My sister and I have this agreement when it comes to any event where presents are involved: Don’t buy me anything I don’t really need. The consequences of this mean that often we spend time buying each other experiences, rather than material goods that will often go unused. When it came to my birthday this year, she suggested that we dine at the 3-starred, Alain Ducasse in the Dorchester.
I’ve been past here, plenty of times before although normally it’s on the the top floor of the double decker buses that zoom around Hyde Park as you admire the fancy cars that sit in their driveway. Not tonight! This time, all suited up to go (apparently a “highly” recommended dress code of at least a jacket) and enter the hotel we are.
Being the first time in this hotel, I notice how the doormen manually revolve the revolving doors as you enter the building, and arriving for our 6:30pm (early I know!) booking, are greeting by no more than four or five different people in the lobby all decadently dressed up, as one would expect for such a well known British hotel.
We move into the stretched hallway, lined with gilded statues, overly ornate furnishings that shine in constrast to the dark streets we just stepped out of. Families celebrating birthdays, and obviously special events sit in comfy lounges entertained by a talented pianist and celebrate with a late afternoon tea. We walk amongst them as we move towards the entrance to Alain Ducasse.
Slightly early for our booking, we perch at the bar for a drink. The prices are sharp contrast to the cheap berlin bars I’m used to frequenting. Even when we went to Tausend to “splash out” on ‚Ç¨10 cocktails in Berlin, the ¬£20 equivalents here I’m sure are to be good. I opt for a simple classic Martini Bianco with a lemon slice as it seems to be my current apertif of choice.
The restaurant opens and slowly but surely we’re seen into the cavernous dining room. We are shown into one of the comfy corners. There’s plenty of space, and the drapes around make it feel a lot more intimate than waht the space realistically is. I note three two-person dining tables in our area, a couple already present against one side, we are seated against the opposite. Already able to overhear the furtherest table, I’m thankful the middle table remains unoccupied for the rest of the evening.
As we peruse the menu, a mountain of gruyere profiteroles arrives, freshly made, warm salty and ever so light. It’s tempting to continue snacking on them as we consider the two menus but I’m conscious we’ll be trying the tasting menu up ahead of us.
There are actually two different menus to choose from. A reasonable seven course menu that is listed on the website, and another using more in-season ingredients that comes in at almost double. We opt for the first and the menus are whisked away.
It’s not long until the bread basket lies. We have a choice from many breads. Not quite the same selection that Tom Aikens offers that requires a push-cart for just the bread itself, but good nevertheless. An interesting range from bread with bacon, an olive bread, sourdough, plain white roll and a baguette. Not super warm, but the winner for me is the small baguette, crispy on the outside and definitely freshly made.
It comes served with creamed cheese, and a pat of salted french butter shaped into what looks like a giant Chinese dumpling, or maybe more approrpiately, a bulb of garlic.
It’s not long before the first course arrives, a Spicy crab and broccoletti dish. The streak of red is some sort of spicy salt that definitely gives the dish zing. The foam on top suspending luscious amounts of crab, and a warmed jelly like seafood concoction that is as velvety as a very smooth foie gras. It’s a good start to the meal, a generous heaping of seafood and packed full of flavour.
In what seems like a trend to come, it seems almost as soon as we’ve finished one course, our plates are whisked away and another soon replaces them. I’m still uncertain as to whether or not they were rushing us (they weren’t really doing another sitting) or this was some aspect to the service that gets them that second or third star.
Anyway, the second dish arrives, Crispy raw and cooked vegetable tart served with a fresh herb condiment. This dish was not only spectacular to look at, but also an wonderful confusing mix of flavours and textures. Raw vegetables give the dish a fresh crunch that contrasts against the stewed vegetables that sit in a circle at the bottom of the dish. I break the flaky pastry dish, destroying the beautiful masterpiece, but eagerly using it to soak up all the amazing flavours that make up this dish. I almost think that my vegetarian friends would be amazed at finding this dish in a french restaurant, but a part of me suspects some of the strength of flavour from the sauces must come from a basis of animal stock. Not that I care as I scrape the last bits from the dish.
Our waiter presents, the next dish, apparently a very signature dish of Mr Ducasse, a “Saute gourmand”of lobtser, and truffled chicken quenelles. Exquisite, luciscious and no wonder Ducasse’s customers demanded for this dish to be brought back on the menu. Huge chunks of lobster sit amongst freshly made, perfectly Italian al-dente pasta, made even more divine by the chicken dumplings flavoured generiously with truffle. Strongly aromatic and a sauce so gorgeous that I cannot help but soak up some of the left over sauce with the remnants of my baguette. Probably breaking lots of ettiquette, but hey, I’m appreciating the food right?
Visually bland, at least in contrast to the previous dish, we start on the Simmered halibut, celeriac, shellfish and squid. I can only imagine how much butter (it’s French cooking, mmm-kay) went into the velvety sauce that surrounds the fish. A good meaty fish that flakes easily with a fork, with “tears” of celeriac dotting the plate. Shellfish came in the form of tiny cockels that provided pepper-like contrast to the dish.
We finish with the seafood course and then arrives our main meat course, Saddle of venison, grand-veneur, pumpkin, beetroot and quince. It’s a good thing too because it’s a sizable chunk. I take a sip of the Rioja wine that I enjoy even more having actually went against the sommerlier’s recommendation for a merlot, it’s strength of flavour matching well and not outpowered by the venison hung for only two weeks. He seemed to want to recommend all the most expensive glasses of wine which I’m sure were good, but my wine pallette’s not that refined. I take a slice of the venison, swoosh it around in the rich dark sauce, perfectly balanced with background notes of dark chocolate and enjoy the dish very slowly as the amount of food consumed starts to kick in.
Fortunately that was our last main course, with the cheese platter to arrive next. It’s spectuculalrly laid out with four different cheeses. A goat’s cheese accompanied by a red-pepper paste (very good!), a camembert with apple chutney, a hard cheese (can’t remember which) with a mushroom and macadamia paste (didn’t really do it for me) and my favourite of the evening, a roquefort blue cheese with quince chutney with a slight kick provided by mustard.
I found it a bit strange but they served it with a side salad topped with blanched almonds.
And more appropriately a walnut and sultana bread. Of course there were crackers as well.
Amazing the petite fours arrive without even being asked for tea and coffe and we’re both struggling to put away more of the food. There were six(!) macaroons. Flavours we think included strawberry, lemon and coconut.
The truffles were also very good – a hazelnut with crispy rice crackers remindining me of my favourite Finish chocolate brand, Geisha, and a more classic chocolate truffle.
My sister wans’t particularly thrilled by the sound of our last dish on the menu, and they substituted for her, the raspberry almond dish that looked delightful and appropriately red for my birthday (Chinese tradition says it’s good luck to be wearing red on your birthday).
Still not excited by the prospect, what arrived was definitely a good surprise in my book for the exoctic fruits dessert containing two different sorbets (vanilla and lime, mango and passion fruit), light puffs in the form of coconut meringue chunks of fruit and finished off by a warm mango passionfruit sauce. My only complaint was that it was a bit sweet for me (but I think that’s just me more than anything).
Thinking that we were completly finished, we were then shocked to have a whole dessert trolley roll up to us including many sweets, biscuits adn extra pastry cakes for us to choose from. We could have any and all although at this time, only opted for a small caramel and a pistachio pastry to split between the two of us.
They even gave my sister a nice “breakfast” take-away dish to go.
Everything about the evening was pretty good, as one would expect from a 3-starred Michelin place. I found the dishes coming a little bit too fast for my liking, but maybe that’s part of the service that is required for a place like this. Food was amazing, and some of the flavours really refined and divine.
Name: Alian Ducasse at the Dorchester
Found at: The Dorchester Hotel, Park Lane, London W1K 1QA
Assortment of four french cheeses (goat’s cheese, blue, camembert)
Exotic fruits – coconut meringue, vanilla lime sorbet, mango passionfruit.