AOC French Brasserie

There’s something old-fashioned – quaint, even – about French cuisine. As if to prove this point, the newly opened French Brasserie at the Sofitel is set in a large, muted (one may even say nondescript) space. It’s the kind of venue that’s ripe for an early-bird special. With well-spaced tables, ’80s geometric patterned tiles and a soundtrack of frenetic jazz covers, the restaurant doesn’t exactly feel hip. Of course, with French fare, it’s the food that matters, not the decor. I must admit, once seated, I had a hard time feeling hopeful about the place. The modest buffet spread (priced at a moderate Dhs180) wasn’t particularly gripping, so my date and I decided to stick to the à la carte menu. Despite the restaurant’s name, the choice wasn’t quite Gallic enough for our liking. My escargot-loving companion was saddened with the absence of snails, although she was heartened by the lobster bisque, which she ordered as a starter. The soup was the highlight of the meal; at the bottom of the bowl lay whole chunks of sweet lobster, and the broth was a hearty, creamy, concentrated form of the crustacean. We were pleased. My tuna tartare, however, was uninspiring, and could have been more accurately described as smoked salmon rolled up into a tube. It was too chilled and lacking in subtlety. I was hoping mains might prove a bit more exciting; alas, these too had all the personality of driftwood. My date ordered chicken breast stuffed with spinach and duck liver. It’s tricky to describe the problem with this dish. Technically speaking, it was well cooked, but it was just rather boring. No flavour stood out, and even the side of mushroom risotto did not excite – it was predictable and bland. I, meanwhile, was itching for a good rack of lamb. I was picturing ruby chunks of drooling meat. Instead, I got slightly breaded cuts that were a wimpy, Molly Ringwald shade of pink. They were slightly tough on the teeth and overall rather weak on flavour. A strange thing happened when we read the dessert menu: we found we weren’t drawn to anything. This didn’t stop us from ordering. I had the waiter-recommended thin apple tart with vanilla ice cream. Personally, if something comes with ice cream, I expect it (and prefer it) to be served hot. Unfortunately, this wasn’t. Again, it wasn’t a bad pudding, but it incited little in me; the tart itself was overwhelmed by the filo pastry. My date had floating islands – meringues in crème anglaise. Again, I could see my toothless granny happily tucking into this very retro dessert. For us young-uns with a full set, it didn’t seem a necessary order. For those that don’t mind tepid food and want a nosh before hitting neighbouring bar Plantation, the buffet here could satisfy. While the food would never dream of offending, don’t expect it to interest you too much either. The bill (for two) 1x Large bottle of water Dhs20 1x Lobster bisque Dhs60 1x Salmon tartare Dhs80 1x Chicken breast Dhs140 1x Lamb Dhs165 1x Floating islands Dhs40 1x Apple tart Dhs50 Total (including 10 per cent service) Dhs555

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