Thursday, December 27, 2007

Rhodes Mezzanine

Rhodes Mezzanine,
Grosvenor House Hotel
Dubai Marina
Bookings: 04 399 8888

Guest Contributor: EyeOnDubai, another Dubai-based food lover!

For me, Gary Rhodes has long been one of the more interesting television chefs, largely because he has managed to cast off the jokey laddishness of his earlier shows and instead focused more on the technical aspects of his cooking. OK, so half an hour of a man standing in his kitchen demonstrating precisely how to make a bread and butter pudding is not exactly the raciest of viewing, but I enjoyed it. Even if my better half still beats him…

So, it was with a sense of keen anticipation that we booked a table of 4 in Rhodes Mezzanine, for a rather senior birthday celebration. First impressions count, and the telephone booking itself was a delight – a real, proactive, articulate receptionist, and no question of having to provide a credit card number. A rare and refreshing change. Portent of good things to follow?

Rhodes Mezzanine is a cool, white, modernist space, with a few odd touches, like a white-painted Louis XIV armoire pressed into service as a waiters’ station. I don’t know to what extent the room has been ‘warmed up’ under its new chef, but am told that the comfortable and richly upholstered chairs around some tables are his.

The lighting, though, is stygian, too dim to do much more than cast a soft umber glow on the tables. Certainly not enough to read the menus, sadly, nor to really appreciate the colours of the food. Which is a shame, as the presentation was I think very pretty.

And the food was very good. The restaurant offers two menus, their normal a la carte, and a ‘Tasting Menu’, a clever device which lets you choose from a representative selection of smaller portions. This we did, as two of our party have naturally small appetites, and two were keen to explore as widely as possible. The tasting approach suited us all.

But first, the by now de riguer canap├ęs. Not one, but two plates – first, a morsel of foie gras on toasted gingerbread, and a smoked eel croquet, served warm. Both delicious. Then, five minutes later, impossibly tiny and precise ‘cheese sandwiches’, warm whipped and truffled brie between two postage stamps of filo, like a doll-sized ice cream wafer.

Next up, an amuse bouche, presented with a flourish and a challenge – “tell me what you think it is?” from our waiter. Fairly simple, white tomato soup in a coffee cup, frothed with cream to resemble a cappuccino. Wonder who did that first? But the flavour was good, the texture unctuous.

On to round three (or four?), the first of our starters. We were three langoustines and scallops in hollandaise with oscietra, and one salmon bisque with Scottish smoked salmon. I can only comment on the salmon, which comprised two small steamed slices of fish, over which was poured a cupful of warm bisque. This was rich pinky brown in colour, light in texture, and had that unmistakable effect of slightly gelatinous stickiness on the lips that you only get with a good stock made from fishbones. Properly done, if a bit heavily seasoned. Of the langoustines, not a trace remained.

Starter number two was foie gras, presented with a duck confit and caramelised oranges. Nicely balanced combination of rich/sweet/sharp/salty, the warm duck an excellent contrast to the creamy richness of the foie gras. Perfectly judged, and executed. The haddock Welsh rarebit on tomato salad also got an enthusiastic thumbs up.

Thus far, we had been enjoying a Villa Maria Reisling 2007, which provided a useful amount of sweetness and fruit to accompany our starters, but with four different main courses in prospect, something else was required. Here again, Rhodes Mezzanine scores well, with a wine list that offers an unusually wide range of wines by the glass, and so we ended up with a Bardolino, a shiraz and a sauvignon blanc. My Simonsig 2006 shiraz would have been lovely in several years time…

Anyhow, monkfish on a leek mash with hollandaise, beef steak and kidney pie, confit pork belly and lamb loin were all presented. The beef and lamb were both accompanied by a little jug of intensely flavoured and highly reduced jus, but the best part of my lamb dish was what lay underneath, a slab of ‘mutton hash’, which turned out to be a the ovine equivalent of corned beef hash, a well-fried slice of crunchy intensity. The lamb loin on top was cooked pink as ordered, three little disks of meat, but not especially tender and again heavily seasoned. The accompanying broad beans were very good, young and fresh and individually peeled. Wonder who got that job?

We ordered the signature bread and butter pudding, and a warm chocolate sponge with Bailey’s ice cream and chocolate sauce. Two glasses of Elysium went extremely well with both, and the vanilla ice cream was shot through with vanilla seeds. The bread and butter pudding, though rich, sweet and eggy, could have done with better bread, and there was a lingering flavour reminiscent of UHT cream.

So, an excellent meal in trendy surroundings cooked by (or at least, cooked in the manner of) one of my culinary heroes. Why am I not swinging off the chandeliers?

I think, because though every part of the meal was extremely competent, it was also entirely safe. Where was the dish that had me wondering ‘how did they do that?’, or the combination of flavours that said “what on earth were they thinking?” I think part of my vague disquiet is that Gary Rhodes’ choice of classic British dishes does not respond well to this kind of gourmet refining, and would be better for being served in a more robust style and setting. Service was competent, energetic and overdone. The moody lighting detracted from the food instead of highlighting it. Perhaps if Mezzanine could relax and take itself a little less seriously, I for one think many people would enjoy it more.

Guest Contributor: EyeOnDubai

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