Restaurant Review – Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire, Intercontinental Festival City, Dubai

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.

1.  http://www.timeoutdubai.com/restaurant-awards-2013/awards/40074#.Ul1UalDKwrg

Bubbalicious Brunch, Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort and Marina – March 2013

Dubai is a city of extremes.  It can be quite difficult to get one’s head around the contrasts, which are glaring.  Walking along the Marina, you may be struck by the juxtaposition of a fully-clad Emirati family eating a sobrietous dinner, with a rowdy bunch of self-tanned English girls falling-about in microscopic dresses – as lacking in decorum as they are in clothing.  It was with these first impressions, and on an absolutely beautiful day, that I joined the well-heeled flock of expats making their weekly pilgrimage to “Brunch”.  Brunch is an institution in Dubai, and takes place on Friday.  Ironically, and in another extraordinary contrast, Friday is the sacred day for most local Emirati people, who generally practice Islam and pass this time with reflection and group prayer (Salaat-ul-Jumma).1  For everyone else, it is the start of the Weekend Baby!

We were fortunate to have a booking at the Best Brunch in Dubai2, Bubbalicious at the Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort and Marina (One of many international, super-luxury hotels).  We descended – slowly, in a queue which snaked down the gleaming staircase – into the exquisite marbled brunch area, where we had to make the first of many difficult consumption decisions.  Was it going to be a) the bottomless Champagne option (as much Möet et Chandon / Laurent Perrier as one can drink), or b) the marginally cheaper bottomless Prosecco and Cava option, or c) the bottomless soft-drink option?  We opted for the first, as it was someone’s birthday, and were provided with bright red wristbands so that everyone would know about it.  I didn’t spot a single brunch guest sporting the light blue ‘Softdrink’ wristband, with all things non-alcoholic eschewed as the weekend festivities got underway.  We were then guided betwixt and between a very large number of tables into the garden, where we had pride-of-place at a white-draped round table in the shade with views of the sea.

Glasses filled with ice-cold Möet, we ventured back inside to get the first of many courses we were to eat that day.  Everything is self-service, and you can eat as much or as little as you please.  We hoped to sample a bit of everything, but when confronted with such an extraordinary quantity of the finest foodstuffs in the world, it was difficult (though most pleasing) to figure out where to start.  I can’t possibly describe all the edible wares in this review, so I’ll give you my “5 of the Best”.

  1. Foie gras and Charcuterie.  But not any old foie gras and Prosciutto di Parma.  This was a 5 metre long counter, a la Parisian market, with several preparations of foie gras.  Plain, fried, pȃte du, enhanced with red berries, various alcoholic infusions and a selection of ‘lesser’ delectables like chicken and goose liver pates.  As for the charcuterie, the star was an entire, aged Jamon Iberico, wafer-thin slices of which were cut for you by the obliging chef in starched whites.  There was also an endless selection of saucisson, coppa, prosciutto crudo, salami, chorizo and, and, and…..
  2. Three Types of Oysters.  An abundance of the luscious delights from far-flung climes, with any number of fabulous accompaniments from lemon and lime wedges to weird and wonderful sauces, or served in shot-glasses with very strong alcohol.
  3. Sushi and Caviar.  An exquisite, and massive, spread of every type of sushi one can think of.  Prepared sashimi, tartare, ceviche, maki, California rolls, futomaki and if none of these were to your liking, chefs on hand to handle special requests.  Otherwise, you can always pass-over the sushi in favour of a whole tin of caviar from the selection.
  4. The 40 meter cheese bench.  It extended down the length of the two brunch halls and physically separated them in half.  Here, there was a vast selection of every cheese you have heard of, and many of whose existence you were blissfully unaware.  From the runniest, smelliest and mouldiest to the hardest, milkiest and most colourful, it was the stuff that dreams are made of – literally.
  5. Shellfish.  A three meter glass-fronted display of fleshy lobsters, huge langoustines, several types of crab, lesser-known bugs, selections of prawns and other bright-orange crustaceans, with an array of mouth-watering sauces.  It was all claws, tentacles and pincers, something akin to a prawny-pin-cushion.

And so much more, oh so much more (pictured at the end of this review).

 

The 40 meter cheese bench

The 40 meter cheese bench

 

Cheese continued

Cheese continued

The shellfish counter

The shellfish counter

Needless to say, this is not only about quantity, and the quality of the food was simply fabulous.  Everything was prepared to perfection, and many edible items like meats and pastas could be cooked to order.  The service was also charming, and our Champagne glasses were always full.  The atmosphere grew progressively more festive, no doubt fuelled by the large range of tropical cocktails and craft beer on offer (did I forget to mention, more booze?  And all part of the buffet…).

So, final impressions through a haze of Champagne…  This brunch was utterly spectacular; not only for the wonderful food, but the sheer, unfathomable luxury, quantity and seemingly endless over-indulgence.  Looking back on it now, it all seems rather like a dream, and a bit hard to believe that one was actually there, especially as I write from my Johannesburg flat.  I would recommend that when visiting Dubai one should make the most of this opportunity.  It is expensive, a real guilty pleasure, and anyone with a strong social conscience who has witnessed some of the poverty the world has to offer may find it somewhat overwhelming.  However, for the foodie, the big drinker, the international adventurer, a trip to Dubai -the capital of excess- would be incomplete without it.

1.  Ahmadiyya Muslin Community.  Salat Friday Prayer (Jumma).  www.alislam.org/books/salat/10.html

2.  Time Out Dubai.  10 Best Dubai Brunches.  www.timeoutdubai.com/mobile/gallery/30979-10-best-dubai-brunches

You can contact Bubbalicious on: + 971 (4) 399 4141

A mixologist (you can't see him behind the cloud of liquid nitrogen) prepares frozen Jaegermeister spheres to go with the mojito pearls.  All served in silver spoons, naturally.

A mixologist (you can’t see him behind the cloud of liquid nitrogen) prepares frozen Jaegermeister spheres to go with the mojito pearls. All served in silver spoons, naturally.

More shellfish

More shellfish

One of the bread trolleys

One of the bread trolleys

A fraction of the pudding

A fraction of the pudding