In “J’Aime London,” published this week by Hardie Grant Books, Alain Ducasse lists restaurants, pubs and cafes to visit in the city that’s home to his three-Michelin-star establishment.
“Now, we are preparing to open two more restaurants in London,” he says in an interview at Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, his only venue in the city.
Two new restaurants? Only one of them has been announced.
That’s Rivea London, scheduled to open this year at the Bulgari Hotel. Inspired by the years Ducasse, 57, spent visiting markets in Italy and Provence, Rivea will serve French and Italian cuisine in an informal setting.
What’s the second?
“There is nothing I can tell you about the second one,” he says and laughs. There has been speculation that he might be taking over the Grill at the Dorchester.
He laughs again: “There is nothing I can say.”
Ducasse is one of the biggest names in gastronomy and the level of his success is intimidating. Yet when you get to meet him, he is friendly and good humored. He cites Brett Graham (The Ledbury) and Jason Atherton (Pollen Street Social) as chefs he admires in the U.K.
Ducasse operates restaurants in nine countries, including branches of Benoit brasserie in Paris, New York and Tokyo. How about bringing Benoit to London?
“That’s an idea we are considering for the fourth one,” he says. “We’re thinking very seriously.”
So what is the attraction of London for Ducasse?
“I love the diversity,” he says. “You could do 10 books like this. It’s one picture of the London food scene today to show and to understand the diversity. It’s not just the food but also the atmosphere. It’s unique in London, and maybe New York.
“Paris has fine dining, bistro and contemporary French today. London has much greater diversity, a rich diversity in terms of design, in terms of atmosphere as well as cuisine. That’s what I wanted to show with this book.
“Food is one part of the experience. And it has to be somewhere between 50 to 60 percent of the dining experience. But the rest counts as well: the mood, the atmosphere, the music, the feeling, the design, the harmony between what you have on the plate and what surrounds the plate.”
He says how much he enjoyed a visit the previous night to Chiltern Firehouse, the restaurant at the new London outpost of the American hotelier Andre Balazs. Arguably, this is the city’s most fashionable restaurant of the moment.
“It’s magnificent,” Ducasse says. “It’s striking and unique in London how you know to create this alchemy between the concept, the food, the music, the staff. From the beginning to the end, with all these different elements, it tells a full story that you know very well how to develop and cultivate.
“If I had the choice to travel to two places in Europe it would be Paris and London. We [in France] are the specialists in haute gastronomy, fine dining. That’s really our historical trademark and we’ll continue with that tradition.
“It’s at the top of the range, and it has to be maintained in the same way we cultivate haute couture when we talk about fashion. But in fashion, you also have pret a porter and both can co-exist. What I like about London is the differences and the wide variety of restaurants.
“There is no competition between the cities because we are different. We do not cultivate the same stories in terms of dining.”