Fraiche in Dubai is a sunny café with shabby interiors serving French-Canadian cuisine that lives up to its promise of fresh fare, subject to availability.
Restaurant review: Fraiche Cafe & Bistro, JLT, Dubai
These take up three sides of this indoor bistro, bathing it in sunlight by day. At night, it feels like you're sitting in a giant, ultra-modern glass cube, making up in part for the drab, all-brown interiors. The naked bulbs, hanging from a spider's web of exposed black cords, do little to salvage the ambience.
Since we went at an in-between time - noon on a Sunday - the lunch crowd had not come in and the breakfasters were long gone. The two servers were well-trained, telling us exactly what we were meant to order. Not a remarkable feat this, because several dishes were "unavailable for this week" from the already limited menu.
Fraiche is one of those places where you can have a leisurely lunch, or power through a breakfast of eggs, pancakes or rather inventive sandwiches in a little over 20 minutes. Considering my companion's strawberry and goat's cheese salad took that long to arrive, as did my crab tian, we took our time here. And I'm glad, because the food fully lives up to the name - it's all fabulously fresh.
The salad, which arrived with crisp greens, dollops of delectable cheese, heaps of pine nuts and two very juicy strawberries, tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, had just the right amount of crunch. The crab, which came garnished in a circle of mustard and radish, was a dish best served cold. The claw meat was well-seasoned, although I had to order extra mustard - the creamy variety with just the right amount of nose-tingling piquancy.
If, like us, you get disgruntled by a long wait when you're hungry, get a side order of grilled asparagus, which comes doused in lemon- butter sauce. And if you're not counting calories, the poutine is a must-have dish from any French-Canadian joint worth its salt. I went back one evening just to try it. The enticing-sounding crab poutine was not available, but the regular - with crisp yet plump potato fries, a brown gravy-like sauce and delicious, if somewhat over-cold, cheese curds - was a right treat. It's for this dish that I can't wait to go back, perhaps in the morning this time, though, when the cheese will be at its squeakiest fresh.
Were half the menu not missing, the mains would have been a satisfying mix of chicken, fish, lamb, beef and vegetarian options. The server had me order the Wagyu beef bourguignon, while my ovo-vegetarian friend, disappointed about the missing potato agnolotti, turned down the porcini mushroom risotto and decided on the eggs Benedict.
This course arrived rather quickly and was consumed just so. The velvety texture of the melt-in-your-mouth beef - which came with creamy mash, boiled carrots, pearl onions and button mushrooms - had me gloating about the fact that I live under a 100 metres away (the cafe doesn't deliver that far, alas). The eggs having been declared perfectly palatable and the muffin base satisfyingly filling, we perked up for a sweet finish.
Fraiche's list of desserts reads like a dream: strawberry Pavlova, baked banana cheesecake and ditch-your-diet-for-this apple crumble. My squawks of protest about needing to order separate desserts fell on deaf ears - it was going to be one apple crumble each - with Madagascan vanilla ice-cream and salted caramel sauce - for both of us.
We resigned ourselves to the server's suggestions of crème brûlée (so difficult to get right and so thick in consistency here that it felt like a main) and the flourless chocolate cake (so right in so many places and nothing extraordinary here).
Given the drab and disappointing first and last impressions and the bordering-on-excellent food in between, Fraiche would do well to tidy up its act, if not its decor, just a tad.
. A meal for two at Fraiche Cafe & Bistro at Cluster Y, Jumeirah Lakes Towers, Dubai, costs Dh250. For reservations, call 04 369 7821. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and are conducted incognito