Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester on its opening night

Saturday, November 17th , 2007

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The main event of the week was the opening of Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester Hotel.  As a chef with two 3 star Michelin restaurants with his name attached to them (and a host of others in the stable, including several starred establishments) it was understandable that expectations were high.  Perhaps too high.  I won’t repeat the review here, but essentially they seem to have imported a fine pastry chef, but that is the only element of the meal that was really in multiple Michelin star territory.  The pretty and understated room is attractive, and the couple at the table next to ours were sufficiently excited to appear intent on initiating some sort of up-market restaurant equivalent of the mile-high club.  Sadly it was hard to get similarly worked up about the dishes on the plate. These,  although featuring high quality ingredients, showed both some technical errors (which can be fixed with time) and, more worryingly, a lack of real ambition (which may not be).  This is a large venue with around 80 covers, too many to produce the kind of picture-perfect food that appears in Paris 3 star places (where typically about 40 covers are served by a kitchen team of at least 30).  Prices, however, are set high e.g. the tasting menu is set higher than at Gordon Ramsay, while the wine list has some of the highest mark-ups I have ever seen.   So, London still has to wait for someone to really push the culinary boundaries into multi-star Michelin territory, as this restaurant does not appear to be trying, despite the carefully orchestrated publicity. 

Talking of publicity, one London food review web site has a rave review of the Ducasse Dorchester restaurant from a couple who “could find no faults” – fair enough except that the review was posted two days before the restaurant was open to the public.  I have written before about this kind of thing.  By contrast Jan Moir (ex food critic of the Telegraph) seems to have had a similar experience to me.

I was pleasantly surprised by Semplice.  I had thought: just what London needs, another smart Italian restaurant, but this featured genuinely good cooking and a rare attention to detail on ingredients.  There were a couple of slips in the meal we have, but overall this was a classy affair.  I was in a good position to judge the meal as just three nights earlier we had been to Zafferano, which regular readers know is my favourite Italian restaurant in London.  While the meal at Zafferano was a more polished experience, the quality of the salad and pasta at Semplice was scarcely worse, which is praise indeed from me.  I did sample white truffles at Zafferano this week with lovely tagliatelle, but this year is a poor one for white truffles (due to the weird summer weather, apparently) and prices are astronomical. 

I revisited Yauatcha, which along with its sister Hakkasan is the only other Michelin starred Chinese   restaurant in London (indeed there cannot be too many anywhere else, come to think of it).  Its dim sum offerings are genuinely superb, and whether you try  the superb steamed dumplings  or the more exotic dishes like salt and pepper quail, the kitchen never seems to put a foot wrong. 

Haandi is another delightfully reliable restaurant which never seems to have an off night. As ever, the tandoori cooking was very well handled, the vegetable dishes were terrific and the paratha is probably the best in the UK.  Service can be erratic and the dining room is nothing special, but the cooking is excellent.

On the international front the new Michelin Guide to Germany appeared (with stereotypical Germany efficiency, it is always seems to be the first of the Michelin Europe guides to appear).  I have stated repeatedly how impressed I have been with the dining scene at the top end in Germany, which never seems to produce an over-rated 3 star place.  This year was a banner year for Germany, with no restaurants being demoted from 3 stars but also no less than three new 3 star places appearing. 

Of course we have not seen the other Michelin guides for 2008 yet, but at the moment Germany has the most 3 star places outside of France.  So: German cuisine is no longer the wurst (sorry – couldn’t resist).   I have not yet been to the new 3 star places there, but the 3 star places I have visited are genuinely worthy of their stars, so congratulations to German cuisine for this landmark achievement.  The updated full 3 star list can be found here and my location map has been updated with the new places.