A meal at Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester should really be saved for a special occasion – like a birthday. So I love how my brother and I have a mutual agreement that instead of getting each other presents for birthdays or Christmases (I am accumulating way too many things in my shoebox anyway!) we take each other out to a nice restaurant or go out for some sort of experience. Tonight it was my turn to treat my bro and I chose the 3-Michelin-starred Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester. Hey, go big or go home!
The Dorchester Hotel, if you don’t know it, is located in Park Lane and quite often has a lot of fancy schmancy super cars cars parked out the front. The service levels are as first-class as the guests it purports to attract and as soon as you enter through the doors you are greeted by smiling friendly helpful staff. Having arrived earlier than the 6.30 booked time slot my brother and I were seated at the bar and entertained by the bar man whilst we waited. The bar is located behind a very ornate “lobby”, which is where you can take your afternoon tea if you fancy. The bar snacks are pretty cool and befitting the Dorchester. Check out this revolving dish with three different sorts of delights. Of course at £20 per cocktail you’d hope you get something more than just peanuts!
Finally, our allotted time had arrived and we were ushered into the restaurant whose doors opened to reveal … the stunning ‘Table Lumière’ – a private dining area enclosed by a curtain of fiber optics (4,500 to be exact according to the website) – which dominates the centre of the room.
I wish I could have organised to eat inside it for our dinner tonight but it might have been a bit much just for the two of us! I’m told that if you ask nicely, and no one has booked it for the evening, you can always have a “tour” of the space.
The room is lush and at the same time muted. Fine-dining restaurants tend to be very calm with a very low level hum of conversation for example you don’t tend to get any of that racous noise you get at a place such as Wagamama’s! This can be a pro and a con – a pro being you don’t have to shout to hear and be heard, a con being that you can easily hear the conversation of tables around you. Even tonight we could hear the conversation of the couple placed two tables away. This could, of course, also have been a result of our tables being quite close together.
Upon arrival we were provided with all the menus (wine, a la carte, two tasting) and at the same time a mountain, as my brother refers to them, of steaming hot puffs (Cheese, Pepper and Parika flavoured) – not just one or two but a whole mountain! Hello, yum! I love you already Alain Ducasse. It was almost too distracting to be looking at the menus until we’d polished off the puffs. We were also distracted by a game I like to play with the wine list – “Spot the Highest Price Wine/Champagne.” Tonight’s winner was a Chateau Mouton Rothschild coming in at a mere £9,900 … hmm … moving on swiftly then!
For our food we opted for the regular tasting menu. There was also a seasonal option at more than double the price but there was nothing on that which excited us enough to go for it. As soon as we’d given our menu choice the bread man arrived – tempted to go for everything I tried to control myself knowing how much food we still had ahead of us. It was really cute that all the plating that we had seen so far were vegetable looking – kind of like lettuce/cabbage leaves. So, it did seem fitting that the butter that arrived came shaped as a garlic bulb. We were also given a pot of creamed cheese but the garlic shaped salted butter was the winner for me (let’s face it – it’s the only time I knowingly eat butter!)
My past experiences with Michelin-starred restaurants, breads excluded, have shown that you will generally get a “free” course, or an Amuse Bouche, as part of your meal. I’m not judging Alain Ducasse or anything but it was interesting to note that the Amuse Bouche in this case was actually listed and included on the menu as part of their 7 courses. We did get extras at the end, however, that didn’t require you to get tea or coffees. AND also an option to partake from their gourmand and nougat cart AND something to take away with us for breakfast. Nice. But more on that later.
Oh, before I head on to the food it was interesting to note that Alain Ducasse provided guests with salt and pepper. Again something I’m used to with these restaurants is that you aren’t provided with these – in theory the dishes should be perfectly seasoned already so that was something a little unusual.
We didn’t have much time for chit chat at any rate as our first course was very swiftly delivered after the breads hit our plate – this egg shaped container. With a restrained “Ta Dah” our, very French, waiter announced our Spicy CRAB and BROCCOLETTI had arrived. He said something about a crab emulsion and coral epaulette which I don’t even know if it’s a word but it sounds good. It was a very cute dish at any rate. And the substance lived up to the style! There was foam, there was smooth jelly but most importantly there was a good portion of crab!
We didn’t have much time to breathe before our next courst was up – a Crispy raw and cooked VEGETABLE tart, fresh herb condiment. One could almost say it was a deconstructed tart. This was a very pretty dish with lots of bright colours, great contrasts in texture and taste. Do you think I could validly claim this dish constituted one serve of vegetable for the day?
And then, O.M.G. this dish, though perhaps not by its look, but certainly by its taste and components thoroughly deserves it’s elevation to one of Alain Ducasse’s “signature” dishes: the “Sauté gourmand” of LOBSTER and truffled chicken quenelles. Could the waiter just bring me another order of this please? As the late Michael Jackson might be quoted it was simply “Gone Too Soon”. Incredibly rich and luxurious it was a perfectly balanced plate and I really was very tempted to lick the plate!
For all the colours that came before it the next dish was surprisingly … beige! Simmered HALIBUT, celeriac, shellfish and squid. Fish cooked to perfection but perhaps a bit too buttery and rich for me.
No tasting menu for me would be complete without a meat dish so gladly I looked forward to the Saddle of VENISON Grand-Veneur, pumpkin, beetroot and quince which formed our next course. What an interesting combimation of ingredients promised in the description. It almost tasted like there was some sort of chocolate influence to it but that could be from the gaminess or richness of the Grand-Veneur, or huntsman’s sauce (thanks google), that liberally covered the bottom of the plate. Again the protein was perfectly cooked.
I don’t often indulge in a cheese course with any menu but Alain Ducasse aims to give a truly French experience with his tasting menu so you have no choice so it was onwards with Assortment of four French CHEESES, country bread and condiments. Actually, this was a very cool and fun course because instead of the traditional chutney we were presented with four very different condiments to accompany our cheeses. From left to right we had a goat cheese with bell pepper paste, Camembert with apple and cider chutney (arguably the most “ordinary” condiment), a hard cheese (neither my brother or I can recall what kind) with a yum mushroom and macadamia paste and finally Roquefort with a pear and mustard! Crackers and a lovely walnut and sultana bread to spread the cheeses/condiments on were supplied of course but, rather randomly, a side salad!
Then it got a bit confusing. Petite fours, normally served at the end of the meal once it’s all done and dusted and normally with your teas and coffees if you please, came next. Hey I’m not going to complain when someone delivers gorgeous macarons and truffles (and more than enough for two people) but we were wondering if somehow the dessert course had gone missing or we had blinked and missed it! Well, no one in their right mind would knock back these macarons (straweberry, lemon and coconut) and truffles (hazelnut with crispy rice and a dark chocolate) so we indulged wondering what would happen next.
What happened next was our final course of dessert. How could I ever doubt the restaurant? At the beginning of the meal I was able to swap the the EXOTIC FRUIT contemporary vacherin for a Raspberry almond concoction instead. I have to admit that my brother’s decision to stick with the Exotic Fruit paid off and they even topped it off with a birthday candle. Awwww.
And then, the unimaginable happened.
A waiter started to wheel across a whole dessert trolley. That’s right. An entire trolley covered in even more treats from biscuits, to salted caramel fudges, to chocolate covered candies, to marshmallows, to nougats and even more cakes and treats! We were thinking surely that wasn’t for us … but it was. We were free to choose anything and everything that we wanted from the trolley. This was almost as good as the bread selection at Tom Aiken only, coming at the end of the meal, we really struggled to choose more than a little raspberry and pistachio tart to share between us and a few salted caramel fudges. And only because it felt rude not to!
And then, another unimaginable event happened. Apart from being allowed to keep my pen (I had only jokingly asked if I could keep it) we were given a tiny box of what was basically sophisticated yum yums on our way out for our breakfast! That has only happened to me twice ever (at Aria in Brisbane and Vue de Monde in Melbourne) and certainly never in a London restaurant!
So, that was the food! What about the rest of the experience? Well, if I’m honest I would have to say it wasn’t the best service I’ve ever had in such a high class a restaurant. Yes they were conscious of things like guiding you to the toilets (although they don’t go so far as leading you to them seeing as they were physically located outside of the restaurant and quite a far way out into the lobby), topping up your water and remembering that it was my brother’s birthday (with the candle on his dessert) but there were other things which weren’t quite perfect – food coming out very quickly, waitstaff seeming a little distracted at times and the waiters not going into much depth regarding our food (normally you get the sense that they really know the food and the ingredients – on this occasion it felt like they were simply reciting what was in the menu.)
Overall, however, I did feel it was definitely a special occasion experience.