Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester: An experience, not just a meal (January 2017)

As one of only two spots in London and four in the UK that hold three Michelin stars (the others being Gordon Ramsey, the Fat Duck and the Waterside Inn), expectations run pretty high prior to a visit to the Dorchester. Once you’ve fought your way past the throngs of wealthy tourists in the lobby, the restaurant itself feels like an oasis of calm, serene furnishings and a view onto the greenery of Hyde Park. Dining here was undoubtedly an experience, an exercise in superlative service, presentation and cooking. However, it wasn’t perfect and I have had better dining moments elsewhere in London. Anywhere where diners are expected to feel almost reverential about what they eat is somewhat off-putting and an atmosphere which is dominated by the hushed tones of business people in suits is not necessarily where I would choose to eat. The cooking throughout was exemplary, from the almost airy balls of bread with a cheese casing that were placed on the table to welcome us, through to the generous quantities of petit-fours with which we ended (and were allowed to take home the remainder). For lunch, my comrade and I both chose from the a la carte menu. To begin, a portion of Dorset crab with celeriac and caviar. It was very good, but not absolutely amazing (3-Michelin starred amazing) and I couldn’t help feeling that both the flavour combination and texture of the dish were somewhat muted, not necessarily bringing out the best of the underlying ingredients. The main was markedly better; a rib and saddle of venison cooked in a coffee flavoured sauce and accompanied by a peanut-studded whole parsnip. This was culinary genius, a deeply intense and profound dish. The wine match, of a 2014 Pinot Noir by Littorai from Sonoma, was also superb. It was hard to surpass this (or indeed my comrade’s scallops) and there was a slight anti-climax ahead of dessert, particularly since there was a surprisingly disappointing wait. Our 2 hours at the Dorchester were exceptionally well spent, but came at a price – a quite steep £100/head, and that’s just for the food. When I left, my belly was content, but my soul (as well as my comrade’s wallet) less so; and when forced to ask, was my experience considerably superior to that provided by, say, The Ledbury or The Square at its peak, then I would be forced to answer in the negative.