x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

French food is among the fastest-growing growing and most competitive scene in the UAE

Like French food? There are more options in the UAE than ever before.

The open-plan kitchen at Studio du Chef at Sofitel The Palm in Dubai. Sarah Dea / The National
The open-plan kitchen at Studio du Chef at Sofitel The Palm in Dubai. Sarah Dea / The National

Cafes, bistros, boulangeries and brasseries – with French eateries popping up all over Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the competition is getting tough. Reinvention seems to be the key – and, from planning new menus to hiring top chefs, owners are going the extra mile to stay successful in this fast-growing market.

This is evident at Dubai’s Studio Du Chef at Sofitel on The Palm, which has introduced French Grand Classics Evenings on Sundays and Mondays, theme nights that focus on special items such as blanquette de veau, boeuf Bourguignon and pot au feu, with a rotating menu every month.

Studio Du Chef’s regular menu includes a modern interpretation of traditional French dishes – from the decadent tuna Rossini topped with creamy foie gras to the perfectly seared medallions of beef accompanied by a rich Bourguignon sauce. The chic venue is equally impressive, with state-of-the-art equipment and an open-plan kitchen that lets diners watch the chefs.

Decor plays a prominent part at the newly launched brasserie-style Fraiche Cafe & Bistro in Swiss Tower, Cluster Y of Jumeirah Lakes Towers. The owner and chef Yousef Al Barqawi believes decor to be as important as the attention given to cuisine. “We are mindful of what we do and have gone for French flair. As for the menu, we have taken inspiration from some of the greatest chefs on the scene,” he says.

Fraiche, a French-Canadian bistro, is a newcomer to the UAE with ambitious plans to introduce new items based on the seasonal availability of produce. Al Barqawi says his team is trained in “classic French techniques”, with roots in a humble, long-standing philosophy. “The food and concept take precedence over everything,” he says about his new 85-seat cafe.

Izu Ani, the executive chef and culinary talent behind La Serre in Downtown Dubai, echoes this thought: “I believe in creating authentic cuisine and this comes from understanding the culture; once you live, eat and breathe it, the product comes naturally. Because there are so many parallels between food from around the world, it really comes down to ingredients, tools and execution.”

There is more to the modern French bistro La Serre than meets the eye. The menu includes Mediterranean dishes that influence French gastronomy, incorporating the best of Ani’s culinary experiences from his time in France, as well as insights and expertise gained from his years at La Petite Maison, his former employer. Sourcing the best ingredients from all over the world and hiring the finest team of chefs who ­“respect the ingredients” have helped put La Serre on the culinary map of Dubai, Ani claims.

After 25 years in the industry, he says he is confident about maintaining his presence on the market: “It’s very simple – it’s about a belief in yourself and your product and respect for your food and patrons. But there’s no formula to it. If you don’t look after it, somebody else will.”

Newly opened in The Dubai Mall is Angelina, a tea room that bills itself as “a luxury brand symbolising the French way of life”. Established in 1903 by an Austrian confectioner, Angelina claims to have served the cream of Parisian society, including Proust and Coco Chanel.

Abu Dhabi is not far behind. Royal Catering (RC) recently opened Café D’Alsace in Yas Marina, a bistro-style eatery serving specialities inspired by France’s Alsace region. According to Najem Khalil, RC’s director of marketing, the newly licensed venue “puts a twist on the French by incorporating aspects of Swiss and German cuisine, which has never been done in the region”, with specialities such as fondue, raclette and tarte flambé.

At the other end of the city, on the Corniche, is Brasserie Angelique at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers. One of the most elegant restaurants in the city, it features wooden parquet and black-and-white mosaic floors, sparkling chandeliers and ornate, moulded ceilings. The traditional brasserie menu has been put together by a skilled team trained to French standards.