My last day in London began by my stopping by Dunhill to have a silver pepper mill I had been given engraved with my initials. It was a lovely gift from a lovely woman, and I was chuffed to get it! (In this case, “chuffed” is BritSpeak for being really pleased!) What speaks to a man’s gourmet aspirations more than an individual silver pepper mill with his own chosen peppercorns!
Rather like the news pundits on television, the women who work in elegant shops are themselves usually charming and beautiful. There is a reason for this. Camille Paglia, a “First-Wave Feminist” who became a feminist because she wanted freedom, points out that it is insane for “Women’s Studies” to omit a course in biology. (My own opinion is one should run away from any course ending in “Studies,” except perhaps “Medieval Studies.”) Her point is that, despite foolish attempts to pretend all gender differences are cultural, men and women are not entirely alike in their outlooks, or even their looking. I remember watching an old Mark Harmon film that briefly showed women watching a male stripper. For those women, it was a bit of a giggle; they lacked the concentration of the males in the movies watching their own stripper strip! Women usually seen to care little about how, say, Brit Hume looks, while the men would much rather watch Shannon Bream than plainer pundits. Television producers and shop owners know this; even if they ideologically deplore this basic difference between the sexes, their salesmanship requires that they be aware that males are “lookists” by nature. No matter how shallow you may find this (and both Mr Hume and Miss Bream are obviously as intelligent as any commentators I know), you have to be both humorless and doctrinaire not to realize this about us males. Personally, I applaud wives who occasionally point out a beautiful woman to their husbands; they are secure enough to know that, as Dennis Prager pointed out on YouTube, there will very soon be yet another beauty eliciting their husbands’ wayward glances. I pity the wives jealous of a beautiful woman whom their husbands have already forgot!
With the help of a charming woman at Dunhill’s, I got my engraving ordered to pick up that afternoon. I then went on to lunch at Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester. Unfortunately my guest was not feeling well herself and had to cancel, but I manfully went ahead with the reservation. I would hate to disappoint a Michelin three-star establishment.
The Dorchester is one of the great hotels. My Parisian Aunt used to stay in it; a few years ago I came across a four-digit price in dollars for a night there, and when I told her, she was gobsmacked! For her I think it just was a very nice hotel. Indeed, it is, but staying at a London Gentlemen’s Club does not require a Coutt’s bank account. (Or is that now “Gentlefolks’ Clubs”? Many of them are now mixed, and my favorite club to visit, the Garrick, is now under siege for its male-only membership. I think such attacks are puerile; there should be all-male clubs, all female clubs, and mixed clubs. Mixing single-sex clubs may sound equitable at first, but what it really does is cut down on the diversity supposedly so much coveted by the trendier members of society.)
Alain Ducasse is, I think, the only chef to have had more than one Michelin three-star restaurants at the same time. His defunct restaurant in New York’s Essex House earned the coveted three stars, and I seem to recall he also has three-star Michelin restaurants in Paris and Monaco. Even the “Blue Plate Special” at such an establishment requires a lot of green, but what a treat!
- Ducasse’s place in the Dorchester is relatively small with a great many staff to cosset the lucky diners. One of the tables has a lighted curtain of beads around it, presumably to conceal celebrities who want to dine there without attracting attention. Now I am sure that there will be some puritanical killjoys who insist it is obscene to pay so much for a single meal. What they forget is that the dining room and kitchen staff also have to eat, and as lovers of Babette’s Feast know, cooking is an art which requires money to create; it required 10,000 franks in the 19th century to dine twelve at Babette’s Café Anglaise. Besides, when something is priceless, you cannot cavil at the price even with a price tab firmly attached. Again, those who are bored with menus may skip this. My meal at Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester was:
Gougères (Recipe at http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/alain-ducasses-gougeres)
Amuse-Bouche: John Dory with Marigold Vinegar
Starter: Cornish Egg, smoked sweetcorn and chicken oyster
White Wine: 2015 Mâcon-Solutré Domaine Sève
Main course: Squid ink Pasta, octopus, citrus
Red Wine: 2013 Maranges B. Bachelet.
Chocolate from Ducasse’s Manufacture in Paris, passion fruit.
Chocolates, Caramels, &c.
Coffee (in my case, Cappuccino).
The food was, as expected, excellent; the service, attentive and friendly but not smothering. This sort of cooking and presentation is not cheap, though my lunch with wine was under $150 – not cheap for a single meal, but in the world of Michelin three-star restaurants, where tasting menus can run over $200 without wine, it was a bargain. Was it worth it? Yes.
That night I was back at the Oxford and Cambridge as the guest of an American Cantabrigian. We started as guests of our third diner with drinks at Brooks’s Club and wound up for a glorious repast at the O&C. We finished with port on the library terrace, though I refused the kind offer of a Havana Cigar. The last time I smoked a cigar, the results were dicey.