How Michelin chef Pierre Gagnaire plans to bring affordable French cuisine to Dubai
Michelin star-collecting chef talks about his new Dubai restaurant
“It’s elegant. It’s French,” states Pierre Gagnaire when we meet to talk about his new restaurant Pierre’s Bistro & Bar.
The eponymous eatery from the Michelin star-collecting chef opened in March in the InterContinental Dubai Festival City, in place of what once was Reflets – his lauded (if latterly rather dated) fine dining restaurant, a former winner of Time Out Dubai’s Restaurant of the Year award.
But this new venture is earnestly modern. “The space has been totally refurbished, but we will still serve my food, in my style,” the chef and restaurateur explains.
The hotel is already home to Gagnaire’s café, Choix Patisserie and Restaurant par Pierre Gagnaire, which opened in 2014. This new addition sits on the promenade level, overlooking the Creek.
“This Marina wasn’t even here when I arrived [in Dubai],” he says, gesturing out of the massive floor-to-ceiling windows.
“The level of ingredients is higher than before, too. Although local produce is hard.
As the climate is not easy for farming here, we source from Europe, Australia, Japan, China.”
This new location is more relaxed than Reflets; still classy, but targeting a more regular audience, rather than just for one-off special occasions. It even has a DJ booth.
“I want to have people visit time and again, not just once a year,” he says. “Reflets was expensive, this is not so. People in Dubai have a real capacity to judge a place. One day the Michelin star will surely come [to Dubai], it’s very competitive here.”
The restaurant has around 100 seats and an outdoor terrace area. The interiors are minimal pinks, greens and greys – it’s stylish and modern, in a comfortable way.
“We had a lot of discussion about the décor,” he admits. “It’s an important point and we’re really happy. It’s nice, it’s elegant and the furniture is good. That tiling over there,” he adds, pointing above the bar, “That was there before but more hidden, that’s the memory of Reflets. It’s Italian and beautiful”.
So what about dishes? The menu is varied and sure to please a wide audience, with everything from sharing plates of pizza blanche and beef tartare to oysters, truffle spaghetti, grilled rib-eye, roasted chicken, sea bass and, aptly, frogs legs. Main courses aren’t priced sky-high, either, ranging from around Dhs100 to Dhs200.
“The menu is always my signature. It’s not trendy, I try to make the trends,” he laughs.
“I like to introduce unusual products and create something with new flavours. It’s a mix, but it’s not confusion on a plate, I just want to find a really good taste.”
It’s a straightforward process coming up with these “really good tastes” he says, nodding towards head chef Mathieu Balbino, who is also from France and at the helm of a Dubai kitchen for the first time. “I try to dream the dish, the taste is in my head,” he adds. “After that I share the information and then the chef has the key to the car. My aim is not to give a recipe, he has the idea of the dish.”
And does he have a favourite dish?
“No, no,” he says firmly, shaking his head. “That is very dangerous. You can get comfortable that way and become lazy.”
Gagnaire’s father was also a chef with a Michelin-starred restaurant, so he grew up around cooking.
He’s been working in professional kitchens for 52 years, and now has restaurants around the world, including in Las Vegas, Tokyo, Saudi Arabia and, most recently, aside from in Dubai, Le Comptoir de Pierre Gagnaire in Shanghai, which opened last year. He’s also behind Sketch in London. Gagnaire’s travelling onto Shanghai after we meet in Dubai.
“[Shanghai] is similar but different,” he says. “Each restaurant has its own story. Each chef has his own personality. Dubai is not Shanghai, Shanghai is not Hong Kong – it’s impossible to create the same in each city.”
When he first opened a restaurant in Saint-Etienne in 1981, it was harder, he says, as he was “totally alone”.
“But when you grow you’re no longer alone – and you have to discuss everything,” he laughs. “It’s a lot of work to share your passion. The most important thing? Keep your art and honesty. Sure, you must adapt and make concessions, but if at end you feel you’re still at the same – no problem. Sometimes I stop projects as it’s too complicated for me to become another man.”
And this project is one he is enjoying.
“When I begin a story, we continue the story. Mr Al-Futtaim [the owner], he can choose another chef, but we’re here still and we’re very happy with that,” he beams. “We are honest in our work. I’m very excited. It’s like having a new car, new space where you can play, and voila!”
And with French flourish, he bursts into genial chatter with his team, visibly proud, and – with any luck – rightly so, about his latest achievement. Open Mon-Sat 6.30pm-2am. InterContinental Dubai Festival City (04 4535487).