x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Blue Flame is more of a flicker

At the steak and seafood restaurant Blue Flame, there's a lot of experimentation going on. But it's gone overboard, says our restaurant critic.

Blue Flame restaurant in Jumeirah Creekside hotel. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Blue Flame restaurant in Jumeirah Creekside hotel. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Walking out of Blue Flame, the steak and seafood restaurant at the Jumeirah Creekside hotel the other night, my overriding feeling was that the staff were trying very hard.

From the extremely polite, but just ever so slightly overattentive service, to the food, with its many references to an almost outmoded style of molecular gastronomy – yes, we’re talking foams, jellies and spherification caviar – real effort has gone into Blue Flame.

Neither my friend nor I were particularly taken with the interior of the restaurant, but perhaps that’s just us. Faux aquariums, red leather chairs and vibrant blue, red, orange-and-white flooring did not impress us. That said, the glass-walled “cooking pod” in the middle of the room (which offers nightly classes) is an interesting touch and the small but cosy outdoor terrace – the area where we sat – is very pleasant.

The menu certainly makes for interesting reading, with appetisers such as beef carpaccio and steak tartare being given an experimental twist, a grill section featuring quality steaks and seafood and a few rather more avant-garde offerings. Call me conservative, but I can’t imagine how “impressed foie gras” served with port gelatin, pistachio cream, raspberries, chocolate and brioche or espresso-glazed prawns with celeriac mousseline, crispy root beer fennel, roasted hazelnuts and aioli would work together.

Soon after we ordered, a cute little wooden tray containing two different types of warm savoury muffins – pesto and tomato and Provolone cheese – arrived. While they were an interesting alternative to bread, I think the lobster butter they were served with was a slightly odd combination – I can’t say the flavours complemented each other.

Steak tartare featured a hefty mound of raw beef which, instead of being finely chopped, had almost certainly been minced meaning that the texture was mushy. Four perfect rectangles of gherkin weren’t a suitable replacement for the chopped shallots, capers, cornichons, parsley, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco that traditionally come bound up in this dish. As a result, it lacked both punch and crunch. An artfully placed slick of what tasted like mustard cream, along with a line of sea salt, ran down opposite edges of the serving plate. This may have looked good presentation-wise, but made it difficult to mix into the meat. I’m also not convinced that the richness of the poached, breaded, fried egg was a suitable replacement for the traditional raw one, which helps to bring out the flavour of the beef rather than fight with it.

We couldn’t quite decide whether the grilled octopus starter looked pretty or just messy. Either way, I’m not sure that the individual components worked together to create a properly rounded dish: thickly sliced squid was rather overpowered by the slivers of red pepper, pieces of garlic sponge tasted of very little at all and a lone chorizo crisp was quickly devoured, so didn’t really add anything.

For her main course, my friend opted for the 250g Wagyu rib-eye, which was cooked medium, as she’d asked. It was very tasty – and so it should be for Dh350. It wasn’t, however, the best Wagyu beef steak that I’ve tasted in the UAE. A spoonful or two of shallot and chervil mustard made for a nice, sharp accompaniment and simple side orders of grilled asparagus and roasted wild mushrooms were well-cooked and seasoned. Lobster potato croquettes were disappointing, though: the round balls of mashed potato were bland and heavy while the chunks of lobster were chewy.

My “brick baby chicken”, chosen from the list of chef’s specials, was inconsistent: the meat itself was juicy with crisp, gleaming skin, but the accompanying green pea mash wasn’t a mash at all, but a smear of slightly sweet purée that didn’t taste of peas. It was, like the four squares of polenta cake that also came with the dish, nowhere near hot enough.

Under the guidance of a really quite charming waiter, we chose the “pliable cheesecake” and “chocolate inspirations” for dessert. Unfortunately the desserts exemplified exactly what is going wrong at Blue Flame. The chefs in this kitchen are obviously working hard and enjoy experimenting, but it is simply not enough to expect customers to be wowed by technique and -presentation.

An old-fashioned cheesecake, with its buttery biscuit base and thick, creamy topping, might not look particularly exciting but, made properly, it will more than likely taste delicious. Blue Flame’s deconstructed gelatinous version was a sorry mishmash: buttermilk ice cream was sticky with setting agent and had a watery aftertaste, a filo biscuit didn’t feel fresh and brought nothing to the plate in terms of flavour while the slightly spongy, set cream centrepiece was disappointingly bland. There was nowhere near enough of the biscuit base, sprinkled in a line down one side as it was.

The chocolate inspirations platter was a little better, although it did still speak of disparate items painstakingly arranged on a plate. Cacao ice cream was pleasingly rich and bitter, chocolate sponge cake with ganache icing was tasty as chocolate cake tends to be and “dehydrated chocolate mousse” was reminiscent of a particularly dry brownie. Cappuccino foam was a pointless addition, though: there wasn’t a hint of coffee about it and the bubbles quickly burst, leaving a little pool of water in the middle.

I really think this restaurant has potential, but at the moment there is just too much going on. When the prices are as high as this, I expect to be wowed rather than confused by the food.

A meal for two at Blue Flame costs Dh870, including service charge. For reservations, call 04 230 8580. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and all reviews are conducted incognito