Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester had a troubled start (I was here on the opening night) but it has gradually settled down and steadily improved in standard. Head chef Jocelyn Herland was not here at the meal today, but the kitchen brigade is well drilled. The extensive, well-appointed dining room looks out over Park Lane, and the large tables are well spaced. In these days of wooden floors and loud piped music in London restaurants, it is a pleasure to sit in a quiet carpeted room where you can have a conversation without straining.
There were several menu options: a tasting menu at £120, three courses £85 or four courses at £100. This is itself does not seem to be excessive, but the extras quickly add up. The wine list is breathtaking in scope and price. There are over 700 wine choices, with a range of fine growers from around the world. The cheapest wine on the list at the time of writing was £25, the costliest £9,900, with a median price of £175. Mark-ups average above four times the retail price, which makes it one of the the costliest I have encountered in London. Even dusty corners of the wine list that usually give some relief for those seeking value will not help you. Gracher Himmelreich Kabinett 2008 Joh Jos Prüm was £75 for a wine that you can find in a shop for £15, 2004 Trimbach Cuvée Frédéric Emile was £140 compared to a retail price of £34, and Prélude 2008 Leeuwin Estate was £80 for a wine you can find in the high street for £19. On most wine lists, the costly wines are marked up less in relative terms, but good luck finding such relative value on this list: Château Petit Village 2000 from Pomerol was £320 for a wine you can buy for £46 in a shop, Latour 1996 was £3,200 for a wine that cost £596 and Chateau d’Yquem 1997 was £1,200 for a wine with an average retail price of £196 (the 1980 Yquem was £2,740 compared to a retail average of £337). If ever there was a wine list designed to help you give up drinking wine in restauramts, this is it. Though with mineral water at £6 a bottle, there is little relief here either.
As you sit down a generous plate of gougeres, in this case made with Emmental cheese, appears. I like my gougeres to be bursting with cheese flavour, ideally fresh from the oven, but these were neither: prepared earlier and having subdued flavour, though nice texture (16/20). Much better were the Barbajuans, little ravioli of spinach, ricotta cheese and Swiss chard, a Monegasque speciality served at sister restaurant Louis XV. These were piping hot and had lovely flavour, and much better than the version I had on a previous visit (easily 18/20).
The first course of the surprise menu was a Scottish langoustine, served cold with black truffle mayonnaise, brunoise of vegetables and black truffle vinaigrette. The langoustine was lovely, perfectly cooked through, the diced vegetables and truffle an excellent complement to the dish (between 18/20 and 19/20). Asparagus from the Luberon was just in season, here served in a hotpot with morels and an asparagus veloute. The asparagus was superb, beautifully cooked, and the morels were also excellent (19/20).
Lobster was served with chicken quenelles laced with truffle, alongside home-made pasta. The lobster was good, though one piece that I had was a little overcooked (to be fair, the claw was fine), while the quenelles and the sauce were nice. However the pasta, made from semolina, was cooked al dente and was supposedly intended to be a firm texture as a contrast to the soft quenelles. It was certainly firm; my pasta seemed undercooked and simply hard (15/20).
Halibut was baked and served with celeriac, shellfish and squid: the fish was cooked very carefully, the sauce subtle and appealing (18/20). I preferred this to wild sea bass, served with baby artichokes and olives from Taggiasca. The sea bass was pleasant but not of especially high quality, the artichokes were fine but the main issue was that the olive flavour dominated the dish (16/20). Loin of veal from Limousin was very good, served with crisp sweetbreads; this had good flavour and careful cooking (17/20). Anjou pigeon was even better, with excellent potatoes and a “choron” condiment (essentially a béarnaise sauce with added tomato) whose little vinegar was a nice balance to the richness of the pigeon (18/20).
We tried several desserts, which always seem to be a strength of Ducasse kitchens. Raspberry and almond dessert had high quality raspberries and lovely almond flavour (18/20). Chocolate and hazelnut biscuit with hazelnut ice cream is a variant on the croustillant served at Louix XV, and was rich and appealing, the hazelnut flavour excellent (18/20). Rum baba was superb, beautifully moist and with terrific Chantilly cream (easily 19/20). Best of all for me was a dish of exotic fruits, a mango jam with mango and passion fruit sorbet, as well as lemon and vanilla sorbet, finished with coconut and pineapple meringue: the balance of this dish was superb, refreshing and with lovely ripe mango (20/20).
The bill today came to £243 a head, which is a lot of money by any standards. The restaurant does its best to try and recreate the food of Louis XV, but is hampered by the lower quality of ingredients that can be found in the UK. The desserts here are lovely, and sauces are carefully made: these are all about precision and technique, and do not depend on ultra-fresh Mediterranean ingredients, but as soon as you move into the savoury courses the standard of the dishes is more variable. This is very good cooking, and the service is top class, but for me it is not true three star level food other than the desserts.
RT @Winemag: Top Cape Town restaurant The Test Kitchen closes https://t.co/weLQfaeHMB