Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 30 March 2020

Restaurant review: Indochine Dubai is worth every bit of the hype

The Vietnamese ravioli is so popular that the recipe has remained unchanged since it was introduced in the Big Apple 30 years ago

The Vietnamese Ravioli is so popular that the recipe has remained unchanged since it was first served in Indochine 30 years ago. Courtesy of Indochine 
The Vietnamese Ravioli is so popular that the recipe has remained unchanged since it was first served in Indochine 30 years ago. Courtesy of Indochine 

In New York, Indochine is something of an institution. Having opened in 1984, the chic French-­Vietnamese establishment has hosted Andy Warhol and Mick Jagger, and it continues to attract new-age celebrities into its funky environs, characterised by Martinique wallpaper and lively music. The Dubai outpost of the restaurant - its first international branch - had its soft launch in December, and has already attracted celebrities such as Roger Federer, Lindsay Lohan and Canadian RnB duo Majid Jordan. And, if any further proof of its popularity was needed, it was completely packed when I visited on a Sunday evening.

What to expect and where to sit

There aren’t too many images of Indochine circulating online, a deliberate decision by VKD Hospitality, the group that brought the restaurant to the region. The team wanted to keep the interiors as ambiguous as possible – the idea being, if someone really wants to see it, they’ll visit. I have to admit, the ploy worked; my dining companion and I were inordinately excited about stepping through the neon-signposted entrance, and drank in details we ordinarily would not – from the artfully potted plants and plush booths to the signature wallpaper. The lighting is dim, quaint fans rotate overhead (purely for decorative purposes), and the music is lively (and gets livelier through the night). Wicker lamps serve as a reminder that this is a Vietnamese joint, while a Wall of Fame features famous patrons from the New York branch. The waitstaff don’t wear uniforms, but are simply and stylishly dressed in black. Seating options include an outdoor area, a private dining room and a lounge; we eschewed these in favour of the main dining area’s spacious yet intimate booths.

The menu

In a city filled with seemingly never-ending dining options, fine-dining French-­Vietnamese food still stands out. With our minds and palates blissfully unbiased, we ordered the salads, as well as the cold and hot appetisers recommended by chef Steven Nguyen. The hamachi carpaccio (Dh76) came with a refreshing citrus note, while the spicy squid salad (Dh52) featured a delicious cilantro salsa verde (flavourful as it was, we would not go so far as to call it spicy). Among the starters, the minced beef stuffed in betel leaves, ­traditionally found in Asian countries, made for an ­intriguing combination and worked swimmingly with the (rightfully titled) chilli sauce. Another favourite came from the vegetarian section of the menu – the crispy eggplant (Dh48) featured slices of the vegetable coated in spiced caramel to create a sweet-and-savoury concoction that had me haranguing the chef for the recipe. Meanwhile, the lamb char siu (Dh190), a signature at the Dubai outpost, is ideal for those who like ­tender meat with a sweet tinge.

The betel leaf beef has minced meat stuffed within betel leaves, traditionally found in Asian countries. Courtesy of Indochine 
The betel leaf beef comes with minced meat. Courtesy Indochine

Speaking of signature dishes, it was time to taste one of Indochine’s most recommended dishes: the Vietnamese ravioli (Dh65). It is so popular, that the recipe has remained unchanged since it was introduced in the Big Apple 30 years ago. Indeed, the melt-in-your-mouth rice sheets filled with chicken, prawn and shiitake mushrooms proved addictive enough to be gulped down steaming hot.

If the dark chocolate souffle (Dh60), which takes 20 minutes to prepare, was not already in the oven, we would have ­forsaken dessert. “Don’t worry,” said our server. “It’s so good, you’ll finish it anyway.” She was right. A second dessert, the artistic passion fruit tartelette (Dh60), arrived at our table courtesy of the chef. The passion fruit and dense mango sorbet proved to be a delicious match, made sweeter still by the white chocolate.

Standout dishes

While the Vietnamese ravioli is the dish everyone raves about, give the crispy scale amadai (Dh186), a dish exclusive to the Dubai outpost, a shot. Not one to ordinarily seek out fish scales, I thoroughly enjoyed the crispy and delectable skin, which perfectly complements the softness of the fish meat and strong lemongrass sauce.

The crispy scale amadai, a signature dish of the Dubai branch of Indochine. Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National
The crispy scale amadai was created for Indochine Dubai. Photo: Antonie Robertson / The National

Another must-try is the wok-tossed rice noodles (Dh65), a dish exclusive to ­Indochine Dubai. The dish featured rice noodles treated to appear like slim dumplings – a fun twist to classic noodle dishes – and came with sesame seeds, soy sauce, crunchy asparagus, king oyster mushrooms, scallions, bean sprouts and shallots.

A chat with the chef

Chef Nguyen is more than happy to step outside the kitchen and chat to guests. Some other dishes he ­recommends included the black cod, served with caramel fish sauce, shimeji mushrooms, baby bok choy, ginger dashi and jasmine rice; and cha ca meuniere, a dish of lemon sole fish with turmeric, dill, cashew, scallion and coconut fennel veloute, which he terms a perfect marriage between east and west.

The caramel black cod is a dish recommended by the chef at Indochine. Courtesy of Indochine 
The caramel black cod is chef-recommended. Courtesy Indochine

Value for money and contact information

Starters range from Dh40 (for the charred corn) to Dh105 (for the escargot). Meat and seafood mains are priced between Dh125 and Dh410, with everything but two dishes under the Dh200 price tag. Those wanting a main for a lower cost can’t go wrong with the rice and noodle ­dishes, with the most expensive being Dh68. Indochine in Dubai ­International Financial Centre is open for lunch from 12.30pm to 3.30pm and for dinner from 7pm. Contact 04 208 9333.

This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant

Updated: January 30, 2020 10:30 AM

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