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Sublime Tasting – Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester:
Just as some of my friends have a bucket list of places to visit, I have one of the restaurants where I’d like to eat. I do have a ‘places’ list too of course, but there are times when it is easier and more relaxing to indulge in some very special food and wine at home in London rather than travelling overseas. On my personal wish list for a long time, Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester is a three-star Michelin restaurant, one of only two in London. And, since I’ve already been to Gordon Ramsey on Royal Hospital Road, albeit some time ago, a visit to Alain Ducasse seemed in order. This particular dinner was to celebrate the sale of my mother’s flat – and to thank my dining companion who help decorate, remove rubbish and generally get the place into a fit state to put on the market. We’ve been procrastinating for a while about where to go – our regular haunt was the Savoy Grill, but the refurbishment of that particular London establishment doesn’t seem to have settled entirely yet. And, Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester has that perfect balance of modernity and tradition that we both love.
Sitting in the promenade sipping champagne and cocktails before dinner, we were both just a little apprehensive. The tasting menu at Alain Ducasse is priced at £135. I’m very much of the opinion that there is no right or wrong taste – just personal opinion. While poor cooking is obvious and unforgivable, one person’s ‘perfectly seasoned’ can be another’s ‘bland’. So much depends on an individual taste profile and on what else you’ve had to eat or drink both in the recent past and over a period of time. As an example, I’ve deliberately cut down the amount of salt I use and I now often find dishes over seasoned when I eat out. And, when I cook at home I spot my guests adding more salt. Even having three Michelin stars doesn’t make a chef ‘right’.
At six-thirty on the dot, we were shown to our table. And, presented with what seemed like a library collection of menus. While it was extremely tempting to indulge in the just-launched seasonal black truffle menu, instead we agreed to stick to the standard tasting menu of seven courses. While my companion was treated to the top end wine experience pairing, I opted to have a little extra freshly shaved black truffle added to one of my dishes as my treat.
We started with more champagne – Alain Ducasse has his own Cuvee from the House of Lanson. It’s bright and fresh, the kind of drink that makes a great aperitif. A heap of miniature gougere appeared. Delicious and light – we managed to eat a healthy selection of these mouthfuls of cheese and black pepper before the main dishes from the menu started to arrive. My companion was treated at this point to a glass of Grand Cuvee Krug. Suprisingly for me, he preferred the house cuvee – so we swapped and I enjoyed the fine bubbles and delicate flavour profile of the Krug with my Dorset crab with avocado and caviar.
The first of a series of tasting dishes, the crab here was presented with a seafood aspic, small chunks of avocado, some crunchy some lightly spiced and a generous helping of caviar. It was a subtle fusion of flavours with nothing overwhelming the delicate crab. Textures – of caviar, of the avocado, of the flaky crab and the delicate jelly – were a fascination here.
Next up an extravagance of root vegetables served on a black truffle jus. Again, a texturally wonderful mixture, this time with the earthy aroma of black truffle pairing beautifully with the crunchy al-dente of the root vegetables. For me, a glass of 2013 Chablis Garnier, a bright, acidic wine with a rounded taste. My companion’s 2013 Sancerre Cuvee Jadis Haut Borgeouis was an altogether finer option, with minerality and earthy notes that made it the perfect complement for the vegetables. I was allowed a taste…
Saute Gourmand of Lobster with truffled chicken quenelles is an Alain Ducasse signature dish. Mine came with extra fresh black truffle shaved on top while my dining companion ate his as it came. I do have something of a truffle fetish and any excuse to add more is an opportunity not to be missed in my book. Sweet chunks of fresh lobster were complemented by soft quenelles of truffled chicken mousse and al dente pasta. Dressed with a brandy and shellfish jus, it was pretty good already. Top it all with generous shavings of black Perigord truffle and you have my favourite dish of the evening. At this point I was genuinely sad that I hadn’t also chosen the wine experience pairings – although my 2014 Coteau d’Aix en Provence Grand Vin Chateau La Coste was a citrussy floral mouthful that didn’t disappoint, the Puligny-Montrechet B. Moreau enjoyed by my companion was considerably more refined.
Next, a striking dish of line caught seabass with an earthy beetroot glaze and tiny turned radishes. Flaky morsels of fish, perfectly cooked and presented jewel like on the the plate. My Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay was fresh and vibrant. I don’t believe I actually tried the 2011 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er cru, Les Champs Gains which my friend was enjoying. But, since he specialises in writing about wine and seemed exceptionally happy with the pairing, who am I to question?
Saddle of Venison Grand-Veneur (Huntsman sauce) with pumpkin and chestnut was a rich, wintery dish, a perfect main course.
For me a 2010 Rioja Reserva Roda – the kind of bottle I might open at home if I was serving venison, rich and plummy, with a lot of body. For my fine wine dining companion a glass of 2001 Chateau Cos d’Estournel St-Estephe. He was a very happy man by now.
Perfectly ripe french cheeses came with accompanying spoons of condiments. I can’t remember (and didn’t write down) everything we were served but I noted a beautifully ripe roquefort and a delicious camembert. Washed down with late bottle vintage Neiport which I really didn’t need…but enjoyed, I was replete and happy by now. My companion had a 1981 Madiera Verdelho d’Oliveiras.
Dessert was a light, frothy and utterly delicious exotic fruit contemporary vacherin. I suspect that whatever treat the meal as a whole was, the moment for my friend was when our charming waitress appeared with a bottle of 1996 Sauternes Chatea d’Yquem. Again, I didn’t get a look-in. Instead I enjoyed a glass of 2011 Beerenauslese Kracher, a late harvested German sweet wine. If I’m honest by this stage I’d had quite enough alcohol and I don’t think I drank more than sip. I’d anticipated our ‘7 glasses’ being small measures, but I believe we were offered full glasses each time. And, although I truly loved the wine pairings if I am lucky enough to visit again, I’ll see if I can find a way to share the tasting flight.
Small chocolates and macarons appeared on the table to accompany our coffee…but I think we did little more than try one or two each. Instead, the majority were packaged up to take home – a lovely memento of a wonderful evening. I have little to criticise; service was exceptionally smooth, unobtrusive and helpful. Our wine waitress was knowledgeable, though a little more about why the pairings worked with each dish might have been useful. And, the food was sublime.
Would I do it again – yes, without a moment’s hesitation. I’d love to dine at the stunning Table Lumiere, an area in the centre of the restaurant screened off by a brilliant curtain of lights. A unique menu, your own choice of table setting and the opportunity to be in total privacy, yet right in the middle of things. A second visit would see me a little more cautious about the quantity of wine I ordered but that is about it.
Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, 53 Park Lane, W1K 1QA