With 21 Michelin stars to his name, Alain Ducasse is a “culinary icon”, said Lela London in Forbes. In the 50 years since his career in professional kitchens first began, the highly-decorated French-born Monégasque chef has “opened more fine-dining restaurants than the average person visits in their lifetime”.
But in recent years, Ducasse has “done everything he can to shift the spotlight off himself” and onto the next generation of world-class chefs. At the iconic Dorchester hotel on London’s Park Lane, the baton has been passed to Jean-Philippe Blondet, who has worked with Ducasse for more than a decade at restaurants in London, Monaco and Hong Kong.
At Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, the “fingerprints” of the restaurant’s creator and namesake are “still very much in evidence on a menu featuring French classics”, said Luxury London – but executive chef Blondet is “to thank for maintaining standards” at the three-Michelin-starred restaurant.
Pass through the The Dorchester’s recently-refurbished entrance and The Promenade’s “exuberant display of opulence”, said Wallpaper, before stepping inside Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester.
The restaurant’s centrepiece is its Table Lumière, a semi-private dining room that shimmers with thousands of floor-to-ceiling fibre optics. Try not to let its dazzling presence distract you from the restaurant’s other elegant design features, inspired by neighbouring Hyde Park; a leaf-shaped motif crops up through the table dressings, a charmingly-subtle carpet gives an illusion of dappled light slipping through trees, and cascades of small silk buttons on several of the walls add a vibrant pop to the soothing space.
Taking a seat at a brown arced booth, I couldn’t help but picture pausing to enjoy a moment of rest on a park bench – albeit a wonderfully luxurious interpretation of one. London’s ever-present noise and bustle seemed to take its cue too, melting into the backdrop of this effortlessly cool and calm room. With the scene set in mere moments, diners will have little doubt that an exceptional experience awaits.
Sampling the stars
Choose from the a la carte (appetiser, fish or meat, dessert; £150), menu jardin (£165), or the seven-course tasting menu (£210), which promises an indulgent and expansive tour of contemporary French cuisine. I could have written home about each and every dish; even the bread and butter was postcard-worthy.
For Ducasse and Blondet alike, a superb quality of carefully-sourced ingredients is essential. A hand-dived scallop, presented in a shell on a bed of misting seaweed, deserved every bit of majesty that its presentation pointed to. A citrus beurre blanc with a generous dollop of Kristal caviar was whisked up in front of us and sumptuously poured over the open shell. In a slightly more understated fashion, a standout saddle of Denbighshire venison with crisp butternut squash and kombu did all the talking.
Some culinary creations are perennially pleasing. The signature lobster medallion with chicken quenelles, deliciously al dente semolina pasta and a generous peppering of périgord truffle has been on the menu since the restaurant first opened in 2007, and it looks as though it’s (rightly) going nowhere.
Other dishes benefit from occasional tweaks. On our visit in mid-February, the Cornish turbot had just been afforded fresh flair with a seasonally-appropriate accompaniment of zingy, slightly sweet watercress, alongside Jerusalem artichoke, black truffle and hazelnut.
Blondet has curated a menu that delivers all you would hope for from a French master, but with some unexpected surprises. The bold combination of beetroot, mackerel and wasabi is a joy, with beetroot-powdered tapioca chips adding a pleasant bite. I sensed that head sommelier Vincenzo Arnese enjoys such a pairing challenge, as he presented a sumptuous oak-aged 2019 Chateau Lamother-Bouscaut Pessac-Leognan to accompany. It’s little wonder he’s just made GQ’s Food & Drink Awards best sommelier shortlist.
France, of course, is prominent on a wine list which leaves little to be desired, but the “discovery” pairing menu includes expertly-selected Pinot Gris from Oregon and Spanish Rioja too. It was, somewhat unexpectedly, a Graham’s 1990 Single Harvest Tawny Port that stole the show for me, though a Domaine de Montgilet Les Trois Schistes came a close second, served alongside the delectably light vassout pear with citron sorbet. Sampling this with a helping of Ducasse’s signature rum baba dessert is highly recommended.
There’s a certain level of service and attention to detail that it feels fair to expect of such a bountifully-awarded restaurant: polished, professional and unphased by an extravagant request.
The team at Alain Ducasse, under the guidance of restaurant director Marion Pépin, effortlessly tick off all of the above – but the warmth and personable approach with which they do so is what really made our evening. Sharing thoughtful insights and anecdotes about every dish we sampled, no detail was overlooked, nor opportunity to enhance our experience missed.
In an interview with The Telegraph in 2020, Ducasse described luxury as “the harmony between time and space; like the perfect dish is neither too little nor too much”.
Leaving W1 filled with exceptional food, the warm glow of exquisite wines and a grin that I don’t think left my face for more than a minute of our hours-long dinner, perfect luxury did indeed seem the most appropriate way to sum up the sublime feeling of timing melting away over a meal where the utmost intricate detail of every dish has been refined to neither too little, nor too much.
Julia O’Driscoll was a guest of Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester. 53 Park Lane, London, W1K 1QA; alainducasse-dorchester.com
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