Alain Ducasse collects stars. Michelin stars.
The French-born Monaco-naturalized chef received his first three-Michelin star award when he was just 33 for Le Louis XV in Monaco. He made waves back in 1998 when, at the young age of 41, he became the first chef in 60 years to hold six Michelin stars at once (three apiece). He's the only chef to ever have 3 Michelin stars for three different restaurants at once (Paris, Monaco, and New York in 2005 and once again Paris, Monaco, and London in 2010). He currently holds the second most Michelin stars of any chef in the world, second only to French rival Joel Robuchon.
Ducasse has since built an empire, including two cooking schools in Paris (one for the general public, one for chefs), multiple books, and dozens of restaurants around the world (Paris, Monaco, Tokyo, Las Vegas, Hong Kong, Italy, just to name some).
Alain Ducasse's London restaurant resides inside The Dorchester, an upscale, luxurious, and super prestigious hotel overlooking Hyde Park in London's Mayfair neighborhood. It is one of four 3-Michelin starred restaurants in the UK, and the only one inside of a hotel.
The restaurant space itself is beautiful. In the middle of the restaurant, there is a HUGE "waterfall" of glittery fiber optic strands forming a "luminescent oval curtain" surrounding one special dining table called "Table Lumiere" This very special table fits 2-6 people and costs £200 to reserve (plus the price of the special tasting menus that come with this table).
We didn't sit at the special table.
To me, we got an even better seat - one next to the window! I love daylight, and there are only 5-6 tables in this semi-separate lit part of the dining room. All the other seats (including Table Lumiere), are in the inner part, where it is much darker.
There is no a la carte menu at Alain Ducasse. Instead, you choose between one of several tasting menus: a three course (appetizer, fish or meat, and dessert) for £95; A four course (appetizer, fish, meat, and dessert) for £115; the tasting menu (7 courses taken from the regular menu) for £135; and a 7-course Seasonal Menu (items not on the regular menu) for £180.
Additional cheese courses can be added for £15, and certain choices on the menu have an extra supplemental charge.
We had just enjoyed a wonderful lunch at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal earlier that day (I know, we're a little crazy), so I wasn't as hungry as I might have been had I eaten a smaller lunch. As a result, I did not feel like getting a huge tasting menu. Bryan's main concern was that we would be sacrificing the quality of the meal. After all, oftentimes chefs only put out their best stuff in the tasting menu.
Once we learned that the normal 7-course tasting menu essentially consists of items on the regular menu, Bryan was agreeable to the idea of having each of us order a three or a four-course, and then we could share. We would essentially be getting the variety of a 7 or 8-course meal, but we would have more control over which courses we wanted to try.
After sitting down, the water immediately brought over a huge plate of gougeres made with Emmental cheese. We didn't realize it at first, but different ones had different flavors. Some were spiced with paprika, while others had a strong black pepper note.
These were delicious and I ate my fair share, though deep down inside I still couldn't stop thinking about the best cheese bread I've ever had (from a steakhouse in Argentina).
We had our choice between a huge spread of bread (always a fun choice at these high end restaurants). I chose the French baguette and the seeded roll. Bryan also went with the French baguette, but got the pork fat brioche instead.
Since we were in a French restaurant, we decided to go with Burgundy. We enjoyed a lovely Vosne-Romanée from Domaine A.F. Gros Vosne-Romanee Aux Reas, Cote de Nuits, France.
We started with a beautiful amuse bouche of a chilled broccoli soup topped with pickled watermelon radish, zucchini, jicama, and drizzled with a splash of balsamic vinaigrette. The flavors were light, creamy, and elegant. It made me wish I knew how to make a broccoli soup taste this good.
My first course turned out to be my favorite dish of the evening and one of my favorite dishes from our London trip. Simply called Spring Vegetables, the dish was a salad full of gorgeous greens like broccoli, zucchini (they call it courgette), asparagus, and pea greens. These flavorful spring greens were served with an intensely flavored taggiasca olive condiment that added so much depth to the salad.
I was totally intrigued by the artistic "cracker" that came with the dish. It was so artfully embedded with paper thin slices of colorful spring vegetables. I loved it.
Bryan's first dish, ‘Sauté gourmand’ of Lobster (supplement, £ 10) consisted of lobster, chicken quenelles (the white speckled oval shaped "meat balls" you see in the photo) and homemade gnocchi in a rich and luxurious sauce. The gnocchi was pillowy soft, and the overall flavors of everything else was spot on. Execution was perfect.
My second course was a Wild Sea Bass with white asparagus and citrus. The theme of citrus was present in various ways throughout the dish. The fish was super soft and tender, covered with a thin layer of lemony " breading" on top. The dish included a lemon and blood orange sauce, as well fresh bits of fruit.
On the side they provided a generous portion of citrus sabayon, a creamy sauce made with orange, eggs, sugar, and either white wine or champagne.
The overall dish was light and the citrus flavors were lovely. I wouldn't quite call the dish transcendent, but it was very nice.
Bryan got the Pigeon from the Anjou region in the Loire valley of France. Two pigeon legs came roasted and served with a flavorful pigeon jus. On the side was spinach, pillowy soft potato gnocchi, girolles (golden chanterelle mushrooms), confit shallots, and lardo.
The pigeon was quite lean and had a nice, meaty flavor. It was actually cooked pink (maybe medium?), which made it more tender. The fat under the skin added additional elements of rich flavor. Of course, the fragrant chanterelles, confit onions, and lardo further contributed to make this an excellent dish.
Before our main dessert came, they brought over some chocolate, pistachio, and lemon macarons.
Bryan decided he wanted to splurge, and enjoyed a lovely glass of 1996 Chateau D'yqum sauternes.
The next dessert was very memorable and probably my favorite dessert from this trip. The chocolate comes from La Manufacture, Alain Ducasse's own "bean to bar" chocolate factory in Paris that makes all the chocolate for his restaurants.
The dessert itself was phenomenal. Not only was the chocolate itself already amazing, I loved the interesting flavors and textures included in the layers upon layers of the contrasting elements. It was creamy, crispy, cookie-like, peanut butter, crunchy rice, and even a lovely touch of salt.
It was so good.
It came with a lovely chocolate sorbet, which had a beautiful intense chocolate flavor. The whole dessert was not too heavy, surprisingly, and we easily polished the whole thing off.
We also enjoyed the Apricot Soufflé, which came with nuts and roasted apricot inside.
It was accompanied by an Almond Sorbet served on top of roasted apricots.
The soufflé was perfectly executed and overall the dessert was nice, though it was nowhere nearly as memorable as the chocolate dessert. I may also be biased since I don't really love fruit and nuts inside my soufflés. I prefer for them to be pretty plain and simple (best soufflé I've ever had would definitely be the sake soufflé from Ryugin in Tokyo!).
Finally, before we left, they handed us a little take-away present: Chamonix Cakes to enjoy for breakfast the next morning. It reminded me of other fancy French restaurants, like Joel Robuchon, who gives you a whole lemon poundcake to take with you.
It was definitely a nice touch.
Our meal at Alain Ducasse was very, very good. In all honesty, we both agreed that this meal was the "best" meal we had in London. The technical execution of every single dish was perfect. The service was great, the space was gorgeous, and there were really no flaws in our entire meal.
However, nothing completely wowed us either (OK, maybe except for that chocolate). We came away pleased, but not blown away. I still thought that my favorite single dish in London was the Frumenty at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal , though I also acknowledged that overall, dishes at Alain Ducasse were at a higher level.
This is a really great restaurant. I have no idea how it compares to the one in France, but the one in London also has three Michelin stars, so it's definitely not shabby. Perhaps my views are biased by the fact that I was already so full from lunch at Dinner earlier that day, I did not want to order too much. Had I ordered the full 7-course Seasonal tasting menu, it's quite possible I would have come away with a different, much more impressed, perception. (Case in point: I've dined at 3-Michelin starred Joel Robuchon in Vegas multiple times. Although I thought the 4-course was nice, it wasn't until I tried their all-out Menu Degustation that I was floored and fully blown away by how amazing that restaurant is).
In any event, this is still a wonderful restaurant. Highlights for me were certainly the spring salad and the decadent chocolate dessert. We both thought the lobster dish was delicious, and overall everything was flawless. If I had one meal in London, I probably wouldn't choose a French restaurant. However, Bryan really wanted to try a three-Michelin starred restaurant in London (there are only four), and since we had more than one meal, it's still an excellent choice.
Maybe just don't squeeze both meals in one day, *sigh*.