Hugo Café

Inspired by French novelist Victor Hugo, this café hopes to become a haunt for Dubai’s literati, so its appearance certainly struck the right note for its concept. From the outdoor area we were greeted by a large bust of Victor himself, placed on a table of (primarily Arabic-language) newspapers, amid Parisian café tables. The façade was painted in a greyish green and styled like a Parisian building, complete with street signs from Place Victor Hugo in Paris. Inside were more Parisian touches, including Toulouse-Lautrec posters, and more literary aspirations evident in the French and English paperbacks on display, although we didn’t witness the promised ‘audio-visual materials’, literary-inclined diners or an impression that future artistic events were to be held at the café. The giant TV screens at every angle showing National Geographic didn’t seem to fit to the concept, yet despite this, I was extremely taken with the decor. The menu offered the promised French-Vietnamese selection not as fusion, but as separate dishes, some classically French, some Vietnamese-inspired. Unfortunately the waiter was able to give me very little explanation on some of the less obvious recipes, telling me (a little haughtily) as further explanation of the ‘Vietnamese sea bass’ that it was ‘a fish with rice’. In fact, service was a mixed affair throughout and varied between a sweet and friendly waitress and that unfortunately rather austere waiter. To start, we ordered roasted pumpkin and chilli soup with crispy corn crouton and foie gras terrine bruschetta topped with honey-mustard truffle. Neither arrived looking quite as exciting as their descriptions. The soup was fairly uninteresting, while the foie gras was missing both its bruschetta base and delicious-sounding dressing. However, the side salad, packed with fruit, was fresh, tart and sweet, and surprisingly enjoyable. For mains, we’d chosen chicken stuffed with cheese, walnut and spinach, and the Vietnamese sea bass. We suspected they’d been sitting in the kitchen for some time before they arrived: the chicken was dry, the accompanying mashed potato was like a glutinous, room-temperature paste, and the rice with the sea bass was also cold. However, the fish fillet itself, marinated in ginger and garlic, was very good. When we attempted to order dessert, the options on the menu were apparently all unavailable, so we choose patisserie items from the display; a white chocolate brownie and hazelnut cake. Both were rubbery due to the overuse of gelatin, and were washed down by black coffee that tasted a little like cleaning fluid. It’s a shame the experience went downhill by degrees until we left. Let’s hope the café fulfils its potential soon. The bill (for two) 2x mocktails Dhs56 1x foie gras Dhs46 1x soup Dhs32 1x Vietnamese sea bass Dhs72 1x stuffed chicken Dhs62 2x patisserie cakes Dhs44 2x hot beverages Dhs37 1x large water Dhs12 Total (excluding service) Dhs361

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