Alain Ducasse – Dorchester – Park Lane – London
After a long time, I am finally putting pen to paper to write about the world’s current second best chef, having the most three starred restaurants, including establishments in London, Paris and Monte-Carlo; Alain Ducasse seems to be a “3 star machine”. Simply because of this, I respect the man. You’ve certainly never seen him on TV, he is very discreet and even still, he is one of the most talented chefs in the world and is perhaps one of the best restaurant managers in history. He currently holds 24 stars on his own, second only to Joel Robuchon.
His foray into the restaurant scene in London was not, as many think at the Dorchester, but at ‘Spoon’ in the Sanderson Hotel in Fitzrovia. After five years of hard word, the restaurant won its first star. Then in 2009, the chef took a step-up into the world of fine dining and took over the direction of the main restaurant of Le Dorchester on Park Lane.
I’ve tested his restaurant in Paris at the Plaza Athenée (part of Dorchester group) and I’ve always loved it, so I wanted to find out if the Dorchester’s reputation was all it was cracked up to be. Ducasse, helped by his protegé Jocelyn Herland, won the Dorchester two stars in 2009 and within one short year they attained le Guide Rouge’ s pinacle – three stars.
So how do you get from two stars to three? I got a bunch a serious foodie friends together to investigate further; we weren’t sure what to expect.
Obviously in this freshly redecorated dinning room, we expected to find a sumptuous space, created by one of the world’s best interior designers. Patrick Jouin, who had already decorated the Ducasse in Vegas had taken-up the challenge. As we walked in, an oval shaped waterfall of swarosky crystal welcomed us into a light bright, and generous space, which was pure and calm against the frenetic, noisy chaos of Park Lane in the outside. I liked the chocolate and green spotted walls in the alcoves and the contemporary furniture, which added to the serenity of the room.
But what I really like in the London Ducasse is that this French master chef has somehow managed to create a unique environment by mixing British flair, with typically French elements and themes. He has more importantly, found a way to cleverly adapt his cooking style to the local palette with his usual genius. Not finding this cross over of French classic cooking to British needs has perhaps been Joel Robuchon’s downfall.
Delicate royale of FOIE GRAS & PUMPKIN, lapsang souchong emulsion
The “mise en bouche” was one of those example marking simplicity and softness. This is crazy how mister Herland can just be simple and realise at the same time the most exquisite creation in cooking art creation. This one was superb. A pumpkin velouté so soft and mixed that you could see your face in it by reflexion. In technical terms we could call that a “glacis”, glossy as a mirror can be.
Presented in a small old fashion soup bowl, the velouté was honestly like a chinese lacq, in an orange tone. In the middle a round spot of foam from the lapsang souchong emulsion, slightly darker, almost burgundy coloured.
Then you start to eat. The dream starts at this stage, when you realise that on the bottom of the bowl has been dressed with some foie gras dices. I presume the velouté has been served directly very hot on a quite good portion of foie gras cubes. Therefore you don’t have them mixed, which would have been too strong and boring. Nooooooooooooooo here the chef has just created a 3 layers sneaky unprediactable flavour and shapes…the cubes, the velouté and the foam. All mixed together was just a superb combination. Well done I have to say, and certainly a good start for diner.
ARTICHOKE RAVIOLI, in herbs consommé
This starter was just an unbelievable moment in time. This kind of moment you’ll never forget, mainly from the faces of my friends, and from the full emotion we had when we started to eat the large ravioli.
Here we reach the sumptuous of being in a 3*** restaurant. Except if you are a serious professional cooker – or maybe mad – you’ll never try to do this recipe at home. “Why not??” will you ask…just because it’ll take you ages and patience?
Now to help you to understand, let’s come back to your imagination and when you were little.
Usually, we all love artichokes (Right??)…and what we love usually in artichokes is to scratch the leafs one by one with the teeth…after the artichokes being cooked….with either a vinaigrette or a mayonnaise.
Here J Herland create and invent, bring to us simplicity and brio. When you read the name of the course, you assume it’ll be again one of those artichokes heart (the inside)….and I wouldn’t say it’ll not be good….but I would say it’ll common or even boring.
But the master chef is sending you back in time and brings you the flavour of the artichokes. The bitterness of all those black-green part of the leaf that we love to suck, even just steamed. The raviolis are simply full of this crunchy and dark artichokes purée, which accommodate sumptuously with the herbs consommé. I can perfectly picture the “comis” in the kitchen meticulously scratching each leaf of the artichokes in the morning and preparing those large balls of artichokes purée, then coated with light simple ravioli pasta.
May seems simple, but most often simple ideas turn into a festival. Here, no “singing” oysters, no crystallized eggs, just the simplicity of the products and the brightness of the preparation. The Dorchester brings us into the past, using the simple sensation of our best moment. It’s something mainly used in those kind of restaurant, as it’s somehow giving the client a kick, a slap in the face, the thing they were not expecting. But this is the goal in achievement for such a quality place. Always pushing the boundaries.
Carpaccio of Scallops, beetroot and Truffle dressing
Artist? Yes mister Ducasse is an artist and his “protégé” seems to show it as well. From the minute we saw the waiter dropping the large plates on the table we all of a sudden recognized the beauty of the picture frame we had in front of us.
The round flower made of really thin scallop slices, alternating with beetroot slices and spinach in a wonderful “rose-window” style art creation. But what we didn’t realize at all – as I didn’t read properly the menu as usual – is that there was some truffle in this recipe. And it was a real fascination when I looked at the nice cabalistic shape of black and thick foam on the side of the plate. By just smelling it you can recognize the strong and famous truffle odour. At this stage this was a sumptuous delicacy and very odd combination! Black truffles are mostly preferred to be associated with meat. Here we were somehow intrigued by this white and black association. But I’ve to say….it works…and very well.
The truffle must have been crushed and reduce with a sea food stock coming I must guess from maybe squids. Thie latter was combined with a light lemon and lime background flavour, making the black sauce just very light. We can’t be too strong in flavour with Scallops, they are delicate and soft…..by covering with too much strong ingredients, you’ll destroy their supreme perfume. Truffle on one piece of Scallops, add some beetroot (sweet and tender) and a little spinach. Yummmmmy
What a perfect spot……I loved it.
AN APPLE COMPOSITION… « Comme trois pommes »
This is as usually really rare from me to talk about the dessert selection, simply because I’m not a sweet person (!! Ah ah ah). I just prefer salty dishes. It’s a fact.
But I’ve to say, this one was just the apogee of the full diner. I’m usually skipping this part, or not really enjoying it. But this time, the waiter treated us with respect (maybe because we’re French – lol). On the top of the regular dessert planned on the tasting menu, the waiter dropped on the table a 3 way apples style tart. One tart with three various way cook apple. Tatin (obviously!!), Apple Crumble style, and a Apple Curd Jelly with a crunchy of Apple juice on top. What can we say at this stage? Nothing just that we can commend all at the same time and have a huge respect for the idea; and certainly more for the quality of the tart. Paradoxically the Tatin tart was somehow the less interesting of the 3 flavours. The Crumble style was just superb, with the slightly cooked slices of apple. The last one was a very surprising shortbread layered apple tart with a layer of tender apple jelly and an apple juice crunchy….just totally fantastic. It was ace. Seriously
To sum up, Alain Ducasse surrounded by his head chef Jocelyn Herland succeed his magisterial entry in the small – very small – world of 3*** restaurant in the UK. The architect of the “haute gastronomy” has now proven that there is a great adaptation of French cuisine with british food and I’m somehow looking forward to go back again and try some of the new creation.MY RATINGS : FOOD = 9/10 DECORATION/AMBIANCE = 9/10 SERVICE = 8/10 NOISE = 9/10