Alain Ducasse’s opulent restaurant in London joined the elite of dining establishments today, becoming only the fourth in Britain to be awarded three Michelin stars.

In doing so, Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester ended the dominance of a trio of three-star places that have been unchallenged for six years – Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck, Gordon Ramsay’s Chelsea restaurant and The Waterside Inn at Bray run by Alain Roux.

The rating gives Ducasse, French-born but now a resident of low-tax Monaco, 19 stars worldwide, second only to Frenchman Joel Rubuchon, who has 25.

It also helps answer his critics: when he opened in Britain in November 2007, reviewers gave his hotel restaurant a lukewarm welcome, mostly on account of its expense. A meal for two costs £250; non-house wines range from £50 to £6,000.

Drinking tap water was the only way to keep a meal for two under £200, complained one writer. Time Out’s food editor Guy Dimond estimated the establishment was overcharging by 50 per cent.

Criticising a lack of the “thrill factor”, he wrote: “There is much to enjoy about Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester: attentive, friendly service, perfectly executed cooking, a room that allows you to talk quietly and still be heard. But it’s the greedy pricing that ultimately spoils what would otherwise be a good meal out.”

The Michelin team of gourmand inspectors – who make no secret of their admiration for classic French cooking in sedate surroundings – are less concerned about price; they’re not paying out of their own pocket.

Indeed Michelin gives diners the following advice about three-star restaurants: “One always eats here extremely well, sometimes superbly. Fine wines, faultless service, elegant surroundings. One will pay accordingly!”

Michelin’s ratings arrived less elegantly, having popped into the inboxes of journalists at 3pm, four days before the scheduled launch of the 2010 Great Britain and Ireland Guide on Tuesday. According to Michelin, a restaurant named in the guide had received a copy ahead of time, courtesy of Amazon, prompting it to rush out the ratings.

Last year the highlight of the culinary calendar leaked onto the internet from New York.

The ratings will be a disappointment to Marcus Wareing, Ramsay’s former protoge who has been hoping for the accolade for his acclaimed restaurant at the Berkeley Hotel.

Aside from The Dorchester, there was only other newcomer in the upper echelons of international gastronomy – The Ledbury in Notting Hill, London, which received two stars. There are 13 other two-star places.

Eighteen establishments, two of them pubs, picked up their first star, including The Harwood Arms, the first pub in London to achieve the accolade.

Elsewhere stars went to Sienna, a small, family run restaurant in Dorset, the Goose at Britwell Salome in Oxfordshire and The Samling in Ambleside, Cumbria.

In Bray-on-Thames, Berkshire, Heston Blumenthal and the Roux brothers have another Michelin-starred neighbour, The Royal Oak, a traditional pub in Paley Street.

There were three new stars in Scotland and three in Wales, quadrupling the principality’s haul. They included Kinloch Lodge on the Isle of Skye and The Walnut Tree at Abergavenny.

Derek Bulmer, editor of the Michelin Guide Great Britain and Ireland 2010, said: “Last year was clearly a difficult year for hotels and restaurants but those establishments who reacted by being more flexible and creative appear to be riding the storm,” he said.

“Chefs have had to be more resourceful and restaurants have had to adapt to changing eating habits.”

Mr Ducasse said: “To receive such prestigious recognition from Michelin is a great honour. The team here has worked very hard to maintain the level of service and cuisine, and I am very proud.”