Does an average diner reach the same conclusions about restaurants as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Tom Parker Bowles and reader Helen Tamblyn-Saville compare notes on The Grill at The Dorchester.
Tom Parker Bowles is a food writer and restaurant critic for the Mail on Sunday. His latest cookbook is Let’s Eat Meat.
Helen Tamblyn-Saville is an education consultant living in Sidcup. Her favourite cuisine is Turkish, and she also loves bubble ‘n’ squeak with ketchup and bacon.
The Grill at The Dorchester has had a makeover. Alain Ducasse’s protégé Christophe Marleix is head chef, and the dining room has been redesigned with parquet flooring, butterscotch leather, and a hand-blown Murano glass chandelier. Signature dishes include blue lobster chowder with sautéed mushrooms to start, and sweet soufflés, such as grapefruit, Tahitian vanilla and Sicilian pistachio. As ever, grilled fish and meat feature heavily – Scottish salmon steak with béarnaise, for example, and peppered organic Aberdeen Angus prime rib.
This has Alain Ducasse’s touch, so expect the usual slick, well-groomed staff. Our waiter was charming, and once we had done away with the irksome ‘menu recommendations and explanations’, the well-oiled machine got to work. Glasses were never empty, tables endlessly brushed, and there’s real heart to the front of house. *I wasn’t recognised.
On arrival we were offered a delicious amuse bouche of salmon rillettes. Although we had to ask for tap water, ordering it was not a problem, and we let the sommelier choose our wine. The waiters offered to explain the menu and service throughout the meal was excellent.
Again, with a Ducasse restaurant you can be certain that the food will be technically astute. The signature blue lobster chowder is more Provençal bisque than New England chunky soup – it’s refined, elegant and possesses a serious piscine punch. A coddled egg, crayfish and herb fricasse arrives in a Kilner jar – so 2011 – but has an astonishing clarity of flavour. Tangles of spinach wallow in an ethereal eggy broth. It looks dull but tastes divine. Less successful are the razor clams – the gratinated crust overwhelming the subtle tang. A vast veal chop whispers rather than moos, just as it should. A hint of bovine heft, mixed with soft succulence and skilled grilling, makes this a thing of beauty. The mushroom and cream is silken but with meat of this quality, rather unnecessary too. Then chocolate soufflé: a polished, smooth-sided Vogue cover-star of a pudding. Firm but lithe body, lusciously oozing heart. Magnifique. As is a marmalade cheesecake of startling intensity – great ingredients, wonderfully cooked, with prices to match.
Our cheddar farmhouse soufflé was aromatic, light and fluffy, and came served with a creamy sauce. The blue lobster chowder with mushroom and chive was bursting with earthy tones, complementing the delicate sweetness of the lobster meat. Unfortunately, the white pork belly did not live up to expectations. Despite a 7-hour cooking time, it was over-salted, dry and tough. The accompanying onion/ gherkin/mustard marmalade did little to counteract the saltiness of the meat. Spinach and seasonal vegetables were great sides. For dessert, we chose ‘essentially chocolate’ and a chocolate soufflé. The soufflé was light, with rich chocolate in the centre, served with a subtle chocolate ice cream. Essentially chocolate was a melt-in-the-mouth chocolate ganache on a wafer-thin crispy base, accompanied by a rich coffee ice.
The bottom line
The room has the most expensive of glows. And the clientele, as you might expect, is International Expense Account. But this is Ducasse, so the menu is more laid back than the room. The cooking is precise, but it’s seriously expensive, making it a place to impress new clients or in-laws. And the room lacks bonhomie, so I’m not sure I’ll go back.
FOOD 8/10; ATMOSPHERE 6/10; SERVICE 9/10; TOM’S TOTAL: 23/30
The atmosphere is elegant but relaxed, with a spectacular glass chandelier as the focal point. The Grill is too expensive to visit often, but I’d like to go back for the lunch menu at £39 for three courses.
FOOD 6/10; ATMOSPHERE 8/10; SERVICE 9/10; HELEN’S TOTAL: 23/30
The Dorchester Grill’s Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) rating:
The Grill’s beef and chicken dishes are all made using free range and organic meat. Both the razor clams and crayfish are responsible choices. Both reviewers ordered the chocolate soufflé, which is made with fairly traded chocolate. However, the one blemish on the menu is foie gras, which the EU introduced a ban on in 2004 except where it was already ‘in current practice’ due to concerns about welfare standards.
Written February 2015