x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Defeated by dessert

Ruth's Chris Steak House has brought its tradition of big portions to Dubai and it is not just the steaks that can intimidate.

The fillet steak was tender - and huge.
The fillet steak was tender - and huge.

We were warned about the desserts. The waiter told us that they were big in the kind of hushed tones someone might use when calling the emergency services and explaining that King Kong has just shimmied up the side of their apartment building. My dining partner's apple crumb tart was simply enormous. It was so big, she could conceivably have fitted a door in the side of it and moved in. Instead she chipped away at the rugged streusel crust with a spoon, but she'd have been better equipped with a shovel. When she'd finally penetrated the boulders of pastry, the hunks of Granny Smith apples inside were sweet with just a hint of tartness, and the side-scoop of vanilla bean ice cream provided cool and creamy relief from the insurmountable task of making a dent in the tart.

To be fair to the waiter, he'd advised us to share one dessert between the two of us. But in the interests of research, I bravely ordered the cheesecake. I wondered if the local authorities had granted planning permission for such a humongous confection. It was as deep and round as a swimming pool, and it brimmed with an intensely creamy cheesecake filling, garnished with sweetly tart fresh berries. To the waiter's credit, he was able to manoeuvre the leftover puddings into a doggy bag without the assistance of a Caterpillar truck. Ruth's Chris Steak House is used to providing doggy bags.

Let's rewind to the beginning. When we entered this recently opened New Orleans-style chain steakhouse at The Monarch hotel, we thought that the clean, contemporary and sophisticated decor might reflect the modern trend of lighter portions. But as soon as we received our starters we realised the portions were going to be huge. My companion's "crabtini" seafood cocktail featured a substantial helping of delicate white crabmeat and shreds of salad leaves mixed with a white Creole remoulade sauce that made the dish far too heavy for her to finish - especially as she knew that the next course would involve a large hunk of red meat. I opted for the Louisiana seafood gumbo, which appeared to be significantly more gumbo than seafood. Nevertheless, the portion was large and augmented by a mound of rice soaked into softness in the rich, ruddy broth.

The steaks arrived sizzling in butter, at a temperature of "500 degrees Fahrenheit" (260°C), if the menu is to be believed. Prior to this, the custom-aged Midwestern beef had apparently been broiled at 1,800°F (980°C) to seal in the corn-fed flavour. But again, all we could think about at this stage was the sheer size of them. My friend's fillet was a glistening edifice of stupendously tender rare meat that could easily have fed her for two days running. But even that paled into insignificance next to my cowboy rib-eye, which was served on the bone and resembled something John Wayne would have had trouble overcoming. The rare steak was heavily marbled and gristly in places, yet it possessed a richness of flavour lacking in the super-soft fillet. And boy, do they breed those Midwestern American cows big. Assuming, of course, that they really are cows and not elephants.

And there was more. Perhaps we should have taken things a little easier, but we couldn't resist complementing the meat with the creamiest of mashed potatoes with garlic, a logpile of fresh asparagus with hollandaise sauce, and a bashed up bird's nest of thin and crispy shoestring potatoes. So it's little surprise that, when confronted with desserts the size of small independent nations, we fell a little short.

Monarch hotel, Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai, 04 501 8666. Average price of a meal for two, Dh900-1000.