x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Get her to the Greek ... restaurant

Le Gourmet in Dubai is one of the few places offering Greek dishes - but does it make the most of the opportunity?

Le Gourmet Cafe and Restaurant. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Le Gourmet Cafe and Restaurant. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Greek restaurants are relatively few and far between in Dubai, so when I was told by a friend about a newish place on Jumeirah Beach Road, thoughts immediately turned to chilled tzatziki, fruity Kalamata olives and beachside tavernas.

While it doesn’t exactly deliver that, Le Gourmet is still a nice-looking spot. The cafe is set in a large whitewashed villa and has a pretty courtyard area, as well as a spacious interior which is divided into sections with raw fish and meat for the grill on display, plus salads, cakes and sandwiches and, quite bizarrely, a couple of pre-made, plastic-wrapped pizza and pasta dishes.

We sat at a table on the terrace until halfway through the meal, when a swarm of flies forced us to migrate inside. From the knowing reaction of the staff, this happens often and we wished that they had warned us at the outset. Little incidents such as this, as well as the arrival, at the very start of the meal, of a complimentary dessert (a heavy, cold cinnamon dough ball), signified that there’s something just a little bid odd about Le Gourmet. Large bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar were placed in the middle of the table, yet bread wasn’t offered and the staff seemed happy to meander aimlessly around the restaurant.

A quick flick through the menu revealed that rather than being a Greek restaurant as I’d first thought, Le Gourmet is in fact rather more Mediterranean in style, with mezze bits and pieces set alongside pizzas, pastas, salads and grills. Sticking with the original plan we decided to order primarily from the “special delicacies from the Greek” section.

Saganaki made from pan-fried Graviera cheese was chewy and warm, with a deep, intensely savoury tang and a pleasant hint of paprika in the coating. The bed of salad leaves, diced cucumber and pale tomato had seen better days, though, and serving them on hot plates certainly didn’t help matters.

Across the table, an order of spanakopita (spinach pie) brought us two delicate triangles of snappy, golden filo pastry stuffed with soft, wilted spinach which, although not perhaps at its peak, was properly seasoned, and a scattering of salty, crumbled feta. My friend wished that the ratio of cheese to vegetables had been a little higher, but apart from that, there were no complaints.

For one of our main courses we chose from the fish market selection which, it must be noted, included hammour. Our sea bass was grilled (we could have had it baked, fried, sautéed or steamed), rubbed with chopped rosemary and black olives (other options included lemon and pepper, basil and Parmesan, and orange and mint) and served with a zippy, creamy avgolemono (egg and lemon) sauce. The fish, which was presented whole, was perfectly cooked with crisp, salty skin flavoured with herbs and aromatics and moist, tasty flesh that came away from the bone with just the merest of tugs. A pile of rosemary roast potatoes was good, too.

Beef souvlaki, meanwhile, was nowhere near as enjoyable. In comparison with the fish, the two small half-full kebabs felt like a meagre portion and, although it had a nice garlic kick to it, the meat was chewy and overcooked. Buttery rice had bite, but a little bowl of tzatziki lacked personality and that garlic punch.

While I don’t think Le Gourmet is likely to become a regular haunt for many people, if you are craving a plate or two of saganaki in casual surroundings, you could do worse.

A meal for two at Le Gourmet Cafe and Restaurant, Jumeirah Beach Road, costs Dh276 including service charge. For reservations, call 04 344 4220. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and all reviews are conducted incognito