19 December 2015
Just fabulous! We are very close to finalising our long list of restaurants to return to, and so the raison d'être of our exploratory reviews is all but eliminated. The fact that most of the entries on our list are in London is a true reflection of the situation in the UK and not just because we have not tried places elsewhere in the country. Up there with the very best is Alain Ducasse, with the best "unknown" chef in Britain in the person of Jocelyn Herland, some of the best front of house staff you will find anywhere, an attention to detail reflected in the provision of a spoon with every course to ensure that every drop of the fine sauces can be enjoyed, and a perfect setting for a top-class meal. This was a skilful demonstration of the four Ts, taste, texture, temperature and technical mastery, and the big P, presentation on the plate, making each dish a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. This is what the Professional Masterchef competitors should be aspiring to... The seasonal tasting menu is a perfect example of how to achieve the right balance of dishes, never exaggerating individual elements to the detriment of others; likewise the accompanying wine flight. However, we decided to cut down on our vinous intake and so Chris, the excellent sommelier, recommended a surprisingly Puligny-like Australian chardonnay to accompany the fish-based dishes, plus, for me, a superb Prum Spätlese to go with the foie gras and a lovely Rioja with the venison. The scrumptious signature canapés of three kinds of gougères and then the very moreish barbajuans were followed by perfectly caramelised and unbelievably sweet hand-dived scallops with seared lettuce and a delicate creamy sauce and a superb addition of caviar, its amost almondy aftertaste blending in beautifully with the scallop. The duck foie gras was quite special with its mushroom and duck reduction, a lick of lapsang souchong and the freshness of wild parsley. The next course announced itself with that wonderful aroma you get with perfectly cooked lobster in a rich reduction, in this case made even more unctuous with a mash of creamy paimpol beans. Then came the king of fish, turbot, bathing in an amazing truffle and mushroom reduction with raw and cooked artichoke adding to the satisfying richness of the dish and provoking the desire to eat it all over again. We asked for a substitute on the main dish, venison instead of beef, and we think we made the right choice. The Grand-Veneur sauce accompanying the tender, almost sweet, saddle was properly rich and unctuous and cleverly set against the fresh bite of celeriac. We had enjoyed the aged Comté before and its crystalline texture matched with the classic mushroom and truffle mix and nut and fig bread was, in its way, the equal of all the other dishes. A brilliant palate cleanser of orange segments with dehydrated coffee and cumquat on a delicate biscuit base set us up well for the rum baba (rum from Panama!) and the terrific orange sorbet that brought our feast to an end. This was a genuinely top-class dining experience, and if there are those who are unsettled by the easy luxury of the Dorchester, that is a reflection on them not the fault of the Dorchester; if there are those who are not impressed by the professional expertise of the front of house staff, in particular the restaurant manager Damien and his able assistant Matteo, and their ability to interact with the diners, we wonder just what they would expect; and if there are those who report their dissatisfaction with the cuisine, we can only assume that they have their own particular agenda.