Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester
Where's the "Wow" Factor?
by Mary Anne Evans
The trouble with fame is that it invites huge expectations. And so accordingly, when the maestro Alain Ducasse opened his eponymous restaurant at The Dorchester, there was the distant sound of critics sharpening their pens and finely honing their critical faculties.
Ducasse has left the kitchen in the capable hands of Jocelyn Herland, who comes from Alain Ducasse at Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris. The first thing to note is that the restaurant is very beautiful, elegantly decorated with beige and cream colours, the main walls dotted with green and yellow silk buttons to echo the trees opposite in Hyde Park. The tables, laid with regimental precision, display curved bread plates, Ercuis silver cutlery, specially designed crystal glassware and ceramics in the shapes of vegetables and fruit in the centre. There is a “private” dining area, called La Lumière, a charmed circle all in white, encircled by glittering fibre optic curtains.
So, you ask, what about the cooking? Well, breads are topnotch; amuse-gueules of crisp baby vegetables and Chantilly truffle cream are good. Starters included squid bonbons, squid in light pastry with baby vegetables and coco chutney; and langoustines “Parisian style” which means with avocado condiment, an avocado purée that sadly overpowered the well-cooked langoustines. For mains, we tried seared Scottish scallops with ponzu dressing and dried bonito fish shavings on top which was exciting in its homage to Japan, and poached Landes chicken breast (which carries a hefty £10 supplement) with Albufera sauce–a creamy sauce of Madeira, foie gras and truffles. Very acceptable, but perhaps we should have gone for the venison cooked in a cocotte served with vegetables and red wine sauce. So far so good, but …we were expecting fireworks. Happily these came with the desserts, a signature rum baba which comes with a choice of rums to add and whipped cream, and a Gianduja, layered milk chocolate with praline and orange which lives up to the “velvet” description. The wine list is, hardly surprisingly, hugely expensive with some excellent wines, though you could go for the Chablis at £25, which is very good luckily as it is the only bottle below £50.
So, the verdict? This is a beautiful restaurant, with impeccable service, and the food is good. But at these prices and with this pedigree, the cooking should be more than good, it should excite and stimulate, not just please. All we can hope is that it is the early days and the general lukewarm welcome London has given the maestro will cause a change of thinking. London has the reputation of being an exciting city; Alain Ducasse should meet the challenge and give us the “wow” factor, whatever the cost. Set three-course lunch £35; à la carte lunch two courses £55, three courses £75; à la carte dinner three courses £75, four courses £95; seven-course Tasting Menu £115.