I like to keep my acquaintances varied, social butterfly that I am, but some people might be shocked to find out that I have some friends – shock horror! – who are not foodies. Some (and here I’m engaging a hushed tone) might utter the phrase eat to live, not live to eat, although generally wouldn’t say it within my earshot. They have all, however, heard of Alain Ducasse, the globally acclaimed chef with enough Michelin stars to form a galaxy all of his own. Non-foodies were intrigued when they found out that I was going to be dining at culinary institution Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, led by former protégé – and now talented Executive Chef in his own right – Jean-Philippe Blondet. Can a three Michelin star restaurant really be so different, they asked, so much better? In a word, yes, because Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester under Blondet retains the seasonal and produce-focused attention to detail that characterises the Ducasse gastronomic philosophy, but with a contemporary and youthful edge… and a tasting menu to rival any I have ever experienced.
Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester had only just reopened after some refurbishment when we visited recently, although the glittering cascade of the curtained private dining area is still the centrepiece of the room. Restaurants within hotels often have the best standards of service and this one is no exception. Our waiter Riccardo and head sommelier Vincenzo were knowledgeable and polite, but with that little spark of humour that seasons the dining experience in a way that no condiment can and an unnatural prescience in terms of what the diner needs. We were asked if the pace of service suited us and it was adjusted to allow us a little extra time to luxuriate between courses, which is somewhat of an essential if you’ve ever experienced a tasting menu served at high speed and been ejected onto the street in a state of mild discomfort! Charlotte was also very impressed that, upon noticing that she prefers to use her cutlery in non-standard hands, Riccardo offered to lay them in the opposite configuration for the next course so that she didn’t even have to swap them over herself!
So, to the food. If you’re one of those people, like some of my friends, who aren’t really that interested in food, then I’m amazed you’ve even made it this far. Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester is a love story to high quality ingredients, an affair with food so good that you make bedroom noises in public. The tasting menu is a showstopper with no passengers amongst the seven courses and, no matter how much noise you make, no one will be peering at you and frantically whispering to the waiter I’ll have what she’s having because the tasting menu and á la carte are one and the same (for a slightly lower price you can choose an appetiser, fish or meat, and dessert from the tasting menu but who in their right mind is doing that at a three Michelin restaurant?). In any case, even if you try to be good (whatever that means), you’ll be scuppered by the canapés (oh GOD, the GOUGÈRES!), the round of bread (the virgin butter, although purportedly lower fat, is still butter) and the wine pairing, which, at one glass per course makes a few extra courses well worth any effort you might think is necessary. For me, it’s no effort at all…
We began with a glass of Delamotte champagne, in glasses so delicate – and naturally, bespoke for Ducasse – that they felt as light as air. After Ducasse’s signature (to-die-for) gougères, which are tiny fried ravioli served as nibbles, the first course was hand dived sea scallop, thinly sliced and rolled around yuzu strips, on a rich cauliflower sauce, cut through by the Greek Epanomi Malagousia 2020, a floral and fragrant grape variety recently revived from near extinction by Ktima Gerovassilou. Another fish dish followed, this time sea bass with green radish and Japanese influences, salted only by the presence of samphire and served in a cold dashi with bonito flakes that Charlotte described as ‘sea pesto’. The wine to accompany this course had a hint of salinity alongside stone fruit and herbaceous notes, and was one of those wines that really benefits from a good pairing, a 2020 Kamptai Grüner Veltliner Langenlois by Weingut Schloss Gobelsburg in Austria, an 850 year old winery!
There followed the signature dish of Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester and my personal favourite, a lobster medallion with chicken quenelles, truffle and shimeji mushrooms arranged around a fold of flat semolina pasta. Riccardo insisted that bread was required for the sauce and Charlotte’s allergies were accommodated, not just by the removal of the mushrooms, but the addition of more chicken. The dish is very rich and savoury, a hug on a plate, paired with a sparkling sake made for Ducasse that was so light the liquid was almost mousse-like! Another, final, fish course consisted of turbot and Jerusalem artichokes served mashed, roasted and as little fried crisps, paired with a 2016 Sainte Mont le Faite from Plaimont in South West France. Wine enthusiasts would love to see the traditional way this wine is labelled with a wooden tag attached with wax, as well as enjoying the high acidity of the Petit Manseng grape alongside the rich sauce of this dish.
Our first red wine added another country to our tasting tour; this time we travelled to Italy with a 2018 Toscana Guidalberto by Tenuta San Guido in Tuscany. The wine was well structured, with a kind of snappy dryness and red fruit flavours. The dish was fallow deer, simply prepared and cooked medium rare, with a very meaty venison jus and a kombu seaweed flavoured wedge of kalibos cabbage that made the whole dish rich with umami. A small pause was required before the cheese course, but the cheese trolley is a distant pre-Covid memory and a smaller selection is sometimes more sensible for those of us who have cheese habits. A 40 month aged Comté and a heaped spoonful of deliciously gooey Mont d’Or were highlights, while Dow’s port provided a perfect accompaniment.
Finally, the dessert was a French classic: a Mont Blanc, topped with a heap of traditional chestnut puree and brought up to date with yuzu gel hidden inside. The final wine was a similarly balanced combination of acidity and sweetness, a 2019 Burgerland Beerenauslese from chardonnay grapes, by Helmut Lange in Austria. Petit fours were, naturally, also bespoke creations by the Ducasse team and we even left with a chocolate gift, as well as big smiles and full bellies.
If you are a foodie, you will know of Ducasse and I imagine need no persuasion to put Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester on your wishlist, if it isn’t already. It is an experience not to be missed, one which epitomises fine dining and will leave you with some of the best food memories you’re ever likely to make. Grab your foodie BFF and spend afternoon or evening in complete reverie with this perfect dining experience. Better still, take a non-foodie friend to this church of gastronomy, where each whisper of enjoyment and sound of pleasure is a hymn to the finest ingredients and the skills of this world-class talented team. Show them the delights of epicurean pleasure, show them that a three Michelin star restaurant is the food, the service and the experience. Show them that this one, Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, is a vision of luxury inspired by nature, worth every point on every one of those stars. Lead them to their conversion and, as is only right, show them by example as you tuck in to the tasting menu again… As a member of the foodies, it’s your duty. I’ll be doing my bit as soon as I can.
Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester