Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester , The “Truffle tasting” menu 2011

The booking team at Alain Ducasse were only too helpful on my telephone `table enquiry`.They managed to squeeze me on to one of their last places for dinner, a 6.30 table for two but we had to eat our meal and vacate by 9.30 , shouldn`t be a problem  so let`s do it .Finally, after months of planning time for a flash visit to London we were able to dine at the last of the four three star restaurants that had eluded us for quite a while. So here`s my report of my experience at reputedly one of the worlds most exclusive Michelin 3 starred restaurants , Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester on Park lane in London. I felt obliged to write a little more than i usually write about restaurant visits just to inform of both the good and not so good highlights of our dinner that evening.

Both my dining companion for the evening, Lord Bell of Northumberland and I were delighted to secure the table so the trip was quickly put together, A ten hour round journey from West Cumbria , an overnight stay in the city,  and then a return home next day was assembled quickly , all to sample the delights of the  Dorchester and the highly `house` recommended “Tuber melanosporum experience”. I understood that the black diamond of the Perigord was a highly perfumed gastronomic delight of the finest calibre so to have a full tasting menu consisting of truffle variations on almost every course was certainly one that the memories of a lifetime would be based upon.

The evening set off well , we arrived thirty minutes early and took the time to marvel at the wonderful sights and decor of the ground floor lounge.We were entertained by the amazing pianist whilst enjoying our classic mojito cocktails (£18 each ) and pre meal olives, nuts and wasabi nibbles.The restaurant opened just after 6:30 and we were escorted to our table by one of the very pleasant front of house staff.

Bread arrived shortly afterwards, was basic, world class in every way.Warm , freshly baked and full of wonderful flavours.We were also spoiled for choice with the large selection of varieties available.

The menus arrived for our perusal but for us there was no choice , it had to be the Truffle tasting ` Menu d`hiver` .The Ducasse tasting menu looked superb but as we were in one of the worlds finest restaurants then there was only one menu to go for on the night.The Sommelier informed us that the wine pairing to match the truffle menu wouldn`t disappoint ( £95 ), and it didn`t.It was a great way for me to start learning about the better wines of the world. It hit the mark on our every course.Carefully matched to the food , well sourced and delivered by an enthusiastic happy young gentleman , very keen to offer to us a wonderful mini education in fantastic wines.

Our first course was the Langoustine , perfectly cooked , very fresh and topped with a caviar that
complimented well.The rich nage married perfectly and delivered lots of flavour from what tasted like roasted shells, it was very enjoyable indeed.

Second course was the Ravioli , our first taste of the `black truffle`.I noticed here straight away that i couldn`t smell any truffle aroma eminating from the warm food.I tried a piece of truffle on its own – it had no taste at all. The consome on the other hand was a beautiful duck consomme that delivered rich flavours with the melting foie gras encased in the pasta.The pasta was ever so slightly undercooked and came with quite a bite to it ,ever so slightly off al-dente.We explained to our Maitre`d that we couldn`t taste the truffle and i then asked if it was fresh or preserved truffle ,he apologised and informed us that he would enquire within the kitchen.He also confidently told us “Just wait until your next course if you want to experience truffle”.

Our next course arrived and `wow`, we saw truffle , lots and lots of it.Unfortunately our excitement soon diminished when we discovered that the large amount of truffle on and around the wonderful scallop was
infact totally tasteless and had absolutely zero truffle flavour, it was simply a texture.I commented to my dining companion that if we were to eat this dish blindfolded then we wouldn`t have known that the truffle existed in
the dish.The huge king scallop on the other hand was perfectly cooked , sweet , caramelised and indeed a delight to eat with the vegetable accompaniments.

At this point the Maitre`d returned to our table , all smiles and asking how the dish was.I explained that it was  a lovely dish to eat, but on this occasion the truffle needn`t have been there.He explained to us that the truffle was infact a fresh one from Perigord….`but`unfortunately as it was the end of the season the truffles were far less flavoursome and nowhere near the flavour and perfume of what they should be in December and January.At this point we seriously questioned as to why a truffle tasting experience should be offered at the end of March and at the end of truffle season.
Over the years i`ve been led to believe that the perigord truffle is the king of the black truffles and dominates the air in every space into which it is exposed.Looking at the photos of the close up truffle shots below it leads me to wonder if it was even tuber melanosporum after all.There`s every chance of late season `Moss truffles` finding their way into the truffle markets.They look similar from the skinside but whereas the melansporum variety appears to be a slate grey and white veins inside , the moss truffles have a reddish tinge to the internals….very similar to the ones on our scallop dish.I`ll stand totally corrected and apologetic if my detective work is leading down the wrong path here, it`s only a hunch.

The truffle on the left is a “Moss truffle” ( Tuber Brumale ).In Europe it`s also known as the “winter truffle”, but can be very easily confused by its appearance and identical time of harvest to that of the “French Perigord” truffle ( That`s the one on the right ). Though the Moss truffle resembles that of The French Perigord truffle, it has a slightly more delicate skin.The sooner the Moss truffle is eaten, the better it tastes, as with the
majority of European truffles. The Moss truffle has a subtle flavor of freshly cut moss…hence the name.Our truffle at Ducasse was the one in the middle and as i said above, they`re all too easily mistaken together in the same basket at market.Anyways….Onwards and upwards.
Our next course was the Sea bass, now this was an exceptional piece of fish , perfectly cooked , crisp outer flesh , moist interior and had the delicate taste of a wild specimen.Once again ,very generous amount of truffle `texture` but no flavour.The sauce was `old school classic ` and well made.

On to the main course and my first ever tasting of the legendary beef “Rossini”.I cant believe that ive been into food for so long but had never got around to experiencing one of the worlds most famous dishes.The beef
delivered a perfect degree of cooking and flavour.The meat well aged and cut through with no pressure on the
knife.It was an amazing piece of beef.The foie gras balanced the dish perfectly well and the reduced sauce
made a  heavenly combination.Unfortunately once again , no truffle flavour came through in the Perigueux sauce but was compensated by a classic , well reduced and `varnish like one…simple and beautiful.

Next entered the cheese course , at last , we could both smell the tell tale smell even before it landed on the table.We both looked at each other, smiled and said the word `truffle` in unison. The cheese delivered the
goods and hit the mark , perfectly matured and had an amazing `wow factor`. Simple charcoal and plain crackers were all that was needed to make this a memorable cheese that ticked the boxes all around.

During the meal the service was very polite, attentive and available when required.Our sommelier was an entertainment in itself and worth his weight in gold.Each wine was well introduced and our glasses were kept filled up at regular intervals throughout the dinner.No grumbles about this guy , he was a master of his art.

Now for my favourite part of any meal, the desserts.I have a very sweet tooth and always look forward to this part like a child in a sweetshop.I was ever so slightly disappointed that the worlds best dessert “Le Louis XV
chocolate bar” wasn`t on the list.I have been looking forward to that one for quite a while now.In the absence of the XV i chose the Coco caramel delight , a bar of bittersweet caramel accompanied by a very tangy lemon puree and a well made vanilla citrus sorbet.Paired with a well selected dessert wine it had me smiling and had activated my sweet cravings.

My dining companion selected the Rum baba`like in Monte Carlo` , a very simple and classic dessert made
in the traditional way. An offering of various different types of Rum were presented at the table to pour over the baba.

The dinner finished with treats from the trolley, Macaroons (chocolate and passionfruit ) and coffee.We were surprised that coffee was not included as part of our  tasting menu but charged on the bill as an extra £10 supplement.

We were given a quick tour of the kitchen, a signed menu and an opportunity to have photos taken with Chef Herland .The menu in itself was a beautiful meal to eat, the wines were very well chosen.A terrible shame about the truffle episode but If truffle hadn`t been mentioned then it would have been even more wonderful night.Oh and i must note that the price of the truffle menu (£180 ) was adjusted on the bill to the price of the tasting menu ( £115 ).

Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester on Urbanspoon

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Ross says:

    Shame that mate
    But I guess that’s the problem with these places sometimes get a bit lax or have staff problems

  2. Jens says:

    I would expect the truffles to be chinese truffles. They look just like the real ones, but without taste. The trick is that the distributers put one real truffles next to the chinese and then they smell and look similar. You won’t discover this until you taste them. I know from the leading truffle expert here in Denmark that the use of chinese truffles sometimes are used in some of the top-20 restaurants in Denmark.

    In Denmark they import 20 times more chinese truffles than the real truffles from France and Italy – sad but a true fact.

    I think they have been price optimizing too much at Alain Ducasse.

  3. S Lloyd says:

    I’ll be visiting London for the 3rd time this year in December and was planning to pay a visit to Alain Ducasse. The only Alain Ducasse I know are the one in Paris (Plaza Athénée / went there twice) and the one in Monte Carlo (that I have visited on numerous occasions). This will be my very 1st Alain Ducasse experience outside of France, and your article prepares me to this future visit there. I’d be curious though to get the Maitre D’ elaborating a bit more about the fact that ”you didn’t understand Ducasse’s cooking. I don’t see what needs to be understand. It’s not as if this a cuisine concept. It’s classic cuisine and I don’t see what he needs you to understand.

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