Restaurant Le Meurice. My first taste of 3 Michelin stars. With Alain Ducasse’s name stamped on it I was a little apprehensive about what to expect. After all he doesn’t cook here and instead spends his time collecting Michelin stars around the world. His restaurant in the Dorchester in London (Le Meurice is part of the Dorchester Collection) has had its fair share of critics questioning why it deserves that third Michelin star. All I knew about this restaurant, given just how tightly any information regarding the menu or price is kept, is that it was no doubt going to cost me an arm and a leg.
The dining room combines stunning French luxury with some modern touches and it is without a doubt the finest I have ever been in. Just to show off there was a somewhat pointless 300kg crystal slab right in the middle of the room. I of course mistook it for a ice sculpture and asked the waiter how long it takes to melt. Really showed my class there.
The service was even better than I had expected. There was never a moment when you were left wanting anything. Even the little touches like giving the women a stool to rest their handbags on, or the bag of sea salt and chocolates at the end to take away, made that extra bit of difference. The waiters also managed to remove any of the stuffiness that I had been expecting, and instead it was a laid back three and a half hour feast. However, this service still isn’t for me. It is nice being pampered, but when you have a waiter topping up your water every time you have a sip it does feel like you are having dinner with them.
The menu was in French, so we needed the waitress to walk us through it. There were about 4 choices from each section of the menu, but we settled for the chef’s menu, at a whopping €380 for 5 courses. To think that Alain Ducasse in the Dorchester is 7 courses for around £180.
With an aperitif of rose champagne came a warm poached oyster wrapped in a butter crisp. It was a pleasant alternative to the mouthful of salt water you usually get, even though it did take the fun out of slurping them down. The subtle flavour lingered and worked perfectly with the champagne. I’m assuming this was intended?
Then came an excellent selection of breads. One of them was sawed from a huge loaf that needed its own trolley to be pushed around on.
For an amuse-bouche there was an assortment of vegetables that had been cooked inside a salt crust, served in a fondue-like pot. These were without doubt the best vegetables I have ever tasted. The salt had intensified their flavour and they were also all perfectly cooked . I didn’t realise a potato could be this good. There was a light sorrel cream to dip them in that worked brilliantly.
To start we all had a dish quite simply named Asparagus (a whopping €90 if you go for it on its own). The asparagus had been cooked in a way that made it disintegrate from the touch of a fork, and it was the best I’ve ever tasted. With it came a charred cheese crumb (or something along those lines) and several other fancy techniques using the asparagus.
Next up was the Blue Lobster with cooking juices. It had been poached for only a minute meaning that the flavour really did shine through. It did make the texture a little chewy though. As for the cooking juices, they lacked the depth of flavour I was expecting and didn’t really bring the dish together.
For main, I went for the Chicken stuffed with black truffle. It was a little on tepid side (I have no idea if it was meant to, but after my ice sculpture mistake, I wanted to preserve some pride so I didn’t ask). The chicken skin must have been cooked separately as it was perfectly crisp, and the chicken beneath tasted as if it had been cooked in a water bath on a low temperature as it almost had a gelatine texture.
The lamb dish just didn’t look appetising at all. The 4 tiny little slices of lamb just looked bland, and although there was a great taste of lamb, there was just nothing to get your teeth into. The side was a wheat or grain of some sort and was really heavy on the citrus and not really that pleasant. This was a miss of a dish. One that I wouldn’t be too pleased with in any top restaurant.
Then came an excellent selection of French cheeses including the best Brie I have ever tried. A little black olive bread roll and some fruit bread were perfect accompaniments.
For pudding I had what was essentially a chocolate sundae with coffee ice cream and a side of chocolate souffle. For me that souffle hasn’t risen enough. What made up for this was the most intense hot dark chocolate sauce I have ever tried.
The passion fruit dessert had lots of different textures and the meringue was soft and sticky, but was this a little bit safe for a three Michelin starred dessert? It was a good sorbet and had an intense flavour, but it was hardly groundbreaking stuff.
My partner went for the Pear tart. Again this was a very simple dish executed perfectly. The pear was an appetising golden colour and was on a thin disc of pastry. But is this really three star cooking?
Then came a selection of sorbets from a tray of exotic fruits. I wonder if all that fruit goes to waste?
With the coffee came little crispy shards with walnuts and a bag of dark chocolate each to take home. The coffee was also of the highest quality, with almost a dark chocolate richness to it.
Maybe my taste-buds just aren’t refined enough to appreciate the quality of the ingredients. Maybe if I had tried every type of asparagus out there, then I could tell the difference. But I haven’t, and so the quality was lost on me a bit. I was looking for groundbreaking cooking, not great ingredients simply cooked. If you don’t dine at these types of places each week, and like me save it for a special occasion, then Le Meurice isn’t the place to go. This feels like a restaurant where people used to experiencing the high life can go for some solid and fairly safe cooking, and then don’t flinch when they see the bill for such simplicity. Although the service and the room were of the highest standard, the food itself was not what I expected of 3 Michelin stars. I couldn’t help but feel that nothing really pushed the boat out. Even the presentation didn’t blow me away.
As for the value it is without a doubt the most expensive meal I am ever likely to have. After going for the €380 taster menu (around £320), a bottle of Billecart-Salmon rose champagne (€250) and a couple of bottles of great white wine (€220 each) the bill came out at over €500 a head for dinner. There are no doubt plenty of other 2 and 3 Michelin star restaurants in the world that serve better food at fairer prices. But of course eating in one of Paris’ best hotels in a luxurious dining room, and with king Ducasse’s name attached to it, this of course can command just about what it wants. I wouldn’t go back, but I still loved every moment of it.
228 Rue de Rivoli, Paris, France