Last night I had dinner at the Dorchester Grill Room, one of London’s grander hotel restaurants which has been given an absurdly baroque makeover reminiscent of what Balmoral must have looked like in Victorian times. The team in the restaurant though are bang up to date with one of the smartest sommeliers in town, Jason McAuliffe doing an impressive double act with the talented young chef Aiden Byrne.
At the moment they’ve got an asparagus menu on which we ran through its paces with an extraordinarily eclectic selection of wines. The exuberant McAuliffe who admits he wakes up in the night agonising about what to pair with Byrne’s dishes, loves to push the boundaries so we were in for a few surprises . . . Here’s what we ate and what we drank with it, rated as follows:
*** Great match, the best of the meal
** A good match
* An OK match but one which slightly diminishes the food or the wine
No stars: A misfiring match
Asparagus gazpacho with pea and mint sorbet
The striking thing about this dish was that that the dominant note was the sweet pea flavour rather than the asparagus. There was also a rich creamy crème fraîche base to the dish which made it almost more dessert-like than a conventional starter. McAuliffe picked two Champagnes to try, a Larmandier-Bernier 1er cru Blanc de Blancs** and a pinot-dominated Gosset-Brabant Grand Cru ‘Cuvée de Reserve’* The blanc de blancs won the day with the creaminess picking up nicely on the pea flavour and cutting through the richness of the dish.
Morels, asparagus and crayfish
A clever dish, balancing the fine taste of raw asparagus with the delicate sweetness of crayfish and the rich, almost meaty flavour of morels. McAuliffe put up a St Péray ‘Les Figuiers’ 2004* from Bernard Grippa, a luxuriant blend of Roussanne and Marsanne from the Rhône and, more daringly, a 2000 Lustau single cask amontillado sherry***. The St Peray just about held its own but the sherry was startling good, picking up perfectly on the dark mushroomy flavour of the morels. Asparagus and amontillado - who’d have thought it? The Gosset-Brabant** worked very well too.
Asparagus mayonnaise with poached duck egg
A fabulous dish, a bit like an asparagus fry up with some particularly delicious mayo on the side. The egg was warm and runny, the asparagus wrapped in bacon and there was a crisp baton of fried bread. McAuliffe went back to Champagne again with a Louis Roederer Rich which was too sweet for the dish but was spot on with a traditional-style oaked white Rioja, an Allende 2003*** which picked up perfectly on the egg, pancetta and bacon. A triumph!
Wild sea trout with asparagus mousse
Again the pure asparagus flavour was offset this time by the salmon which was served mi-cuit and glazed lightly with a reduction of red wine, port and chicken jus. McAuliffe went down the ros route with a Bandol Rosé 2005* from Domaine La Souffrène and a big exuberant cherry flavoured Charles Melton Rosé of Virginia 2006. Although the Bandol shaded it the berry fruit flavours of rosé just didn’t quite hit it off with the asparagus so I suggested trying a sip of Sauvignon Blanc. McAuliffe poured a Waterkloof Sauvignon Blanc 2005** which worked better but agreed that a Loire Sauvignon would have been ideal, maybe even a Reuilly.
Saddle of rabbit with asparagus, Sauternes and tarragon sabayon
Twinning asparagus and sauternes is certainly a new one on me but this again was a quite outstanding dish, also helped by a drizzle of umami-rich chicken jus. I could see where McAuliffe was coming from with his selection of a musky Frederic Machel Pinot Gris 2004* from Alsace but it left the overall impression of sweetness too dominant. A silky 2004 Tasmanian Pinot Noir from Apsley Gorge***on the other hand was quite perfect, picking up on the sweet/savoury notes of the dish.
Overall, a fascinating experience and one which shows, as with so many pairings that it’s the other ingredients you put with your hero ingredient and the way you treat it that affects the match. In the next couple of days I’ll be summing up my options for asparagus with slightly less complicated dishes.
The asparagus menu is available at The Dorchester until the end of May. For bookings call +44 (0) 20 7629 8888