Alain Ducasse

His superb restaurant in Monte Carlo is just sumptuous. After several visits to this outstanding restaurant, I have never been able to fault anything. The service, ambiance and the quality of the food is simply outstanding!

He is also at The Dorchester, I however had a very disappointing evening. We decided to celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary there with our daughter and son-in-law. We arrived at 7:30pm and booked a taxi to collect us at midnight. The menu looked very good and I ordered some very expensive magnums of wine to complement our choices.  None of the dishes deserved 3 Michelin stars (the majority 1 to 2 stars) and the service was reasonably good. However, after our main course, the service was almost non-existing! It was impossible to order our desert!! No matter how hard I tried, everybody walked past us with blinkers on, and it was not until I stood up and became loud verbally, we received any attention at all. Meanwhile, our taxi arrived at midnight as planned, and we were still waiting!

Read what Andy Hayler had to say…..

Restaurant review - Alaine Ducasse

Here are notes from my most recent meal.

Bread was made from scratch, the best of the initial selection was very good olive bread, but a sourdough roll and a fougasse (a Provencal bread) with bacon were less good in texture (overall 7/10).  A basket of goujeres with paprika and black pepper were even in shape and had pleasant texture, but lacked in cheese flavour (7/10).  Barbajuan is a Monagasque nibble, a deep fried pastry case containing Swiss chard and spinach, and here was properly seasoned though not of the same quality as the version served at Louis XV (7/10).

The amuse-bouche was a pair of langoustine tails with discs of potato and truffled Parmentier jus.  The Scottish langoustines themselves were of high quality and cooked just right (though a fraction less than hot by the time they arrived at the table), and the potatoes and leeks provided an earthy foil to their taste, while the rich truffle jus lifted the dish (8/10).  Marinated scallops were interleaved with celeriac discs, with colour provided by lamb’s lettuce and good quality tomatoes; a black truffle sauce was of very high quality, again lifting the dish to a higher level (8/10). 

Lobster was roasted, served with macaroni gratin and more black truffles.  This dish was the only one of the evening with some problems: the conception was very good, but the lobster meat in itself was cooked a little too long and had a hint of chewiness; moreover the macaroni was undercooked, and hard on the outside; the dish was rescued by another excellent sauce (6/10).  Braised halibut had excellent taste and was very nicely cooked, served with Swiss chard and aubergine condiment, while acidity was provided by a cold ponzu sauce poured at the table.  The overall effect was very enjoyable, being well balanced (8/10).

Roast fillet of venison was served with endive, quince and chestnut, with a Grand Veneur (made from game trimmings) sauce.  The venison was cooked medium rare, the quince an important element to provide acidic balance, the sauce dark, rich and skilfully made (8/10).  Cheese was a selection of four Bernard Antony cheeses, including three year old Comte and Roquefort, themselves in quite good condition and served with excellent hazelnut bread (8/10). 

For dessert, a hazelnut soufflé was superb, very light and with intense hazelnut flavour and with a superb pear granita (borderline 10/10).  Rum baba is a deceptively simple dish which is in fact very hard to get right (as I know from hard experience cooking at home), since it is very difficult to keep sufficiently moist.  The version here was of the same level as that at Louis XV in Monaco, where it has long been a staple of the dessert menu (10/10).  Macaroons (chocolate, pistachio and orange) were very good indeed, as were a few chocolates, including a milk chocolate that resembled a light version of the famous croustillant dessert at Louis XV.   Double espresso was of high quality (9/10).  

Service was extremely slick tonight, with topping up hard to fault.  Overall, it was remarkable how much better this experience was than my previous two visits (admittedly one of them on opening night).  Certainly the price is high (over £200 a head with wine pairing) but this is now accomplished cooking.  The desserts are top drawer, as is the saucing. 

What follows are notes from a lunch in February 2009.

These days there is a fairly priced £45 three course lunch menu including wine, while the full tasting menu runs to £115, or £75 for a la carte. The wine list has some excellent producers but sky-high mark-ups. Egon Muller Rieling Kabinett is £95 for a wine that costs about £22 retail, Jermann Dreams 2006 is £120 for a wine costing around £31 in the shops, Leewin estate Prelude is £65 for a wine that you can buy for about £14, while Antinori Tignanello 1995 is £250 for a wine you can get hold of for about £65 (the 1997 is £390 for a wine costing in the region of £85 retail).

A generous pile of goujères arrived: pepper, paprika and gruyere. While the choux pastry was piped out neatly, and the finished articles were certainly light, I found the flavours remarkably subdued, with the gruyère ones in particular tasting as in insufficient gruyère had been used (6/10).  More appealing were little fried ravioli parcels of spinach, which had excellent texture (8/10). Breads are made on the premises and is a choice of white mini-baguettes, sourdough or black olive bread. These were very good indeed, the olive taste coming though well in the rolls, the sourdough nicely crusty (8/10). An amuse-bouche of vegetables suffered from very ordinary-tasting ingredients (5/10). 

A starter of crayfish salad had pleasant crayfish, with a subdued horseradish cream, coral jus, chicken leg sticks, Parmesan and slices of some of the most tasteless tomatoes I can recall having for some time. I am not sure the components worked especially well together, and the tomato was very disappointing (4/10). Better was lobster with further chicken sticks, chicken jus, slightly hard pasta and black truffle (7/10). 

A main course of “meagre” (a relative of sea-bass) seared and served with cauliflower puree, capers, parsley and chicken jus. This seemed to me a well conceived dish, the capers working well with the fish, which in itself was well timed, the sauce a touch gloopy (7/10). A taste of a fellow diner’s excellent scallop suggests I could have ordered better. 

Cheeses are still just a selection of four pieces rather than from a board; in this case Valencay, creamy Camembert, aged Comte and Roqeufort, from Bernard Anthony and in quite good condition (8/10). A little grid of milk and dark chocolates were excellent (bought in, but lovely) while macaroons were made on the premises and were very impressive indeed, as light as you could wish and with full flavour (9/10). An orange cream tart was a fine creation, with fine pastry, excellent orange taste and served with a superb ginger sorbet (9/10). Coffee was also excellent, and served in generous portions which were happily topped up on request at no charge.

Just as on my previous meal, what struck me was the contrast between the genuinely superb desserts and the distinctly variable and much less impressive savoury courses. I really think they should reconsider their vegetable supplier in particular. Although the cooking certainly seems more settled than on my first visit just after opening, I am going to leave my 6/10 score for now, even though desserts and some individual dishes are clearly far better than this. Perhaps this is a tad mean, but the crayfish salad really bothered me. Service was very good, far better than my previous experience.

The notes below are from a meal in November 2007.   

This was the opening week, but expectations were high. Alain Ducasse had promised in interviews that this would be "haute couture, and not prêt-á-porter" cuisine, and had brought in the deputy chef from 3 star Michelin Plaza Athenee, Jocelyn Herland, to head things up. The room is surprisingly understated, except for a circular curtain of fibre-optic lights enclosing a private table for six to one side of the dining room (available for a mere £1,350 a time), designed by Patrick Jouin, who used to work with uber restaurant designer Philippe Starck. Tables are well spaced and the general theme is of muted creams and beige. So we sat down with high hopes.

To begin with on the table are some crudités with an olive dip. This is one thing on the Riviera in the summer, where the vegetables are dazzling and fresh from the local markets of Nice and San Remo, but vegetables here are from "various UK suppliers" and so what you have are some carrots and radishes that taste utterly ordinary, the kind of thing that you might serve at a dinner party. No amuse bouche appears, yet this is a place where Mr Ducasse says "I would like the clients to give me three stars in their hearts".

Well, I thought, let’s see what appears next. Bread is at least baked on the premises, of just four kinds: a nice sourdough, a cereal seed roll, a "Scottish bread" that is a soft white bread, and a pleasant baguette. These rolls had good texture but were light on salt, and were merely pleasant (6/10). My first dish was langoustines, served cold, on a bed of avocado. The langoustines themselves have reasonable taste and are tender, but a shadow of the lovely langoustine dishes that I have eaten in France, this despite langoustines after all coming from the Irish Sea and hence beng local produce (5/10). Moreover, are a few cold langoustines on a bed of pureed avocado really what you expect in a restaurant that presumably has serious ambitions? Other appetisers were no better e.g. autumn vegetables that were similar to the crudités other than some being cooked, and a very ordinary pumpkin ravioli in a Parmesan emulsion that was surprisingly lacking in intensity of taste (5/10).

For the next course I had seared scallops, of good quality but cooked just a fraction long, served with white and green Swiss chard and a ponzu dressing that was much too aggressive, the acidity overwhelming the scallops (5/10). My peppered Angus beef fillet was very pleasant, but by comparison less good than one I had eaten at Hawksmoor a few months back. This was served with nicely made chips and a rather odd note, lettuce on top of a little Thai style papaya salad, which for me did not sit well with the beef and chips at all (6/10).

Again, I was by no means getting the short end of the stick here: my fellow diners sampled a wide range of dishes, which ranged from similar standard (halibut with yellow caper sauce, spinach and Jerusalem artichokes) to some pigeon served with a crostini that was distinctly overdone and a coating of jus that was clearly cooked too hard, to the extent of a note of charcoal appearing. Dover sole fillet was cooked fine but the prawns with it were seriously overcooked. A poached breast of Landes chicken had good taste but was distinctly tepid.  The dishes as this stage did not even look as though they were of a top restaurant from a presentation viewpoint, as you will see from the photos in the gallery. The mid course and main courses had the appearance more of bistro food than a place with serious Michelin ambitions. The room has 82 covers for just 25 chefs, which in itself should have been a warning to me (in Paris the ratio of chefs to diners in a 3 star place can be nearly 1:1) that the ambition level of the cooking on the plate would be more modest than the publicity suggested.

I had assumed the cheese at least would be hard to fault given the sources were Bernard Antony and Neals Yard, yet instead of a cheese board just four tiny pieces of pre-selected cheese appeared. Stilton was past its best, Cheddar was fine, but St Maure had moved past its peak to a hint of chalkiness, and the Comte was OK but unrecognisable as Antony’s (5/10).

The desserts, it has to be said, came as a revelation after all this. My Rum Baba had beautiful soft texture, and was nearly as good as the classic version served in Louis XV (9/10). Other desserts tried, such as croustillant chocolat praline orange, and a pretty star of chocolate and raspberry (pictured) were genuinely top drawer, around the 8/10 and 9/10 level.

Service was amiable but a shambles. Dishes were presented to the wrong person on three out of four courses, and there were long gaps in service. After four hours we had to skip petit-fours and make a dash for it. No doubt this aspect will improve as the restaurant settles down, as hopefully will the English of the waiters. When my wife asked about the "croustillant" the waiter looked surprised and said "I will bring him straight away", referring to the manager (Christian), who I do not think was on the menu, delectable though he no doubt is.

The wine list is shockingly expensive. There is hardly a wine less than £60. We had a pleasant Germany Riesling for £85 that can be bought for around £12, and I saw another wine for £80 that I paid £8 for just a couple of years back at retail price. A glass of simple Tokaji dessert wine will set you back £25. The wine waiter claimed that the mark-ups were "less than Claridges" but that is hardly the point, nor did it seem that way from the list. Some of the very serious wines were merely four times retail, but there was no relief at all at the lower end of the list.  There is a point where mark-ups cross the line from legitimate profit-making to gouging, and to me this list seems to have crossed it. This is particularly a pity since the growers are of high quality.

The tasting menu is £115 with three courses £75, but there are no amuse-bouche, no pre-desserts, and in our case no petit-fours since we simply timed out after four hours and had to leave. The cheese was miniscule in portion size, and the double espresso barely covered the bottom of the cup. I have not felt as ripped off in a restaurant for a long time. They even left the credit card slip open despite having added service.

Objectively I can get the mark up to 6/10 due to the superb desserts, but remember that the bill was over £200 a head after I had scoured the wine list for some of the cheapest options available. Desserts aside, not one dish was more than 6/10 (1 Michelin star) level, and many were below that. I am a big fan of Alain Ducasse’s restaurants in Monaco and Paris, but it felt to me as in this case he had decided that Londoners probably could not tell the difference, so why should he even bother to try when there are all those rich hedge fund managers on expenses who will pay the bill.  Desserts excepted, this was a huge disappointment to me. Barely one star in this client's heart, Mr Ducasse: prêt-á-porter food at haute couture prices.