded it and he took out another one.

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Our complimentary amuse-bouche came in a little egg shaped bowl and the top was removed to reveal two shrimp and lobster ravioli. A ginger consommé was then poured over it; what she didn’t say was that the consommé was enriched with a nice strong prawny essence while the gingerness was quite light. The ravioli itself was perfectly cooked and bursting with the flavour of the shrimp/lobster meat inside. Probably one of the better amuse-bouche I remember having.

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By this stage, I’ve been very happy with the food so far and we haven’t even had the starters yet. An excellent start.

Starter 1: “Roasted CHICKEN & LOBSTER, sweetbread, creamy jus”. For a £10 supplement, I chose one of his signature dishes. Individually, it sounds a bit of a jumble as the roasted chicken, lobster, sweetbread, mushrooms and the pasta doesn’t play nice and mix together well. Yet the sauce was mind-blowingly rich, creamy, decadent and quite frankly, would have made a jacket potato taste like sheer indulgence. I don’t think there was a great balance or harmony within the dish, but I still thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it. I do have to complain though that for an extra £10 supplement, I expected more lobster pieces scattered about.

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Starter 2: “Soft-boiled organic EGG, CRAYFISH and wild mushrooms, Nantua sauce”. Another signature dish, yet something we would probably have skipped if not for gen.u.ine.ness’s ravings on it (scored 10/10 on his site and he doesn’t give them out readily). The egg was cooked just a little bit harder than I would have preferred, but the yolk was still runny and oozed temptingly across the plate. Unlike the other starter, the ingredients here complemented each other very well with the delicate mushrooms and crayfish flavours augmenting the taste of the egg; the sauce made from crayfish tails and crayfish butter adding even more aroma. Lastly, the fried thin slices of bread provide nice textures and complete an outstanding dish.

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Main 1: “Roasted FARM HOUSE VEAL loin from Limousin, tender potatoes, choron sauce”. After the veal belly at Hibiscus**, I was eager to try more veal from Limousin again (although now armed with the knowledge that Limousin is an area in France famous for their livestock, thanks to Helen B and Ann VG). The veal was cooked perfectly to medium-rare as requested and was still juicy and tender. However, I felt that the veal’s naturally mild flavour could only tap in submission after being put in a sharpshooter by the rather strong tasting sauce.

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Main 2: “Roasted rib and fillet of VENISON, endive, chestnut and quince, Grand Veneur sauce”. As with the veal, the venison was cooked perfectly to medium-rare and retained its juices well. The stronger tasting meat was perfectly matched with its traditional accompanying sauce (essentially a pepper sauce with the addition of game blood and redcurrant jelly). Well good and delicious, but the dish lacked sparkle and creativity.

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Alain Ducasse then diverts slightly from the norm here; in anticipation of dessert, instead of a mouthwash we are presented with some macarons and chocolates. The macarons were an outstanding example of stellar macaron-ism (although the PigPig’s attempts weren’t far off) and the PigPig thought them to be at least equal to Ladurée. We were provided liquorice, pistachio and coconut flavours, none of them being flavours I typically enjoy but they were so good here I still found them utterly delicious.

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Both the chocolate praline and the dark chocolate ganache were both of similarly lofty quality. I had a chat with the manager Christian Laval who explained that while all the desserts, macarons and pastries were made in-house, the bonbons were brought in from Dijon.

Dessert 1: “BABA like in Monte-Carlo”. This is another signature dish. After choosing this option, a waiter came around bearing five different types of rum for us to choose from. We confessed to being absolute rum noobs so he explained the distinguishing factors between each type and we ended up choosing the Jamaican Appleton Estate as he described it being sweeter with caramel undertones.

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Anyway the rum baba is a very light sponge and had a covering of something similar to orange marmalade. The chantilly cream provided was very light, more akin to whipped cream, and lovely to slurp down; I got scolded by the PigPig for eating more than my share of it.

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Dessert 2: “HAZELNUT SOUFFLÉ, poached pear, orange “granité”. It would have just been another very-good-but-nothing-too-special soufflé with its light-as-air body but the addition of the hidden hazelnut crunch in the middle of the soufflé was brilliant as it added a new dimension in textures. The orange granita was mouth-puckeringly sour but it did make me appreciate the soufflé further, if simply because I wanted to wipe the sourness off my tongue.

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By this time, we were extremely full, due to no small part I’m sure by us finishing the entire plate of grugeres; I saw a table of four eat less than half theirs. Along with the filtered coffee I requested came some petits four which the PigPig had been eyeing for over half the meal as we were seated beside the trolley. We only managed to try about half of them, most of them we quite liked, but we especially fancied the financier sitting in the back of the left plate.

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Last but not least, as we were leaving the restaurant, we were presented a little box containing two orange cakes to “eat for breakfast”; we chose to eat it as dessert after our home dinner the next day. Broken down, it was a sponge cake with a marmalade-like filling and some icing glaze on top. This is more of an adult cake with the quite bitter marmalade filling.

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Altogether the bill came up to £100 each including a bottle of still water, a £50 bottle of wine, a £10 supplement and a 20% discount. I’m not sure if the coffee was complimentary or they forgot about it but it wasn’t on the bill. We had chosen a three course meal at £75 each but if we had gone with the discount, not ordered any wine or any courses requiring extra money, the bill would have come to about £70 each once service was included which is pretty good value for money considering the quality and all the freebies on offer.

Service throughout was excellent. Although I personally felt a bit out of place and the other diners looked as if they had several more zeroes in their bank accounts than mine, the service staff were extremely friendly and efficient during the entire 3.5 hour meal.

Food – 9.2
Service – 9.0
Atmosphere – 8.0
Value – 7.0


I’ll just say it now: this is the best posh French meal I’ve had. It is also one of the rare times where I’ve enjoyed pretty much everything thrown at me from start to finish. Neither me nor the wife had any particular bits to complain about any of the food and although I did think the mains lacked sparkle, they were still pretty good overall.

Best bit: the bacon bread. Seriously, its bread with bacon bits inside, what’s not to love?
Worst bit: not having the capacity to ingest more C6H12O6 at the end of the meal. The waitress actually looked disappointed when I asked her not to give us too much of the petits four, making me feel quite bad for letting her down.

IMHO: Alain Ducasse > Le Gavroche > The Square > Waterside Inn >>> L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. I’ve left out Hibiscus as I only sampled their set lunch menu and The Fat Duck has a totally different cuisine type. However, this is based on my personal preferences and on a single visit only.

Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester
Mayfair
53 Park Lane
The West End, W1K 1QA
Tel: +44(020) 7629 8866
Official website

Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester on Urbanspoon



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