"I urge you to pluck up the courage to join the rich and privileged at this most elegant restaurant "Review Rating: Reviewed by KimT
Walking along Park Lane is always a pleasure – much more so when you are on your way to The Dorchester - London residence to the stars and super rich. I had a small knot of nervousness bubbling inside as I knew that this was going to be a very special restaurant, having spent a while staring incredulously at the web site.
At reception I asked the concierge for directions to the restaurant and he did that relaxed walk allowing me to follow – open mouthed – through the most impressive opulent lounge. It was teeming with people (well, they do say that the credit crunch hasn’t affected the super rich) who all looked entirely at home – despite the enormous pots of exotic plants, the massive drapes and gilt everything looking down on the sofas and tables. I felt as if I was in one of those movies – trying hard not to stare and resisting the temptation to reach and to touch to see if it was real.
The two French hostesses – with uniforms apparently designed by Amanda Wakeley - at the entrance to the restaurant welcomed us warmly, taking our coats before opening the doors into a small lobby. Absolutely no pretension or arrogance here. Then we stepped into the restaurant. It was calm. Soft but not feminine. And spacious. You are literally stopped in your tracks.
The wall of what looked like stone gooseberries or mini apples is on the left, and there is a cosy table there with a fire behind at eye level. We were shown to a small table situated almost in the centre of the area. I must admit that I felt a little exposed. There was so much space between tables. I looked enviously at the mother and daughter who had been seated at the edge, between some pillars. At 730pm there was only one other table occupied – an American chap with what appeared to be a female work colleague. They looked completely at ease. I felt like the little village girl invited to dine with the king.
Behind them was the stunning Table Lumiere. A waterfall of 4,500 glistening fibre optic lights screening up to six diners from the public gaze. You can only wonder at who might have dined there. This feature dominates the room and draws your eyes which can’t quite believe what they are seeing.
The table decoration could have come from a fine art museum. The napkin dish and the knife rest were small works of metal art. The tableware (too ordinary a word for such beautiful objects) – was in a dove grey with a pale pearlescent pink design. On each table was a white enamelled porcelain sculpture – each unique – an artichoke on one, an onion on another (our enquiries revealed that they were made by Jean-Paul Gourdon in Puymican, France). Quite, quite beautiful.
We were offered a glass of champagne which was, predictably, a perfect start to our evening. We were given time to settle and admire the wondrous scene in front of us before being presented with the menu which I admit I had studied on the web site before coming. Despite the two Michelin stars I hadn’t been particularly impressed and had decided not to select those items which were marked as the speciality of chef Jocelyn Herland, I was later to regret this decision.
As I could only manage two glasses of wine (having a lecture to deliver the next morning at Guildford University) I put our wine selection in the hands of Head Sommelier Hugues Lepin. Despite his well deserved reputation, he was polite and patient with our questions. I do hope he wasn’t disappointed with our lack of sophisticated banter about his cellar.
Just after ordering we were presented with a huge bowl of savoury hollow brioche-like bites with a dusting of pepper along with a small porcelain egg which shimmered like an opal and contained crunchy vegetables and a creamy olive paste and a sprinkling of paprika or perhaps pepper. There was also a ball of butter and a dish of cream and cheese mousse – how could you possibly decide what to put on the bread?
So. For my starter I selected a hot and cold crab dish which arrived attractively presented in a glass and a dish. The cold dish had layers of brown crab meat jelly, juicy white crab meat and then an avocado cream. It was crowned with tiny carved crisp vegetables and apple. Whilst I am not a great fan of anything jelly, I have to admit that the flavours and textures worked well together. But the hot crab dish was incredible. Underneath a light froth that melted in your mouth like sea spray was a warm flavoursome fish stew with tender chunks of crab. It was a triumph.
But my companion had chosen one of those specials – delicate crayfish veloute, royale of foie gras. His plate was proudly presented and the waiter then poured the veloute onto the dish – crowned with a criss cross of Paris mushrooms - releasing the most amazing aroma. Close your eyes and you were transported to a French seaside town at suppertime. When the sommelier produced a bottle of 2005 Riesling Hengst Grand Cru Alsace Domaine Josmeyer my heart sank – the only Riesling I had ever had before was horribly sweet. But this was a glass of the most perfectly chilled, fruity but maturely dry wine I think I have ever tasted. The evening would have been memorable for that single glass of wine alone.
By 8pm the room was starting to fill – two Japanese couples, a couple from out of town (who looked as impressed as I felt) and a few other couples who appeared nonchalant to all the gorgeousness around them. There were one or two tables free, but it was quietly busy. And the army of waiting and wine staff – quiet, attentive and professional – ensured that there was a reasonable amount of movement. The gently increasing surrounding chatter made the place less intimidating. More relaxed.
Torn from the rapture induced by my crab and perfect white wine, my braised halibut with a shrimp and walnut crust and Chateau Chalon sauce followed. I was given a glass of Vehledron (Australian) – but I would have loved another of that Reisling. I have no criticism of my main course yet I was envious again of my companion who was presented with roasted rack and saddle of lamb in a nutty parsley butter. I kept asking him whether it was cooked properly because to me it looked dry, but he assured me that it was moist and perfectly pink and that the cooking sauces were excellent. His only very minor grumble was that some menfolk might like a few more vegetables for their larger appetites.
A lemon sorbet with mango arrived to cleanse our palates. Not having a sweet tooth we opted for the cheese platter and this was possibly the best decision of the evening. Four cheeses – which we were instructed to eat from left to right – each with its own carefully selected accompaniment – a goats cheese with a piquant chilli jelly, camembert with a crisp green salad and apple shards, a firm nutty cheese with grated macadamias and Roquefort with a mustard jelly.
The dark and milk chocolates arrived with our large espressos with a thick covering of crema in delightful cups which were decorated with bright green blades of grass.
I admit that I am not a genuine foody so my apologies to those who find my description of this fine food unsophisticated but I have eaten in some of the best restaurants in the world and I would place this one amongst them. The food was awesome but the warm, efficient staff (who were more than happy to repeat their heavily accented explanations and to answer all manner of our probably rather naïve questions) providing the perfect level of attention (not too much, not too little) to everyone regardless of their status or income and the beautiful room which is a feast for the eyes made this a truly magical experience.
For one of the best restaurants in London you expect to pay a lot and with three courses costing £95 it would be sensible really to go for the tasting menu of seven small courses – encapsulating most of those chef’s signature dishes- at £115. There is also a special black truffle supplement – indeed an entire menu of dishes which use this fragrant ingredient. But for those of us who live on more modest means there is a special new lunch menu at £39.50 for two courses including wine and coffee. I urge you to pluck up the courage to join the rich and privileged at this most elegant restaurant next time you want a really special and memorable meal out.
KimT reviewed Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester on Mon 23 Feb 2009