If you’re already planning your Iftar locations for the Holy Month of Ramadan, then the A.O.C French Brasserie, Sofitel Jumeirah Beach may be a suitable option for your list.
My dinner guest and I received the warmest of greetings from the PR team during a media preview of what the French Brasserie will be offering as this year’s Iftar experience. As regular readers will know, I always find it odd when certain restaurants try and muscle in on sacred festivities, presenting altogether different menus to their regular selection. However, not to look a gift horse in the mouth, I was fully prepared and excited to be one of the first to experience the French Brasserie’s version of “traditional Arabic, Moroccan and Turkish cuisines as well as favourite dishes from all over the globe”. That’s what it said on the press release and invitation, so let’s run with it.
I’m not quite sure that draping some cloth from the ceiling light fittings and laying an Arabic-looking table cloth really constitutes an authentic “Arabic atmosphere” but I can acknowledge the efforts of the Santoor player. Apparently the “traditional art of henna” was on offer too and although I saw the carpeted corner where it would/could take place, it must’ve been the henna artist’s night off.
My super-early fast was broken by ploughing into the hummus, assorted Arabic cheeses and thyme / sumac-topped bread. Will I never learn? Bulking up on bread at the beginning of the meal is my usual schoolboy error. It’s SO delicious though and I am weak for dairy and gluten.
A little bit of many things came beautifully together to create my second course. The lamb tagine was wonderfully tender and the accompanying prunes and apricots added a delicious sweetness to the dish. While the unappealing presentation in a supersized stainless steel serving dish made it look like road kill, the slow-roasted Lamb Ouzi was cooked to perfection and tasted even better. I piled my plate with Harra Potatoes which were soft and fluffy with just the right amount of heat and spice. And as if I didn’t have enough in the way of sides, I enjoyed a big scoop of veggie couscous too.
Because it’s a staple of my own cooking repertoire, I was most looking forward to the Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Almond and Lemon Pickles which could be why my fall into disappointment was so deep. I’m not saying that my version is better, but it is. For me, the chicken hadn’t absorbed enough of the lemon flavour and I’m a bit funny about broken bones. Unfortunately, what I found in this dish were lots of splinters and shards of bone as if a heavy-handed butcher had gone on a hammer rampage just before tossing the chook into the pot.
My fellow diner enjoyed the lentil soup but felt that it was a little under-seasoned so added three heaped teaspoons of cracked black pepper. He reported that his butter chicken was “a little too sweet, which it shouldn’t be, it should be spicy”.
Let it not be said that there’s wasn’t enough food – there was plenty, including lots that I couldn’t try due to my bloated-belly of bread. I spied all types of traditional hot and cold mezzeh, made-to-measure shawarmas as well as a live cooking station making crepes (a throwback to the French origin of the restaurant).
And for the salad-chasers, the fresh salad bar included every single permutation and combination imaginable. They had your cabbage; your flat bean; your peppers and aubergine; your chickpea; fattoush; spinach; carrot and green pea; your cucumber and tomato salad. I didn’t try any of it, of course, because I was saving myself for the pudding trolley.
There was a good selection of international and Arabic desserts for the sweet finale. I wolfed down a chocolate mousse (no regional point of origin), an Egyptian Basboosa; Lebanese Blaklava; pistachio kunafa and those Arabic cookies that you expect to have the consistency of Scottish shortbread but disappear into dust upon biting, plus more blocks of honey-sweet nutty goodness than I care to remember.
I’d definitely recommend picking up some melon to cleanse your palette or indeed any of the other fresh fruit on offer. I was picking nuts out of my teeth for the entire way home.
Overall, the food was a little hit and miss but when you find something good here, it is really GOOD. There’s an overwhelming range of food to choose from – especially those delicious sweets. If you’re going to break your fast, break it here, it’s a belly-splitter.
Review: Nick Stephenson [03.04.17]
Overall experience 6/10
A.O.C. French Brasserie, Sofitel Dubai Jumeirah Beach
* Iftar buffet will be available daily for AED 140 per person including Ramadan juices and water. Beginning at sunset until 10pm.
* Iftar is complimentary for children up to the age of 12 with two children free per paying couple and half price from 13 to 17 years old.
Restaurant reservations. T: 04 448 4733