First of all, may I welcome Monsieur Ducasse to London. With Gordon going for Paris next year, it seems only fair that France's most famous chef should choose to open a flagship restaurant here.
But he brings a little of the past with him. Monsieur Ducasse, we are quite modern here, you know. Our womenfolk are not offended by menus with prices any more. In fact, the delicate little things are insulted by the assumption that the man will pay. And if you are going to list supplements over and above the 75 or 95 prix-fixe, it seems unfair to notify only 50 per cent of your diners. What with 10 extra for langoustines, Landes chicken or Dover sole, and an extra 70 every time the waiter whispers, "Would you like white Alba truffles with that?", we'll all need to sign a pre-nup before going out for dinner.
But this is Planet Ducasse, and as with his three-star gastro-temples, Le Louis XV in Monaco and Restaurant Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Ath*e in Paris, it is not exactly your modest neighbourhood local.
The no-expense-spared philosophy shows in the svelte Patrick Jouin-designed room, with its decaffeinated-coffee-and-skimmed- cream colours. Feature walls are dotted with green silk buttons that look like Hyde Park from the air; and a salon priv is encircled with shimmering fibre optics. Tables carry the weight of French whimsy, decorated with ceramic vegetables, curved bread plates, and wonderful Ercuis cutlery that rests in silver scabbards.
Monsieur Ducasse may take with one hand, but he gives with the other. My table is busier than St Pancras with the arrival of beautiful breads (always a Ducassian highlight) and the landing of amuse-gueules: crisp shavings of tiny baby vegetables to go with a whippy cream cheese and little bowls of weak black olive juice, and a perfect batch of warm barbajuan, crisp little Monagasque parcels of Swiss chard and pumpkin. Around me, congratulations are being offered on acquisitions and birthdays, and four different restaurant critics discreetly acknowledge each other.
Head chef Jocelyn Herland's concise and classic French-driven menu is high on technique and low on modern molecular wizardry. Of six dishes taken, three constitute a fine dinner.
A starter of squid bonbons is a delicate refinement of Thai curry, the three little paquets filled with a lush dice of squid and vegetables set off with a softly tangy, balanced coconut sauce. A perfect tranche of venison, pepper-crusted and pot-roasted, comes rare and rested with a glossy, gamey sauce that is liquid velvet.
It matches seamlessly with a voluptuous '04 Hautes-Côtes de Nuits for 65 from Domaine Anne Gros (a notable female winemaker ah, but would they give her a wine list without prices?). Lastly, Ducasse's legendary rum baba, doused at the table with a choice of rum and served with the world's lightest Chantilly cream, is quite magnificent.
On the other hand, a first course of langoustine and avocado pure spiked with julienned apples and sauced with a thin truffle pure is mystifying; a beige and bland chicken breast coated with a rich creamy foie gras sauce feels pass; and a croustillant chocolate-praline dessert is positively overcome by a stunningly bitter sticky orange sauce.
The generosity continues, although the timing is odd. Fine chocolates and macaroons are brought before dessert, and a lovely Devon-cream sorbet comes after it. Infusions and coffees come and go before a final flurry almost too late of sweet pastries, caramel bonbons and nougats. A box of sweet, orange-scented little Chamonix cakes is given to diners as they leave: a sweet touch.
This is not Monsieur Ducasse's best restaurant (that is in Monte Carlo), but it is still a marvellous manifestation of the French meaning of the term savoir-faire, literally, "to have the knowledge of what to do". Pure craft. *
Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook 10-11 needs help, 12 ok 13 pleasant enough 14 good 15 very good, 16 capable of greatness 17 special, can't wait to, go back 18 highly honourable 19 unique and memorable 20 as good as it gets
Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, The Dorchester Hotel, Park Lane, London W1, tel: 0207 629 8866. Lunch, Tuesday-Friday; dinner, Tuesday-Saturday. 75 per person for three courses, 95 for four, plus wine and service
Second helpings: More Ducassian dining
16 St Barnabas Street, London SW1, tel: 020 7730 5550
Michelin-starred patron Alexis Gauthier says his three years at Le Louis XV taught him the importance of seasonal cooking
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Rising star Tom Kitchin combines the techniques he learned at Le Louis XV with the finest Scottish ingredients to produce dishes such as foie gras with haggis, neeps and tatties
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Claude Bosi worked with Ducasse in Paris before gaining two Michelin stars in Ludlow. They meet again in London, as Bosi relocates Hibiscus to MayfairReuse content