THE wood floor has been waxed and is now shining, the tension that announces an important night is floating in the air, some noise emerges from the back of the room as an orchestra warms the strings of a violin. One note, then two, then three… The music slowly finds its rhythm.
One-two-three, one-two-three, the waiters make their entrance into the room eager to pamper their impatient customers.
One-two-three, one-two-three, the sommelier goes from one table to another to make his suggestions for the evening.
One-two-three, one-two-three, the customers order their meal.
One-two-three, one-two-three, the staff of the restaurant have settled into their rhythm. The waltz of dishes can now begin.
Like the three steps of a waltz, The Grill at the Dorchester has become an expert in rhythm since opening in 1936, where every dish is set down at exactly the right time, with exactly the right amount of elegance. Waiters and sommeliers complement each other in a dance for which they have practiced each step over and over.
Jason McAuliffe, our sommelier, also demonstrated his talent that night, qualifying our requests as he does his own: the ‘search for the Harry Potter wines that go with everything’. Having started his career under Anton Mosimann in 1982, as well as having eaten at the legendary Chez Tante Claire, Jason witnessed and learned the paces from some of the greatest, even offering his wisdom to the readers of Esquire in his article on the best wines for first dates.
As an introduction to the dance, a Butter squash soup with root vegetable was served to prepare our palates for the meal. The soup was very creamy and tasty and made a good winter appetizer. The sommelier treated us with a glass of Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Blanc De Blancs.
As the rhythm accelerated, it was time to get into the dance more seriously with the starter. However, the Warm salad of roasted wood pigeon with potato and truffle terrine, roasted apples and a cider vinaigrette was the least successful dish of the evening. The potato didn’t add any flavour to the pigeon and the whole dish was a little bland. The pigeon was neutral and not warm enough to be enjoyed at its best. The sommelier chose a 2007 Clos Fornelli La robe d’Ange to match with it.
On the other hand, The Seared scallops with sardine pie and cauliflower puree reflected the exact definition of London: a cosmopolitan dish with a modern British touch composed of the cauliflower and the sardine pie, nicely supported by an oriental twist of spicy bites. The dish was served with a 2005 Schloss Gobelsburg.
It was time to move to the next step and see how the main course would keep the rhythm. The Goosenargh duck was the most interesting course of the evening. This dish, served in two stages, started with roasted breast with almond crust, turnips and beetroot. The almond crust added a nice sweet taste to the duck but started overpowering the duck after several forkfuls.
However, the sandwich of confit leg with foie gras, spiced bread and young shoots served as the second part of the dish proved to be the best part of the course and even the revelation of the whole meal.
It consisted of a spiced ginger bread dried to crisp, a foie gras cured in salt for three hours then washed off and pressed to stay flat and the duck leg, marinated over night in orange peel, cinnamon and star anise. The duck was then confit slowly for eight hours before being flaked off the bone and seasoned again. The chef then added confit shallots to it and foie gras fat. This tasty, rich and intense dish was the most creative and delicious sandwich ever tasted and could actually become the perfect starter. The sauce acted like wine, adding a nice sweet taste of it.
The Rhug Estate rack of lamb with basil, pinenuts and herb crust served with mash potatoes was the other star of the evening, a fire burst of different flavours, balanced so as not to overpower each other. The temperate, earthy lamb with the pesto crust combined very well with the fiery sour tomatoes and rich mashed potatoes.
The dishes went very well with a 2004 St Emilion Château-Haut Segottes and 2007 Ma maison, Pinot noir, Martinborough.
To conclude this well executed choreography, we couldn’t help but end with the tempting ‘Conversation of chocolate’ consisting of three different chocolate puddings, each as exquisite as the other. The Macerated cinnamon sponge, caramel ice cream and praline sauce was also a very good choice and reflected The Dorchester’s love for London dishes with a modern twist.
For this final treat, the sommelier chose a sweet 2005 Alvear Pedro Ximénez Añada to leave our palates with a nice taste after this fest.