The Grill Room at the Dorchester was previously known as much for its décor as its food. Vast murals featured kilted Highlanders tossing cabers and staring down at your dinner. Finally some common sense has prevailed and a blowtorch has been taken to the décor, now with black lacquer, sycamore panels and a huge Murano glass chandelier centrepiece. A bar runs along one side of the windowless room, which has a wooden floor and rather uncomfortable chairs that tilt back awkwardly.
The restaurant is now run by Alain Ducasse, with head chef Christophe Marleix, who previously worked at Plaza Athenee in Paris. He was present in the kitchen this evening, which makes a nice change based on my recent experiences in London restaurants. Starters ranged in price from £12 to £22, main courses £29 to a little matter of £52 for 600g of Dover sole, side dishes £6 and our desserts appeared on the bill at £14, though they were £13 on the menu. Coffee was a ridiculous £6 a cup – if you want a refill then it was £6 more. This was never going to be a cheap evening.
The wine list was much as one might expect from a luxury hotel in London: expansive and expensive. Colli deLun 2013 was £50 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £14, Jermann Vintage Tunina 2012 was £150 for a bottle with a retail price of £38, and Didier Dagenau Silex 2010 was £245 compared to a shop price of £83. Further up the list the mark-ups offered no relief: Lafon Les Gouttes Mersault 2008 was £320 for a wine that costs £120, Latour 1982 £4,250 compared to a current market price of £1,712.
A nibble of salmon rillettes on thin crisps was a little sour, with the salmon flavour patchy (12/20). Bread was made in the kitchen from scratch and was good: a choice of seed bread, country bread and Stilton slices, the bread having enjoyable crust and texture (easily 14/20).
Chilled langoustines with celeriac remoulade was very good, the langoustine tender and the remoulade in particular having excellent flavour (14/20). Lemon sole goujons had plenty of fish and delicate batter, as well as thin potato crisps, but the tartare sauce was too sharp (13/20).
Asparagus risotto featured tender new season asparagus, and the rice had very good texture indeed, cooked with a flavourful stock (15/20). Sea bass was accurately cooked, also served with asparagus (14/20). On the side, mash was very creamy.
Given that there was a whole set of soufflés, I would have hoped for something better than these, acceptable though they were. Mango and passion fruit soufflé had light filling but somewhat leathery outside, while pistachio soufflé had soft outside but the filling lacked sufficient flavour (12/20). Coffee was Musetti and was fine, as well it might be at the outrageous price.
Service was slick, led by a manager who previously worked at the flagship Ducasse restaurant in the same hotel. Topping up was faultless and the staff friendly. The bill came to a chunky £145 a head. If you shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical bill per person would be around £135 all in. This is an awful lot of money for what appeared on the plate. The standard of cooking was fine in itself, but the prices here are hard to justify, with the wine list particularly egregious.