Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester has an attractive dining room with a view out over Park Lane and the park beyond. Since January 2016 the head chef has been Jean-Philippe Blondet, who runs a large kitchen with 25 chefs working at the service today. He has worked with Alain Ducasse for many years, including training at Louis XV and as sous chef at Spoon in Hong Kong, then sous chef here under Jocelyn Herland, who has now moved to Le Meurice.
There is wide a range of menu options here. The a la carte was £100 for three courses, though some dishes have additional supplements. There was a tasting menu at £140 and a further seasonal tasting menu at £180. Finally there was a cheap lunch menu at £70 including two glasses of wine plus water and coffee, though of course at this price do not expect the luxury ingredients. The wine list here has plenty of fine growers but the prices are high. Kientzler Riesling 2012 was £60 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £20, Monnier Limozin Mersault 2013 was £110 compared to its retail price of £41, and Etienne Sauzet Garenne Puligny Montrachet 2012 was a painful £315 for a bottle that will set you back £100 in a shop. There is the odd pricing anomaly amongst the prestige wines, so if you are an oligarch then you could indulge in the bargain of Coche-Dury Les Perrieres Mersualt £990, which is not bad for a bottle whose current market price is £1,548. However in general this is not a wine list aimed at those who are price-sensitive.
The meal began with two sets of nibbles. Emmenthal gougeres were well made but because they were not really hot they were not at their best. These were peasant but I have had many better gougeres than these (15/20). Better were barbajuan, a little fritter stuffed with Swiss chard and ricotta that is found mainly in northern Italy and south-east France. This was a tasty and delicious snack, and this version was better than I recall here (18/20). Breads are made in the kitchen, with two types of baguettes, an olive bread and also a bacon bread, and although they were fine they were also not special; they compare very poorly to the bread basket at sister restaurant Louis XV, for example. This is an area that could be much improved (15/20).
We tried a few dishes today. A mix of cooked and raw wild mushrooms were served with a herb pesto. The mushrooms seemed to be mainly enoki and shimeji, which have limited flavour compared to costlier varieties like ceps, and I would have hoped that this would be somewhere skimping on products due to cost. This dish was fine but unexceptional – particularly if I compare this with other mushroom dishes at 3 star restaurants like Regis et Jacques Marcon (barely 15/20). Dorset crab was better, served with celeriac and caviar, with crab tempura on the side. The dish tasted fresh and light, and the crab was of good quality (16/20). Chicken and pheasant pithivier was served with a dark, rich, complex sauce, the pastry delicate – an enjoyable dish (17/20). Native lobster was served with celery and a lobster sauce. The shellfish was cooked carefully and the celery was a pleasant earthy accompaniment, but this was merely nice, not dazzling (16/20).
For the main courses, rib and saddle of venison was served with parsnip with a peanut coating. I asked for the venison to be cooked as the chef would prefer, which turned out to be distinctly medium rather than rare, but the flavour was good; the parsnip worked well and the sauce was very well made. A little side dish of venison confit with coffee powder tasted a little odd to me, the coffee flavour too strong (16/20).
Lemon and almond dessert was a new dish. Lemon ice cream was served with an almond tuile, along with crème fraiche topped with mint pesto. The ice cream was lovely, and the tuile, thicker than usual, worked well and had good flavour. The mint did nothing for me; it is such a strong flavour, and I think the dish would be better without it (17/20). The rum baba is a Ducasse classic. It is a difficult dish to do well, deceptively simple though it is, since the bread base easily dries out. Here it was beautifully moist and the crème Chantilly was particularly light and not too sweet. This was better than I recall it here and actually was up there with the version at the Louis XV (20/20). Coffee was excellent, as well it might be at £7, but there was a whole array of mignardise included.
Service was superb, essentially flawless, with even the tiniest detail attended to. The bill came to £116 a head with just a glass of wine and water to drink. If you shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per head might be £160 all in, though if you go for the tasting menus or venture up the wine list the bill will be considerably higher. Just as at previous visits to this restaurant, although the chef has changed, the pattern of dishes seems familiar. The nibbles are good, the starters and mains are pleasant but not remarkable, the sauces are always good but the pastry section is top class and feels in a different league from the rest of the kitchen. The food here, other than desserts, does not compare well to its sister Louis XV in its heyday, but of course the food here is less than half the price, and the service is every bit as silky smooth. I think the three stars Michelin has anointed set unrealistic expectations if you are used to three star restaurants in, say, Paris, but that is an issue with Michelin rather than this restaurant. If you strip away the expectations then the food here is good, the menu appealing, the service virtually perfect and the desserts arguably the best in London. It is a pity that the wine list is so heavily marked up, but then you are in Mayfair. Value for money is the main issue that I have with this restaurant.