Its been a while, since I have last updated the blog – Hope everyone had a wonderful summer. A quiet summer from me doesn’t necessarily mean I have been on a diet, and staying home – on the contrary. To the shock of my cardiologist, my lust for gorgeous dishes has kept me busy. Old favourites have been revisited (Mahesh Lunch Home – Superstar) and new venues have been explored. There have been two definite outliers for the summer of 2014. Two very different restaurants, with cuisines at polar opposite ends of the culinary spectrum. Frioul is one of them – Dubai’s latest offering to the Gods of French Mediterranean cuisine. What started out as my friends dragging me there kicking and screaming, led to one of the most delightful dining experiences I have had recently, and my adding Frioul to my top 5 list of restaurants to take my out of town guests to (in addition to frequenting myself).
I am not an easy person to deal with, when it comes to going to certain parts of Dubai. I have traffic phobia – and one of the side effects of a Dubai’s hockey stick growth curve has been exponential traffic growth on the streets. Downtown Dubai is avoided – as is the Marina. I changed my barber of 4 years when going to JBR became mildly challenging. You get the picture. So when someone told me that a new restaurant was being planned for the bowels of the old Trilogy complex in Madinat Jumeirah, my first thought was hardly, “Giddyup”. We were invited to the soft launch opening of the restaurant, but, unfortunately, due to work obligations were unable to go. I heard mixed reviews – typical for a soft launch. Needless to say, I wasn’t in a rush to try Frioul out when it opened to the public – parking in Madinat Jumeirah is usually a nightmare – there was no valet parking – and getting a taxi can be a very lengthy process.
This past weekend we were looking for a reservation for a fairly large group on a Friday night – usually not an easy order to fill. Someone suggested Frioul – I, for the aforementioned reasons, flatly refused to go. The Boss, in her usual subtle way, threw a glance over at me, and I knew I was in trouble. So I reluctantly relented.
I am so glad I did. When you enter Madinat Jumeirah, there is a set of stairs leading down (on your right), near the entrance to the underground car park. Take those down and you will immediately see Frioul on your left. The proprietors have done a wonderful job turning this space into a stunning, monochromatic, venue. Open spaces, lovely white furniture, wonderful use of mirrors, and open kitchen on one side and a sprawling bar on the other. My first impression – its empty – on second glance, no its not! While other restaurants tend to cram in tables, Frioul has left ample space between tables, to let guests maintain a sense of privacy – somewhere where you can sit and speak openly with friends without having to worry if the person sitting 8 inches away from you, at the next table, car hear what you are saying. Oh, and they have a jazz band and a phenomenally talented singer in house! The proprietors have definitely spent some money on the fit out – and it shows – from the dining room to the washrooms – very elegant.
The staff was impeccable – friendly, courteous, professional and quick. We were led to our table and seated – very plush comfortable seating. We had a combination of couches and chairs and both were built to encourage the guest to linger – again, very atypical to a restaurant that this will be and has been compared to in Dubai – who it seems is all about the fastest turnaround possible. A wide selection was ordered off the menu and we sat back to enjoy the music – its fantastic! Old school favourites delivered in a flawless, silky voice by a seasoned chanteuse who knows she is good and has the confidence that shows that.
The bread basket comes out – not your usual white or brown – around 5 different choices. What looked the most interesting was what the waiter called their brioche. Didn’t look much like other brioches I have had – imagine Cinabon. The small ones, not the giant ones. Minus the fruit and raison. Concentric circles of flakey, soft, crispy delicious delight. Outstanding. To compliment the brioche, we were served little plates of Fromage Blanc.
What a pleasant change from the usual various types of butter/tapenade that is served at these kinds of restaurants with the bread. This was topped with some fresh lemon zest, which elevated an already creamy and tangy topping, which complimented the warm, flaky brioche perfectly.
As I had mentioned earlier – we did pretty much order everything off the menu. Management was kind enough to send over a few things for us to try as well, on the house – very gracious of them! We had:
Basil Crostini with Tomato Tartare
Poached Lobster, Heirloom Tomato and Peach Salad
Scallop Ceviche with Oyster Mayo
Violet Artichokes, Sweet Garden Peas with Lemon and Basil
Seabass, Lemon and Fennel
Roasted Scallop and Shellfish Risotto
Spinach and Taleggio Garlic Bread
Baked Bone Marrow
Cote De Boeuf
Roasted Beets with Fromage Blanc
Salmon, Pan Fried Foie Gras, Carrot and Orange Puree
Sole Goujons, Yoghurt, Capers and Baked Potatoes
Red Prawns, Chilli, Mango and Mint
Steamed Cod with Lemon Grass
As a whole, we had ordered entirely too much food, but it was all excellent. It was delivered quickly, was cooked perfectly, servers were smiling and ensuring no glasses were every empty. It would have been nearly flawless, if not for the Poached Lobster. May as well get the comments on that out of the way, before waxing poetic about the rest of the meal.
Poached Lobster, Heirloom Tomato and Peach Salad
So, where is the lobster, you ask. Took us, and the waiter, a few minutes to figure this out. Once we did locate the 2 small medallions of lobster under the mountain of tomatoes and peaches, I found them to be overcooked and tough – very chewy, and plastic, to be honest. The tomatoes were very fresh and paired with the tart/sweet peaches well. The salad was lightly dressed, which was just the way it should have been dressed – the intended sweetness of the lobster would have been ideal, had they not been overcooked. I like the combination of the ingredients, and have recently embarked on a love affair with artisanal tomatoes – so this kind of hit the spot. Hopefully next time the chef will actually remember he has the lobster in the poaching liquid – and not forget about it until its rubber.
Basil Crostini with Tomato Tartare – Very simple and very tasty. CRISP Baguette slices topped with a basil pesto and served with a side of diced fresh tomatoes. Great, clean way to kick off a meal and get the taste buds going.
Scallop Ceviche with Oyster Mayo – A beautiful, simple dish. Lovely fresh scallop, sliced thin and served with some greens for a crunch. Sweet, tender, smooth – excellent.
Violet Artichokes, Sweet Garden Peas with Lemon and Basil
Seabass, Lemon and Fennel – Another very fresh offering from the kitchen. Seabass crudo with lemon and lemon zest – Tastes and smells just like you would expect a Mediterranean summer to. This is an excellent plate.
Spinach and Taleggio Garlic Bread – Crisp, Garlicky, Cheesy – whats not to love?
Baked Bone Marrow – Unfortunately, by the time I got done taking the picture, it was all gone! But it looks good, and was served with some crisp toast points on which the marrow could be spread. Look at the lovely escargot on the plate as well!
Cote De Boeuf – Those who have read this blog before understand my passion for good beef. I have always maintained that one of the best cuts of beef in town is the Ribeye at LPM. I stand by that, but mark my words…….there is a new contender in town. Cote De Bouef is a fancy name for a bone in ribeye. This is tier 1 quality beef, folks. Marbled throughout, melt in your mouth deliciousness. Cooked to a perfect medium rare, the beef was well charred on the outside, and juicy, moist and red in the center – look at the way its glistening below. Because I am as critical as I am, the only thing I could point out to the kitchen was perhaps they could pay attention to add a little more seasoning to the meat, as it was a little bland….but thats easy enough to rectify when you have such a perfectly cooked, high quality piece of beef – a quick hit of salt and I was on my way. P.S. My son just looked at this picture, licked his lips and made my promise to take him to the restaurant next weekend!
Roasted Beets with Fromage Blanc – I’m not crazy about beets, but well prepared.
Roasted Scallop and Shellfish Risotto – What a lovely risotto! The rice was cooked al dente, as I like it. The scallops, as you can see, were cooked well – there could have been a little better sear on the them, but better to err on the side of caution and stop before they became overcooked and rubbery. I liked the crunch of the carrot in the rice – I haven’t had this before, but I quite enjoyed it. I can swear I tasted a bit of saffron in the risotto, which added to its luscious flavour profile. I will be ordering one of these for myself, next time.
Salmon, Pan Fried Foie Gras, Carrot and Orange Puree – Nicely cooked filets of salmon served on a lovely, orangey carrot puree and topped with wonderfully rich, seared foie gras.
Red Prawns, Chilli, Mango and Mint – Though posted later in this entry, this is a very fresh way to start your meal. Large, meaty prawns served on a bed of mango salsa. Didn’t feel much heat from the chill, however – but I didn’t mind. I liked the sweet backdrop that amplified the natural taste of the Red Prawns. Very impressive.
Steamed Cod with Lemon Grass – Lovely, flaky medallions of cod, steamed with Lemon Grass. I remember it tasting very nice, and the cod being lovely and flaky. But I wish I had paid more attention to it – the foam and the drizzle of what I am hoping is truffle oil looks very interesting. I would order this again, for the presentation alone!
Sole Goujons, Yoghurt, Capers and Baked Potatoes – Frioul’s interpretation of fish and chips. Fried goujons of Sole, crispy on the outside and moist inside, served along with baby baked potatoes and a yoghurt “tartar” sauce. Very nice.
Looking back, in retrospect, at all the pictures, the menu offered at Frioul does seem to personify the Mediterranean, on a plate. The dishes were elegant – simple – using the finest of ingredients. I walked away stuffed, but not in a bad way – The food was light and delicious. A few small tweaks here and there, are to be expected of a restaurant so early into its life.
When you say French Mediteranean, the obvious comparison always comes up – how does it compare to La Petite Maison in the DIFC. Tough question – LPM has been around for years – Frioul is brand new. Ingredients used are top notch in both places. The Chefs are both very skilled. I like the fact that Frioul has kept its menu unique – offering a new selection of dishes – other competitors have kept their menu’s very similar to LPM and direct comparisons are inevitable. I think the valet parking option at Madinat Jumeirah will help traffic into Frioul. But here is one thing that I think Frioul has going for itself – the vibe was very relaxed, fun. LPM has become a tough reservation to get – diners are usually kept waiting for extended periods of time, well past their reservation time, while their table is prepared. Service seems to be hurried, and it does seem that the restaurant feels you, as a patron, should feel privileged to be eating there. This is a dangerous attitude in the service industry, where the fickle customer is king, and business can be easily lost if the right competitor comes along. Granted the location for DIFC is a massive plus, I think Frioul could be this competitor. I really enjoyed the feeling of the restaurant – the space given to diners, the attentive service, the live jazz music, the lack of post-work poseurs preening at the bar with their Tomatinis. Look – don’t get me wrong. LPM is consistently excellent – there is a reason why its the bellweather that all new restaurants offering a similar style of dining are judged. What I am trying to say, that I’m a little done with the pomposity and the sheer effort that goes into a night out there. I think Frioul offers a very relaxed alternative – and for this, I plan to be a repeat customer.
Frioul – Bravo on a job well done. You have a restaurant you should be very proud of. I wish you the all the best in your journey, and look forward to becoming a regular.