City of the super-rich, Dubai would be incomplete without the plethora of restaurant offerings from some of the best known chefs in the world. From Alain Ducasse to Zuma (brainchild of German chef Rainer Becker), the glittering city really has it all. Spoilt for choice, we opted for Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire, at the Intercontinental Dubai Festival City, to celebrate a birthday. Gagnaire’s aim is to bring reflections of the delightful French dishes served at his three star Michelin restaurant in Paris to the Middle East. In this endeavour he seems to be succeeding and Reflets is Time Out Dubai’s ‘Restaurant of the Year 2013’ – for the third year running.1
Bearing all this in mind, we booked months in advance and even felt a little bit chuffed when we managed to get a table relatively easily. Along with our reservation confirmation came some very strict instructions about dress code and a warning against tardiness: “Due to the numerous booking requests, we would be grateful if you could join us at the time mentioned above. If you are late we kindly request that you inform us by calling us …. Please note that unless advised, we will hold your table for 30 minutes past the allocated seating time…” You can well imagine our panic when, half an hour before we were due at Reflets, we hadn’t even managed to call a taxi. This culminated in a frantic, highway-crossing, metro-hopping run-around and we eventually made it to Reflets fifteen minutes late. Imagine our surprise to find it totally empty.
We were graciously, if somewhat formally, greeted, and perhaps due to us looking a little frazzled, it was recommended that we enjoy a drink on the terrace before dinner. From the tantalising cocktail list, we opted for strength over length. The Dirty Martini came out a clear winner. Whilst having our drinks, the maitre d’ brought out our menus. Ladies, be warned, you will be given menus sans the prices. Perhaps a blessing in disguise given some of the jaw-dropping numbers. The menu was as beautiful as one would expect, and the concept behind the food interesting and original. Rather than choosing various courses you pick your key ingredient, and several reflections and variations on this ingredient are presented. Naturally, these are no ordinary ingredients. Neither are they locally sourced. A tasting menu is also available.
Into the dining room, which is quite lovely. Pearly walls, a shock pink carpet and candyfloss chandeliers contrasted with wooden panels and huge mirrors. Being so empty, however, the space felt huge and quiet. We had a browse of the large wine list, eventually selecting french wines, though wines from all four corners of the globe are on offer at Reflets. Our chilled pouilly fumé was accompanied by ‘menu cards’ explaining each of the dishes we were to have. In my opinion this is an inspired idea. These dishes are highly complex, and the cards serve as reminders of all those tiny, but vital, elements of each dish.
Three dishes were particularly outstanding. Here is a verbatim description of each, cribbed from the menu cards, with a few of my reflections:
“Foie gras du canard – Ballotine of duck liver “au naturel”, Dunky Pinky, crispy bread crust. Raw chocolate Mélissa Ringo way. Red croquettes, croquette sablées.” This take on foie gras was masterful, with several different styles and techniques presented on one dish. The gorgeous, rich, bitter chocolate proved the perfect accompaniment for the delicious foie, with hits of acidic red fruit to make the palate dance.
“Langoustine – Langoustine Terre de Sienne, seaweed brioche like French toast. Custard of tarragon. Steamed like a Dim sum, énoki mushroom, red radish and Pardailhan turnip perfumed with rice vinegar and olive oil Manni. Slightly raw, salt/pepper, Hoegaarden beer syrup, blood orange. Grilled langoustine, eggplant from Florence, nori seaweed.” This plate, reflections of langoustine, was perfection. Langoustine is a sweetish shellfish, and the deft pairings of the meat with stronger flavours like turnip and blood-orange united the three preparations into one fabulous starter.
“Agneau du Quercy origin France. Rack of lamb roasted with oregano, and glazed with tomato juice; coated garlic, braised baby turnip, grilled spring onions. The leg seared “minute”, pimentos puree, semolina perfumed with argan oil. Clear broth treated like a couscous.” Though all the dishes were excellent, this was probably the very best of the lot. It goes without saying that every variation of lamb was perfectly cooked, and the dish was served with a wonderful, deep rich jus and complemented by a bowl of fine, crystal clear lamb consommé.
After the first two courses, most of us were already sated, though with a fair bit of peer pressure, some felt obliged to have a dessert. We ordered two – an ecuadorian chocolate soufflé and a sicilian pistachio nut soufflé. For soufflés, they were both enormous, and interestingly served in bowls rather than a ramekin as is more usual. They were also utterly delicious, with accompaniments of melty chocolate ganache, white chocolate and a variety of sorbets and marshmallows.
Thereafter the proverbial ‘wafer thin mint’ arrived at our table, a glass cube full of chocolate, marshmallow and a personalised message for the birthday boy. Along with some delicious espresso.
The service, of course, was second to none, and all of the staff were very knowledgeable about the food and wine. Given that we were the only customers in the restaurant most of the time, we had their undivided attention. We never felt stifled, or that any element of service had been overlooked.
There seem to be four important ingredients which make a dining experience truly pleasurable: Amazing food and wine (and plenty of it), excellent service, the company of one’s nearest and dearest, and a restaurant humming with the sounds of people enjoying themselves. Our meal at Reflets delivered on all but one, and I am still at a loss to explain why it was so empty. I can’t imagine it is due to the prices, this is Dubai, after all. Perhaps Saturday is the wrong night to go, given Sunday is ‘Monday’ in Dubai, however other friends went a few weeks after us and it was also empty then.
I highly recommend Reflets, which certainly seems worthy of its Best in Dubai title. Go with a large, loud group of friends, as you may well have to create your own atmosphere. If you succeed in doing this, you are in for an exquisite meal which ticks all the boxes.
You can contact Reflets on + (0) 4 701 1111.
The review was sent to the restaurant on 16th October 2013.