London is now home to many Michelin restaurants but only a hallowed two of them have been awarded Michelin’s coveted three stars. This means that Alain Ducasse and Gordon Ramsey of Chelsea are jointly viewed as London’s top two restaurants.
Alain Ducasse is at the splendidly lovely Dorchester hotel on Park lane in London.
The Dorchester and I have a relationship that goes back to my childhood. For me it is a world within a world – a place of starry eyed wonder, the place I danced the French Can Can kicking my legs high and lifting up my glorious stiff multi-layered red skirt to show knickerbockers underneath, a place of hushed whispers and a place I was awarded my first cup for writing. This was all under the age of 11 at school I might add in case you think I’m trumpeting some prodigious or questionable talents! My junior school, the Hampshire school (run by the sister of actress Susan Hampshire) held its annual prize-giving ceremony in the Grand Ballroom. Our parents were served cream tea, while their daughters put on performances of highland dancing and danced the Can Can (the final act of the final year at the school) before the headmistress commanded us to sit down quietly and listen for an hour as she reeled off from photographic memory (which my father subsequently talked about in awe for many years) some 300 awards and achievements from ballet to Scottish dancing awards to cups for deportment, geography, maths and history. We did so many activities that I think every child must have had at at least one award for something.
It was a clever idea looking back, making the parents who were paying school fees for what was a very modest town house school conversion in Knightsbridge, feel that they were getting the very best of everything and being made to feel proud of their child’s achievements. This wasn’t the only foreshadowing of a world of partnerships and ecosystems we take forgranted today: Mrs. Jane Box-Granger, the school’s headmistress, also struck up deals to use the netball courts of Imperial college,and the Kensington Close hotel swimming pool for swimming and made free use of the lawns of Hyde Park for rounders.
And so I’ve always had a special soft spot for the glamour of the Dorchester which is so striking as you walk into the front entrance.
This being the case, I had meant to eat at Alain Ducasse for many years but for the longest time one of the Dorchester’s other (one star) Michelin restaurants, the Grill was stunning and had the best value dining in London (often 3 courses with wine or champagne for 27-35 pounds) so we always went back there for special occasions. Money aside, this type of fine dining isn’t the sort of food you want every day so on the special occasions we always felt why change a fantastic formula that had worked every time.
Then one day the Scottish Tartan Grill (which has since re-opened) closed for refurbishment and we finally tried Alain Ducasse across the hall. The visit pictured here was to celebrate my mother’s birthday and was our third trip over the last few years.
The decor at Alain Ducasse is more subdued and understated than the tartan Grill used to be with its red high backed sofas that made one feel like one was in a child’s book. At Ducasse the theme is subtle greys and blacks with large decorative curved installations reminiscent of Richard Serra installations I’ve seen at the Gagosian gallery in New York. On the right of the restaurant is a wonderful floor to ceiling chandelier lamp about 3 meters wide that sparkles.
From the moment of arrival everything is perfect. The plates are beautiful
A pyramid of small choux pastry cheese balls arrived to welcome us. This was a pre-amuse bouche as it turned out and they were a taste of what was to come: feather light, wonderfully cheesy with just the right hint of pepper to stimulate an appetite. The actual amuse bouche arrived a little later – a surprise of lobster and other treats. Michelin stars are partly given for service so when I asked if I could have the gnocchi main source as a starter nothing was too much trouble and I have to say in the green herb sauce it was possibly the best thing I’ve eaten in London in a long time. Simply bursting with flavour. We all had sea bass for the main course which was excellent though not necessarily that memorable.
After desert (good but a bit too much lemon in most of them) came the coffee and petit fours – chocolate almonds, home made marshmallows, home made macaroons in coffee, strawberry and caramel, chocolate pralines and chocolate caramels. All exquisite but I haven’t taken photos of them all as I want to leave you with some surprises to discover for yourselves.
I have had better individual courses elsewhere on occasion but the overall quality and the theatre and the service are what makes dining at Alain Ducasse so memorable.
We opted for the menu rapide or lunch hour menu – the set 3 course lunch with two glasses of wine, half a bottle of mineral water and coffee and petit fours – for 66 pounds. The menu name is a little misleading though and reminds me of the misleading annual invitation I used to get to the KPMG annual staff party for “finger buffet and smart casual dress” which was actually held at the Grosvenor ballroom with sit down dinner and everyone in black tie! Everyone in the Alain Ducasse dining room was clearly settled in for the entire afternoon, voices were high on lovely wines, and you’d simply never go there for a quick or business meeting. This and Alain Ducasse’s other menus can be found at http://www.alainducasse-dorchester.com/en/menus. Nearest tube stations are Hyde Park corner, Marble arch or Green Park. Dress code is smart (jacket and collared shirts for men) which I think is a nice thing for celebrating a special occasion.
Do go – it is a treat not to be missed and an enticing reminder that the cosmopolitan city of London now ranks as one of the gastro capitals of the world.