Le Vendôme Emirates Palace West End Corniche Abu Dhabi Tel: 02 690 7999. Price for two: Dh360 There are some things that are deemed acceptable to hear while settling down to a Friday brunch. One is the mildly excited chatter of diners and the gentle clatter of cutlery against crockery; another is the soft tinkle of a piano or the intelligent musings of an erudite and entertaining dining partner. Then there are the things that are deemed totally unacceptable to hear. An elephant with a thorn in its side charging through the restaurant while a cartload of frenzied chimpanzees swing from the chandeliers is definitely one. And Elton John's Candle In The Wind played pan-pipes-style on an electric keyboard is most certainly another. Unfortunately, at Le Vendôme's Friday brunch, we were subjected to the latter, though I prayed hard for a large pachyderm to come stampeding into the dining room and stomp all over the keyboard.
The misery of the mawkish chords was assuaged somewhat by the seafood on ice. There were fleshy lobster tails and plump king prawns, oysters with shallot vinaigrette, giant New Zealand mussels and sweet Alaskan king crab legs, all of which went rather well with the smooth cocktail sauce and fresh lemon. It all helped to take our minds off Elton John before we perused the starter stations, returning with folds of luscious smoked salmon and choice chunks of tuna sashimi. It was clear that the food was far better suited to the grand surroundings than the music.
Le Vendôme occupies a prime location overlooking Emirates Palace's stunning beach and an azure, glittering sea. But since it was as hot as a pressure cooker outside, we decided to face the muzak indoors among the cool marble finishes and arabesque lanterns. At least that way we were closer to the carvery. The Iranian-style uzi lamb was worthy of a 21-gun salute, so tender and juicy was its meat; and the pink roast beef was equally moist, though the duck had been frazzled under the heat lamp and was as dry as a Stephen Wright stand-up routine. So we ventured to the hot chafers where the main courses could be found. The veal saltimbocca offered intensely flavoursome and softly textured slices rolled in beef-proscuito around a crunchy but tiny dill pickle. And the coq au vin followed suit with its yielding flesh and its boldly flavoured sauce.
By now, the keyboard player had been joined by three apparently South American female singers. But no sooner had the predictable strains of Guantanamera begun echoing through Le Vendôme's cavernous arches, than it was almost drowned out by the arrival of a large and raucous table of Australians. I didn't know whether to thank them or go and dive fully-clothed into the sea. Still, there was always dessert to divert my attention.
The strawberry royal cake was a proud hierarchy of whole blackberries on top of fluffy mousse and soft sponge. It was excellent with lashings of vanilla custard sauce, while the umm Ali - a traditional Arabic sweet similar to bread pudding -was gloriously milky and sprinkled with crunchy green pistachios. We were impressed by the food at Le Vendôme's Friday brunch. The selection was wide-ranging and, on the whole, brilliantly executed. We may even have lingered a while longer but we were effectively nudged along when our keyboard maestro began playing a Spice Girls atrocity. We finished up and left directly for the brilliant Picasso exhibition a few paces from Le Vendôme's entrance. There, the hushed appreciation of the great Spanish painter's masterpieces was music to our ears.