x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Table 9 is a restaurant reborn

Exceptional food awaits at Table 9, formerly Gordon Ramsay's Verre and now run by his former chefs Scott Price and Nick Alvis.

Works by local artists adorn the walls at Table 9 , and the artworks are for sale.
Works by local artists adorn the walls at Table 9 , and the artworks are for sale.

It's been five months since Scott Price and Nick Alvis peeled Gordon Ramsay's name from above the door of Verre, nailed their own in its place and relaunched as Table 9.

The food, Price and Alvis vowed, would remain of the same standard. Verre's former executive and head chef respectively agreed that Ramsay's influence was "something you can't just shake off". Speaking at the time, Price explained: "This is not the end of the restaurant, just the start of a new era."

Well, so far they've succeeded in making good on that promise. Because while having the two young chefs in the kitchen is nothing new, Table 9 certainly is. Stripped of its celebrity consultant, the focus has returned, quite rightly, to the food and the diner. Gone is the dress code that would, Alvis noted, have seen my dining companion barred at the door for his casual shoes. Gone is the compulsion to order three courses regardless of your appetite or mood. And in place of such outmoded mores is a welcoming atmosphere and menu that aims to satisfy and wow just a touch.

The room itself is fundamentally unchanged – a brown banquette curves along the back wall, the tables are well spaced and the lighting just dim enough to encourage intimacy without making reading the menu a chore – though Alvis and Price have introduced art to the walls, featuring local artists whose work is for sale.

We were seated by Silvestro, the first of a succession of friendly, informative staff. "Ask me anything," said the manager Viktorija Paplauskiene. "I am the Google of the restaurant." And so she proved. The menu is divided in two: on the left page are dishes at Dh80 and on the right, ones priced at Dh100. Tasting menus follow – "No meat, no fish," ("no way" was my friend's immediate response) and a pairing menu.

Each course is a dainty starter size, though the Dh100 dishes are more robust, with a main-course feel. The best approach, we were told, is to select two Dh80 dishes and one Dh100 plate a head. As someone with a horror of being over-faced by large portions, this style is hugely appealing. It allows a wider selection (narrowing the choice to six dishes was a challenge as it was) and diners are encouraged to share.

First was an amuse bouche, pretty as a picture: a tiny plant pot, seemingly full of earth with a green sprig sprouting upwards. Here was a bit of molecular gastronomy – the "dirt" was sweet and tangy (icing sugar and tomato juice baked and crumbled), sprinkled over fluffy cauliflower mousse in which capers lurked bringing shots of spiky flavour. Our bouches amused, next was a plate of chicken, foie gras, hibiscus and prune and one of lobster, crackling mango. The chicken was a pale sliver of pressed meat a touch overpowered by the sweet prune jam. The cubes of dusted foie gras burst with musty creaminess. The lobster was delicately done, though the crackling too bitter and charred for my taste, but the star of that dish was the skirt of thinly sliced mango, marinated in mint and basil, on which it sat. Hens eggs, cepes and vinegar caramel oozed with rich yolk, balanced perfectly with salty mushroom purée and sharp, sticky vinegar. I loved it. My companion was less impressed. Scallops, thyme and onion proved a dish to silence a table, so exquisite you just had to shut up and eat up. Sourcing fresh produce is a challenge, but twice a week these scallops arrive from Norway still pulsing, and it shows. The onion purée was heavy with thyme, the scallops buttery brown, topped with whisper-thin onion rings.

John dory, squid, enoki mushroom and green chilli was a perfect example of a dish cooked and plated at the very last minute, though I'd have liked a few more squiggles of squid. A jug filled with dill, coriander, oil and garlic dressing is served on the side and diners are well advised to drench the plate with its contents. Venison, celeriac polenta, blackberries and grue de cacao followed, cooked perfectly rare. The sauce was so intense we jealously guarded our plate until every last sticky drop had been mopped up with bread. At just Dh100, there is no way this dish pays for itself.

Dessert was figs, honeycomb and yogurt, perfumed, sweet and tangy in turn, and Nick's apple pie. Made by Nick in the kitchen that night, it was a, mercifully, light deconstruction of the old favourite. A quenelle of green apple sorbet, one of chunky apple purée and a shard of pastry so short it must have been held together by the sheer anticipation of crumbling into biscuity deliciousness.

On the Wednesday we visited, there were only a couple of other tables occupied. That's a shame, because however indebted to their former mentor Alvis and Price may be, they are well on their way to making Table 9 their own. The restaurant deserves to be busy and they deserve to be successful.

A meal for two at Table 9, Hilton Dubai Creek, costs Dh730, not including service. For reservations call 04 212 7551. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and all reviews are conducted incognito