Yannick Alleno is a chef with three Michelin stars. Le Meurice, his restaurant in Paris, is admired all over the world. As a result, a visit to STAY, the restaurant that he has lent his name to at the One&Only hotel on Palm Jumeirah in Dubai, comes with certain expectations.
The concept here, our waiter explained, is all about simplicity. Nevertheless, STAY is clearly intended as a fine-dining experience: there are thick white tablecloths, canapés, petit fours, silver cutlery and waiters who glide reverentially from table to table.
The dining room has a sumptuous, formal feel to it. Imposing white columns run down the sides, heavy red curtains cover the windows and dramatic black chandeliers dangle from the ceiling.
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The food that I ate at STAY was nice. No one particular dish blew me away, but the produce was high- quality, everything was seasoned properly and the presentation was elegant. This is an example of good, solid cooking. The meal wasn't perfect, though, and there were a few issues that detracted from the experience as a whole.
One of these was that it took a good 15 minutes after we were seated before a drinks menu was offered. By this time, canapés had been eaten (the highlights were a small bowl of frothy, flavourful Jerusalem artichoke foam and a mouthful of buttery beef tartare with crunchy shallots), we'd placed our food order and the bread basket had arrived. Which brings me to the second niggle of the night. It might sound like a small one, but the bread was cold. This wasn't a great start. In a high- end restaurant, bread is important; it should be warm, freshly made and set the standard for the rest of the meal.
But on to the main event. My riviera salad starter was a delicate version of the classic from Nice. Although I couldn't help but feel that some of the inherent gutsiness of the dish (where flakes of tuna cling to runny egg yolk and the whole thing sings with robust, garlicky flavour) had been lost slightly in the refinement, it was still very enjoyable. Crunchy pale green lettuce leaves glistened with dressing, marinated white anchovies were meaty and flavourful, rounds of potato were tender, semi-dried tomatoes delicate and tiny sprigs of baby basil added a lovely sweetness.
My friend ordered the foie gras, which came topped with a thin layer of crimson beetroot jelly and accompanied by four small circles of brioche. The incongruity of the portion of foie gras compared with the bread was immediately apparent. Before he was halfway through it, the brioche was gone. He asked for more and the staff were happy to oblige, but because of this, you can't help but wonder if anyone from the kitchen has ever sat down to eat the whole dish as a customer would, rather than just tasting it.
The foie gras itself was buttery, rich and smooth. It had started to oxidise (turn grey) on the underside, though, suggesting that it had been sliced before service began, rather than à la minute. The beetroot jelly had a faint earthy flavour, but we felt it lacked sufficient kick to cut through the fattiness of the liver - a hint of vinegar or touch of acidity would have been welcome. The sprinkling of gold leaf on the top just seemed superfluous - as to my mind, it often does.
Both of our main courses were tasty and well executed. They were also (true to our waiter's word) very simple. My friend's veal tenderloin consisted of a generous piece of meat, surrounded by a ring of creamy, béchamel-dressed macaroni and a drizzle of veal jus. The meat was soft and tender in the centre and cooked pink as requested, the macaroni was al dente, the sauce cheesy and the veal jus rich. Not breaking any culinary boundaries, but a nice dish.
My Dublin Bay prawn (langoustine) ravioli was another uncomplicated classic that looked and tasted as if it had been made with care. Slim circles of fresh pasta enclosed moist, slightly sweet langoustine meat. I wished there had been more of the chiffonaded Savoy cabbage garnish, though, if only to break up the cream sauce, which was very nice but also very rich.
At STAY they take dessert seriously. The back wall of the restaurant has been transformed into a dessert bar, with a pastry chef standing behind it putting the finishing touches to elaborate creations. I ordered the almond tuille with honey ice cream and my friend the poached pear with caramel cream. We were confused, then, when an ornate silver stand appeared in front of us and four small desserts were placed carefully on it - the two we'd asked for and two more. My tuille basket was good - delicate, crisp and a little bit chewy and the ice cream was moreish. The poached pear, meanwhile, was supple and juicy, although not particularly aniseedy considering that it had been cooked with liquorice.
What I don't understand, though, is why we were presented with the extra desserts. Surely, the point of an a la carte menu is that you select the dish you want and expect to be given a full portion of it. After all, I had deliberately not chosen the meringue with banana ice cream and the passion fruit. I asked our waiter the reason for this and his response was, "At STAY we believe you can never have enough sweetness." Odd, then, that the couple next to us were given one full-sized dessert each. Some people might like being given this selection, but without prior warning, I found it odd and quite irritating.
As I said earlier, I enjoyed the food at STAY. It's just that the inconsistencies and the slight lack of care in some areas detracted from the memory of the evening.
A meal for two at STAY, One&Only, the Palm Jumeirah, Dubai, cost Dh785, including service. For reservations call 04 440 1010. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and reviews are conducted incognito.