Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester (London): finesse

(Visited January 2013)

Here, finesse is as abundant as the stars,  finesse in conception and execution, though if one observed that these dishes are sometimes unspectacular, one would be capturing another truth. Nobody can accuse Ducasse of ever taking you by storm. At least in the savoury department, sweets tell a different story.

The nibbles (excellent gougeres), the amuse bouche and the starters were the savories that made an impression.

In the amuse, a royale of foie gras went very well with raisins and cauliflower, all exactly balanced. A starter of crab in two ways (cold/warm) was complex and refined, while a purely vegetarian, maybe even vegan, dish of vegetables in various cookings was pretty to see, meticulously prepared and delightful to eat, only held down by the quality of vegetables that was good, for sure, let’s say even very good, but not as spectacular as one would probably find at Ducasse’s places on the Continent.

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The mains, a wild sea bass and a halibut, consisted of small pieces of the fish fillet with one vegetable and excellent jus (chicken for the seabass, meaty for the halibut), simply and precisely presented.

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Fundamentally, there weren’t great motives of interest in these dishes, textural or otherwise except a pang of pepper, nor great complexity. In this type of relatively plain dish excellence depends on standout produce but this, while good, wasn’t near the best fish we’ve tried and it didn’t sing. For our taste, it was also a little overcooked.

What was truly spectacular was the patisserie. In the petit fours, the macaroons and pralines were masterful and the baba’ au rum was perhaps the best we’ve ever tried, also in virtue of the theatre of letting you choose among six rums, but especially because of its unreal lightness.

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And a pear with chestnuts repeated the theme of extreme lightness married to great concentration of flavour. Structurally, it was a bit like a deconstructed Mont Blanc. Quite phenomenal.

Shock news: espresso was also very good: what a rarity.

The front room can be ugly or beautiful for the beholder. For us it is pleasant, tables are amply spaced, light is abundant, at least in the sector we were in. Service is incredibly unstuffy for a classical French place and extremely attentive, a real asset of this restaurant.

Prices are high of course but very much in line considering where you are, the three stars, the brand name, and what you eat (£5 for coffee seems too much though).

We put three pics just to show that it wasn’t a dream. We’re too lazy right now to put them all up, yet unwilling to delay this post any further.

Stay tuned…

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