Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester

In the shadow of Paris and Monte Carlo

Ducasse's London restaurant offers classic French cooking and lovely views over Hyde Park

Since a couple of years now, his London restaurant at the Dorchester also holds three stars, but is somehow very different from the other high-end eateries of his empire.

London had to wait much longer than Tokyo or New York before seeing its first Ducasse fine-dining restaurant. Yet, when the doors opened at Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, the critics and bloggers did not really like it. Somehow, the concept was unclear; was the restaurant trying to do “cool” and trendy or was it a serious grand restaurant? In a way, the Londoners felt that they had been left out, and that one tried to cheat them with this restaurant. Yet, over the years a lot of things have happened, and the changes have all been for the better.

Now one can safely say that this restaurant is one of the best in town, even if the three stars are debatable (they also are in Gordon Ramsay’s case). The room is simply beautiful, if different from that of the Louis XV or the Plaza. As with most of his other restaurants, Ducasse relied on the services of the wonderfully gifted Patrick Jouin, who also re-decorated the Plaza’s room recently.

With Jocelyn Herland at the helm of the kitchen brigade, Ducasse has found an able and humble chef, who does not put himself into the spotlight, but simply does his job. To be honest, it is not an easy one, as he has about a third of the budget of his colleagues in Monaco or Paris to play with, when creating a menu, but equally high expectations from (some of) the guests. Furthermore, the British isles do not offer the quality of vegetables and meats that some parts of continental Europe do. Thus, the results on the plates were at times a little underwhelming.

Take for instance one of the signature dishes of Christophe Moret, who used to run the Plaza’s kitchen before leaving in autumn 2010: Turbot en matelote. It is basically a simple fishermen’s dish from the Loire. After having sold the fish, whatever remained was put into a pot with bacon, mushrooms, onions and red wine and simmered for a while. This stew, often made with eel, was turned into an unforgettable dish by Christophe Moret, by using all of the above mentioned ingredients and adding a nice piece of turbot as the centre-piece. What this resulted in, was a dish that blew you away, due to the quality of the products, precision and sheer concentration of flavours. Yet, a good year ago Herland served a version of it that can only be described as a “light” one. It lacked the flavours, complexity and product quality. Whilst still being a perfectly acceptable dish, it was far from the standard of the unforgettable creation of Moret. Only last year, after Moret left the Ducasse empire did the version in London become a little closer to the original. Now, it’s nearly as good as it used to be in Paris, with some personal touches that Herland introduced. He for instance cooks and serves the turbot on the bone, resulting in a beautiful texture. Also, he put most of the components back on the plate that were missing in his previous version. Therefore, this dish is now one of the most incredible one can find in London.

One dish, which he nailed from the start pretty much was his interpretation of a Ducasse-classic, based on pasta and chicken-offal. In London, you now get the pasta with a creamed sauce, a lobster jus and some pieces of lobster and chicken offal. This is not to everyone’s taste, but incredibly rich and delicious. It is a plate full of flavour, concentration and perfectly cooked ingredients. It really is a powerhouse of a dish, one which is quite extraordinary, especially when it is cold outside…Just don’t stop there, as the desserts are unsurpassed in London, and as good as those in any three-star in France.

That is really what Ducasse’s (and in this case Herland’s) kitchen is all about: Simply preparing a product of exceptional quality and serving it with perfect sauces and respectfully cooked vegetables. Now, Herland fully delivers on most levels. The only two complaints one could make are that the product quality is at times a little shaky and could be even better and that the wine list is exorbitantly expensive. Even more so than that of either Paris or Monaco, which is quite something. Apart from these points, it is hard to find much to criticise here.

Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester

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