There are experiences and then there are rites of passage. ‘Bucket-list shit’ to use the technical term. We’re talking Centre Court tickets for the Wimbledon final; driving a Rolls-Royce; gambling at the Casino de Monte-Carlo. Nobody would claim your life is incomplete without experiencing such things – just that it will be a little more complete once you have done so.
Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester definitely fits this criteria. Since its much-ballyhooed opening in 2007, the restaurant has established itself as veritable royalty on the London dining scene. It’s one of five restaurants in the capital to boast three Michelin stars, with only eight in the entire UK. (France has 29 but that smells like home cooking to me.)
Alain Ducasse himself isn’t culinary royalty so much as a culinary deity. Since making his name in the 1980s, Ducasse has opened restaurants all over the world, collecting accolades like the swottiest kid in school. He has held 21 Michelin stars over his career, the second-highest in history after compatriot Joël Robuchon. (Who racked up 32, the showoff.)
Today, the Dorchester Alain Ducasse is probably the most celebrated stronghold of the great man. Even the room itself is iconic: dominated by a giant luminescent cylinder – it looks like the world’s most expensive shower curtain – which houses the Table Lumière. For diners who fancy a little privacy, or simply want to experience a meal inside a giant fibre-optic cloud.
This is the ultimate in sophistication. Naturally, being the cosmopolitan man about town that I am, I took my mum. Several times throughout the evening, this highly successful professional in her 60s was reduced to childish excitement at either the quality of the food and wine or the delightful intricacy of the experience.
What to order?
There’s the option of going a la carte but, though I’m sure all the dishes are magnificent, you would be selling the experience short. You’re here, you’re getting the seven-course tasting menu. This is the way.
In fact, seven courses is an underestimate: various amuse bouches and palate cleansers will find their way in front of you over the course of the evening. This really is dining as theatre, with a rotating cast of waiters and sommeliers floating onto the stage, their poise enough to make Fred Astaire seem galootish.
“The produce is the only truth,” states Ducasse on the website. Executive chef Jean-Philippe Blondet and head chef Alberto Gobbo have taken that mantra to heart. For the tasting menu that means going big on garnish and vegetables. The amuse bouches set out the stall: there’s pickled daikon with lobster, spinach and mozzarella parcels and a ravishingly beautiful flatbread with radish.
I don’t have space to celebrate each course, nor the vocabulary to do them justice. Plus you should really experience this meal firsthand rather than via the words of a writer whose eyes are dreamily distant and keyboard moist with dribble. But here’s the level of detail that goes into the opener of hand-dived scallop, citrus beurre blanc and Kristal caviar.
A trolley arrives and a tin of caviar is placed upon it. Then the scallops within their shells, vast clouds of steam emanating from the plate. The caviar is spooned into a citrus sauce then poured over the scallops. It's a dish so wonderfully dramatic it should be wearing a top hat. The finished product somehow lives up to the preparation – the sauce is just exquisite.
Joys abound. Spiny artichoke, cuttlefish and plankton is swathed in a lovely tart sauce. Veal from Corrèze slices like butter beneath your knife. However my personal MVP can only be lobster medallion, chicken quenelles, Périgord truffle and homemade semolina pasta. I only need three words to describe the taste: Oh. My. God.
Naturally, there are wine pairings. The restaurant boasts a 1,000-bin wine list curated by head sommelier Vincenzo Arnese and Gérard Margeon, executive wine director at Ducasse Paris. Name a label and you’ll probably find it in their cellars. My particular favourite was a 2019 Cour-Cheverney from the Loire Valley; Mum favoured the 2020 Alsace Sylvaner Rosenberg that kicked us off.
What’s the damage?
Well, it’s Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester – you don’t come here on the cheap. However, considering the quality of the food and the overall experience, the £210 price tag for the tasting menu could be considerably more punchy.
There’s also an a la carte option of starter, main, dessert that costs a mere £150; and a vegetarian ‘Jardin’ tasting menu for £165. None of these are small numbers and personally we’d go the whole hog but it’s your life and money.
Anything else to note?
The service is fantastic: not merely exceptionally attentive but completely charming. The staff really reinforce the sense that you are embarking on a special evening before you’ve even taken a bite.
View on Instagram
53 Park Ln, London W1K 1QA; Alain Ducasse