Apr 17, 2014

A little Chinwaggery is good for the Soul, check it out at Movenpick JBR

When I think about a Manhattan inspired brasserie, many things come to mind, and a hearty steak dinner is at the top of the list. Finding that kind of experience outside of NYC can be tricky, especially half way across the world.  Many have attempted, but few have managed to replicate the vibe I have experienced from my time in the Empire state. Thanks to the new Chinwaggery + Soul restaurant at the Movenpick, JBR, there is a new comer on the Dubai restaurant market that has a menu which highlights the best of an upscale urban New York Style restaurant with all the frills including live entertainment.  
My guests and I were lucky enough to visit on an evening there was a talented jazz musician playing. Paul Moutarde lit up the funky space and filled it with the cool sounds of his saxophone, which set the mood for the rest of the evening.  The lighting was just right, bright enough to enjoy all the visual offerings at Soul, the decor had that sort of urban swank, a mash up of street style complimented by a touch of elegance.  

Chef Edi Panchamal formerly of West 14th Steakhouse on The Palm, is the creative talent behind this operation.  I knew from my past experience of dining with this talented culinary expert, that he knew a thing or two about cooking a steak.  Not only was the BOH operations well trained and versed on this menu, but the FOH staff as well.  They were able to make recommendations and prepared to answer any questions we had about menu items with confidence and pride. . 
As any proper chef would do, an amuse bouche arrived at the table. Beautifully plated and perfectly portioned, this was the tastiest fried oyster I've ever had. Sitting on top of a seaweed salad and topped with a tomato relish this little morsel of goodness set the bar very high for the meal to come. I wasn't worried though, I have seen Chef Edi work his magic not just in the kitchen, but when I first met him as a guest while I was presenting the TV Show Studio One on Dubai One in 2011. It was the anticipation of the scrumptious meal that was killing me....in a good way of course!
The highlights from our starter selection included a half a dozen oysters on the half shell and the Scallops "Rockefeller".  Oysters, clams, and mussels have always been a hit or miss for me in the UAE.  I don't always trust the quality because the extreme heat and customs policies can compromise the integrity of the seafood. However these freshly shucked bivalves defied all of my concerns.  Served with a shallot vinaigrette and chive bread these two items balanced the natural briny-ness of the oysters.  The vinaigrette was just the right amount of acid and the chive bread soaked up anything extra for a richer more complete dining experience. 
I have to admit the Scallops "Rockefeller" were an unexpected surprise. Prepared, baked, and served in the scallop shell itself, hats off for the presentation alone.  Nestled under the bread crumbs and cheese were the hand caught diver scallops sprinkled with a bit of turkey bacon, the combination of the smokey turkey, salty scallops and cheesy bread crumbs was exactly what I needed to make me come back for more. Each bite was better than the next, the only disappointing part was sharing this starter with my guests, but they were kind enough to give me the last bite.
As part of the nightly spread, there are always a few additions to the menu available. This is another great attribute to the Soul experience, you would be hard pressed to find many restaurants in Dubai with a specials menu option.  In addition to the chef's appetizer creation of celery root veloute which received rave reviews from my guests there was also a daily special from the spit roast.  On this particular Friday evening when we dined at Soul, the Wagyu Prime Rib Roast was the offering. The waitress had simply mentioned this item, and everyone's ears perked up.  Cooked to a gorgeous medium temperature topped with a mushroom sauce and served with all the trimmings, this was the winning dish of the evening.

Second to the prime rib roast was the Lobster Thermidor, a dish fit for special occasions, which I consider to be every day of life! Although this dish is French in origin, I have grown to enjoy the American rendition of it just as much as the original. A whole lobster stuffed with a cream sauce, lobster meat and topped with cheese, crisped until a golden brown.  Decadent is a word that comes to mind when describing lobster in general, this particular execution went far beyond that. The cream sauce inside Chef Edi's Thermidor was a leek fondue and as a substitute for the gruyere cheese he topped it with Parmesan. Paired with a saffron tagliatelle, the aroma of this dish alone was mouth wateringly delicious,
As a vegetarian  option, my guest ordered the pan fried goat's cheese gnocchi on top of a smoked aubergine puree topped with artichoke and sun-dried tomato. The colors and plating of this dish were playful and simple.  I couldn't resist stealing a bite off her plate, as the crispy caramelized exterior of the gnocchi  was screaming my name. Utterly rich and full of creamy goodness, these dense potato and cheese dumplings hit the spot. The aubergine puree seemed a bit heavy as a sauce, I would have preferred it with a roasted red pepper puree or even a classic tomato basil. Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable dish, which satisfied the vegetarian contingent.
Now when  group of ladies goes out for a meal, the dessert is undoubtedly the highlight of the meal.  Especially when it comes to my friends, who all share the same passion for gastronomy as I do. We ordered a selection of the houses best, here are a couple of my faves of the evening.  The saffron poached pear with marzipan vanilla ice cream and grand marnier sabayon and the chocolate mousseline.   The poached pear dessert was a unique combination of flavors which I would not have paired together, but ended up working out nicely. Even the sabayon which I normally find to be too eggy, here was balanced with a touch of the the Grand Marnier. Lastly the chocolate mousseline was a classic dessert which complimented the rest of the menu. Slightly bitter with a hint of sweetness, the silky texture of this mousse put a smile across all my girls faces. 
If you're looking for an evening out of the ordinary, make your way down to Chinwaggery+Soul at the Movenpick Hotel, Jumeirah Beach.  The restaurant itself is worth the trip down to the JBR area, plus the gorgeous patio where you can enjoy some after dinner libations is a bonus. Next door is another popular venue called The Talk, where Friday Brunch is served in style. The overall F&B program at Movenpick is top notch, and this particular locale delivers it with flying colors.  

Apr 16, 2014

The Gateway to Modern Indian Cuisine at La Porte des Indes

When I first heard about this unique restaurant concept located in The Address Hotel, Dubai Mall I was intrigued. Inspired by the French colonized Pondicherry region of India, the menu takes influences from French, Tamil, and Creole cuisine. Based on the success of the UK and Belgian sister outlets, the Dubai restaurant was created.  Revamped and "Dubai-ified" for the local clientele, La Porte des Indes has made great efforts to glamorize the decor when compared to it's understated European counterparts. As the old saying goes...."When in Rome" comes to mind, although it would have been a nice to change to see something a little more rustic and warm around this already glitz and glammed over city.

Nonetheless the highlight of any restaurant is the food, which always comes before the decor and La Porte des Indes has delivered that with a very bold statement. Chef Vishal Rane, who I first met at Taste of Dubai 2014 while I was moderating the Kenwood Cooking School,  takes pride in his menu.  He has perfected the execution of these classic restaurant dishes. Considering ingredients and the local palette, the menu has stayed true to the original concept with a few minor adjustments here and there.

As an amuse bouche we were served this little gram flour fritter topped by a dollop of green chutney and a generous serving of tamarind chutney garnished with micro greens.  The plating was modern, but the flavors remained ethnic.  The crispy exterior of the fritter had the perfect crunch factor for this flavorful little bite.

Next up we were served the Souvenirs des Indes, a selection of the house's best starters and grilled items.  Starting from the left we have the tandoori seared foie gras, served on a honey naan bread with a fig and ginger chutney, next the Achari Salmon, rolled in mustard, fennel, chillies, and aniseed, nestled right next to that was a grilled king scallops with a hint of garlic in a mild saffron sauce, and lastly the Barra Lamb Chop, marinated with browned onions, yoghurt and garam masala. There was enough color, texture, and variety of proteins on this plate to keep us occupied for sometime. Tasting each item after the next with it's own distinct aroma and flavor profile, Chef Vishal made sure we experienced the BEST of what this restaurant had to offer.

The stand out item here was the salmon, cooked to a tender stage with that slightly charred exterior I love so much The flavor explosion of spices in contrast to the natural fattiness of the fish was memorable, but not overwhelming. The lamb chop was also cooked wonderfully to a medium temperature, which you will hardly find at most Indian restaurants. The heavy coating layered on top if the chop although full of flavor, was so intense, it dulled the taste of the lamb. Some prefer the "masala" factor over the meat, but if the cut of meat happens to be a good quality lamb chop, I would prefer a hint of spice to compliment this already delicious protein. 
Now if that wasn't enough, my guests and I still had to tackle the main course, which we weren't ready to shy away from. After seeing the preparation of the Crevettes Assadh by Chef Vishal Rane at Taste of Dubai , I knew I wanted to try the real deal made in his restaurant kitchen.  The succulent tiger prawns simmered in a mild coconut curry with green mangoes, tumeric, chillies and ginger represented this unique cuisine elegantly. The sauce was beautifully balanced, I could have had it as a soup. Instead I came close to licking the plate clean with every last  morsel of naan I could find on the table.
Served along side the prawns was the Policha Meen  a grilled sea bass marinated with green pepper, garlic and shallots, enveloped in banana leaves.  This is an original recipe from the house of Mme Blanc, the “Grande Dame” of Pondicherry. With so much history and thought behind this restaurant, the sentiments and emotion can be felt through each of these menu items, especially this one. The seasoned fish was flaky and packed a punch as did almost everything else we tasted this evening.

After our decadent meal, came this elaborate dessert tasting plate. From a ras malai cheesecake to a belgian dark chocolate mousse plus a pistachio kulfi and last but not least a mango creme brulee, we were spoiled for choice. Although I could only manage to take a single bite of each item, the most memorable would have to be the pistachio kulfi. Cool and creamy, this was a smooth rendition of this classic south asian sweet treat.
In summary, the evening at La Porte des Indes was truly a remarkable experience.  The warm hospitality I felt upon entering to the passion behind the food has made a mark in the culinary scene of Dubai. Although the price points are a tad on the higher side, you get what you pay for with generous portions and prompt service.