Friday, January 21, 2011

Verre by Gordon Ramsay

"Did you enjoy your cannabis?" A little puzzled we look at each other and then at the plate the waiter just removed from our table. Ahh did we enjoy the canapes. Yes sir we did! Actually, we feel quite spoilt already. Mere minutes after we sat down, we were treated to a selection of tasty bites. Deep-fried goat cheese croquettes, smooth-as-silk eggplant puree, mousse-filled profiteroles, and two glasses of champagne that we ordered. We were there to enjoy ourselves, they made sure of it.

I have not been in Dubai long, but for the life of me cannot understand why the Dubai Creek location was chosen for such a fine restaurant. Maybe ten years ago it made sense, but today it must be a challenge to run the place away from all the hot spots. But then again, Verre may very well be a hot spot in its own right. I was about to find out. I had read reviews describing the atmosphere as "suffocating". I guess it depends on the night, as ours was a lively one with many tables occupied over the course of the evening. So if I were to describe the overall atmosphere, I would say it was convivial, relaxed and aimed to please not just the palate. The staff is prompt, friendly, knowledgeable, and even busy they take as much time for you as they feel you will appreciate.

And ah oh ah the food! It is food that is prepared with a lot of love for every single ingredient, revealing patience and tremendous skill of the kitchen staff . It is spectacular in its simplicity. Nothing too complicated, nor overly creative. It is straightforward in well-balanced flavors and textures, and extremely well executed. That's what gives it the "wow" factor.

We enjoy a little greeting from the kitchen. A round glass bowl in which we find a napoleon if you will of potatoes. On top is a baked potato foam (it evaporates on your tongue as foam does, yet the taste of baked potato is quite pervasive). There is a refreshing potato salad. And potato crisps so thin they are translucent. A witty waiter wants us believe that it is a Chinese chef on staff who is so skilled and has such a sharp, sharp knife only to be found in China, that he manages to cut these potatoes that thin and straight by hand... one of us looks convinced (and it ain't me).

The ballotine of quail - deboned quail stuffed with a tarragon and foie gras mousse - is a perfect cylinder balancing on top of a flat, crispy straight-lined piece of home-cured pancetta and sweet corn. I do get a bite to taste, while I delight over what I find on my plate: a lobster & roast chestnut lasagna with a lemon grass veloute. Round pasta sheets layered with delicious morsels of Canadian lobster and delicate roasted chestnuts. It is out of this world, and I find it hard to have to return the favor of tasting the quail.

Next is a pave of wild seabass sitting on wilted fresh spinach. It is surrounded on the plate by small bites that entertain the palate in discovering what they are and why they taste so good: blowing me away are truffled gnocchi, the tiny chips are deep-fried artichokes, as are the dice that sit around the plate, and finally intensely delicious smoked salsify. All this is joined by a silky sauce of jerusalem artichokes. I love those little tubers, I could eat them every day. The tender Australian veal loin is happy in its madeira-infused veal jus, and comes with a pithivier - a well-crafted savory version of this puff-pastry pie - filled with reblochon, braised veal cheek and leeks.

The wine-list is comprehensive, and there is also a wide selection of wines by the glass. Like many places in Dubai however, prices are on the outrageous side and you can easily blow your budget many times over. I mean, for dessert wine we could have ordered a Donnafugata Ben Rye. One of the world's great sweet wines, but at 1100dhs for a demi-bottle the overall finish could be a tad tough!

We close off with tart tatin. Verre serves this caramelized apple upside-down pie in a generous portion for two, and it comes with a sauce caramel on the plate and vanilla sauce spooned over the warm tart. On the side we are served a little anise ice cream.

After such a meal, it is hard to believe that the highlight for me was yet to come: I was invited into the kitchen to talk to the chef. First thing I noticed going through the glass doors was the friendly, relaxed atmosphere in that kitchen. Not quite Hell's Kitchen in there. The seemingly effortless teamwork we had noticed in the restaurant is there in the kitchen as well. Plate after plate meets the inspecting eye of the young chef before being allowed to go out. While he has a chat with us. It was a busy night, yet chef Scott Price looked relaxed, cheerful. He told us he worked with Gordon Ramsay for the last 6 or 7 years (which in itself is no small feat, given the chef's reputation). When we asked if the celebrity chef was around much, he did mumble something along the lines of being quite happy for the boss-man to be a comfortable 5000 miles away. For me, it was just fantastic to have a peek into the kitchen that produced such sublime food. We saw the Chinese chef with the magical knife skills (laughter all around) before noticing the big slicer in the corner.

We had a perfect evening. There was not one weak point. Certainly not in the food, not in the waiting staff, not in the entire ambience. With Scott Price at the helm Verre by Gordon Ramsay definitely has a superb thing going. Whatever else, the food is so absolutely worth it. Believe me, if you have the opportunity: go and be spoilt at Verre!