Gordon Ramsay's first restaurant outside the UK has reopened after a welcome refurbishment.
Ramsay's rising star shines at Verre
We're nearly four months on from the reopening of Verre. The Gordon Ramsay restaurant reopened at the end of February following a refurbishment and under the new helm of a rising star from the Ramsay stable, Scott Price. As ambitious as befits one who trained under the fiery chef, Price arrived and immediately sought change for the restaurant.
In came a chef's table and a brand new menu: "I've taken dishes that I want to do and from dishes I've done in the past. And we'll just keep pushing and evolving it," he explained in March, a few days before he then steeled himself and his staff for the Taste Festival in Dubai.
So how has Verre weathered in its early months? Well, from a food point of view, very well without being truly spectacular. But one suspects this is not because Price lacks talent; he clearly does not. More, it's the environs in which he's working that perhaps hold him back. Most challenging of all is the location. Verre may be a Gordon Ramsay restaurant (opened in 2003, it was the chef's first outside the UK), but it sits on the second floor of the Hilton Dubai Creek, and the atmosphere when we visited was somewhat reminiscent of a library.
So a round of applause for the refurbishment, then, which has generally been carefully done to cocoon you from this drabness once inside the restaurant. The colour scheme is black and white, a thick carpet means a sedate hush hangs over the place, and the glass wall into the kitchen also provides the nosy a chance to peer in and see the staff sweating away for you. There's a welcome touch of noblesse oblige to the whole thing. Tables are also just far enough apart to have a discreet conversation with your dining companion should it be required.
In the last week, the restaurant has rolled out a new price plan with three courses at Dh395, or a six-course tasting menu for Dh495, which is really not bad for a restaurant with Ramsay in its name. Throw down your credit card - you won't leave feeling cheated. Mostly, this is because your table will never sit bare. From the second my friend Dave and I sat down, things came at us from the kitchen as if in battle. Small, rich discs of foie gras and chutney, then exquisite little choux-pastry buns filled with truffled cream and bread with both aubergine and goat's cheese purees came at us within mere seconds of arriving.
This is not, you'll note, a place to seek out if dieting. Barely had we swallowed and along then tripped an amuse-bouche. Upon a small mound of caramelised onion was a spoonful of creme fraiche ice-cream, with vegetable velouté poured around it. Ice-cream is by its nature a chilled sort of affair but the creme-fraiche was too cold for comfort until it had puddled with the velouté. But its the sort of laudable endeavour that marks much of the Modern European menu.
By that point Dave and I were full. Replete. And then came the starters. Just a couple of light starters: lobster and salmon ravioli for me, fat medallions of gravadlax smoked salmon for him. The ravioli came in one, al dente fist-sized parcel, around which sat girolle mushrooms and more velouté (lemongrass, since you're asking). The salmon alongside breaded oysters and a few, shiny globules of Baerri caviar. Both ravishingly fresh, we sat back full again.The next hurdle: duck with puy lentils and truffled jus for me, braised veal cheeks with a creamy, shallot sauce for Dave. So, another light course then. But though passable, or good even, they didn't thrill and fell short of the starters.
Both the duck and the veal were unexciting pieces of meat which relied too heavily on their accompanying elements for flavour. A mysterious fish knife which had appeared was whipped away from us (phew), before a refreshing pre-pudding of panna cotta creme caramel was placed down in front of us and pink strawberry jus poured over the top. As all good soldiers, we saw it off and braced ourselves once more before the final stretch: chocolate fondant and lemon and raspberry parfait.
The fondant came topped with a plain milk mousse, the parfait in toothpaste coloured stripes with raspberries and mint on the side, which injected life into it. And then, naturally, just a few petit-fours to force down before we rolled back out through the gloomy lobby and into the night. Not jaw-droppingly good but impressive and interesting enough, and though expensive you may well not need to eat for, oh, at least a week or so afterwards.
We'd fought and won our own World Cup - sound that vuvuzela horn. Verre, Hilton Dubai Creek, Dubai. 04 227 1111. Our reviewer's meal for two, without beverages, cost Dh790. Restaurants are reviewed incognito and meals are paid for by The National. Mange Tout is a nom de plume.