Fast-forward a decade or three and I had completely forgotten about this little piece of my childhood. Until I paid a visit last week to Reflets Par Pierre Gagnaire, the latest restaurant in a string of international hits by six-time Michelin-starred French chef Pierre Gagnaire.
The impressive, if rather sterile, lobby of Festival City’s imposing new Intercontinental Hotel offered no indication of the treasure within. A short lift ride, however, and the world changed. Slick marble gives way to lush purple carpet so thick that walking on it in my four-inch heels felt like wading tipsily through candyfloss; pink chandeliers flank mirror-lined walls in which soft candlelight is endlessly reflected. But it was upon entering the mirrored, crystalled dining room proper that I realise what we have really entered: the life-size jewellery box of my childhood imagination (just check out those padded banquettes).
My companion and I look at one another in glee as a table of amuse bouches is laid before us. That’s right – a table, groaning with delicate oral sculptures, including a wonderfully unctuous smoked eel, various colourful vegetable purees, and two tiny rolls of truffle butter presented on a bed of ice that, we are assured, could be enjoyed on their own ‘like a bon-bon’. So excited am I by the sheer gastro pleasure that I even break a long-term personal ban against eating red meat, greedily popping a ball of beef tartare into my mouth with a satisfied snap.
After perusing the relatively small – but perfectly formed – menu, my inclination is to try out one of the intriguing fruit-based soups. But I am swayed at the last minute by restaurant manager Etienne Haro, whose obvious passion for Reflets and intimate knowledge of its menu leaves me convinced that I am placing my palette in capable hands.
On his advice I opt instead for the chicken Pascaline. I still can’t quite believe it as I type – chicken is generally seen as the ‘safe’ (read: boring) choice for restaurant dining and even then it is definitely more ‘main’ than ‘starter’, but this thing has to be tasted to be believed. Arriving, as most things do in Reflets, in parts, the dish is layered at the table, a creamy foie gras-infused broth poured over a shallow bowl of delicate truffled mash, the sumptuously tender chicken placed to the side. So engrossed am I in this ritual that I almost miss a similarly profound ceremony being acted out to my left, as my dining companion’s spicy gambas tigre (tiger prawns) are encircled by a constellation of accompaniments.
‘It’s all a bit like Heston whatshisname,’ my partner remarked. Indeed. The cooking styles may differ (there’s no dry ice or other culinary magic tricks to be seen), but there is a link to be made: Monsieur Gagnaire is widely credited as the man who coined the phrase ‘molecular gastronomy’, the style of chemical cookery for which top Brit chef Heston Blumenthal – he of the snail porridge and bacon and egg ice cream – is famed. My partner is unimpressed, however, when I remark that the intriguing clear jelly of sharply sweet tomato with a slightly disconcerting solid green centre that is Jupiter to his dish’s Sun resembles an eyeball. Who can blame him? But in truth it is merely a ruse, an opportunity to snaffle some of those gambas while I can.
A brief arrestment between courses brings theatre in the form of a personal introduction to the mighty blue lobster that will serve (or rather be served) as my main. This place, we comment with giggling affirmation, is pure theatre. Already feeling like we were starring in our own divine gastronomic comedy, it was time for a break between acts two and three.
While we realise that ventures to the, ahem, powder room, rarely, if ever, feature in restaurant reviews, at Reflets, they’re almost worthy of a write-up of their own. Let’s just say that the English translation of the restaurant’s name – reflections – is taken, floor-to-ceiling, rather too literally. The sense of being in a (slightly pornographic) jewel box returns with a deliciously twisted thud.
Next up, my dinnermate is served a baby-soft cut of rose-hued veal (we have been assured that all ingredients, from the baby cow to the liver-bloated geese, have been raised in the best conditions known to animal husbandry) presented with, among other astonishing extras, a snail-flecked sauce. My blue Atlantic lobster, meanwhile, is (would we expect otherwise by this point?) a triumph, both meaty and delicate in flavour and texture.
Which segues us nicely – via a tasty ‘dish’ of cheese complete with compote and ‘white chocolate pearls’ – into dessert. While my partner remains resolute in his first choice – layers of light pastry heaven in the form of ‘Le Feuilletage’ that is, once again, presented performance-style à la table – I, yet again, fall prey to the urging of our ever genial host, moving away from my original selection to sample ‘Le Texture’. It’s a winning choice, its sweet ’n’ sharp, crunchy ’n’ soft combination of miniature meringues, frozen berries and the like presented, rather fittingly, like a mound of precious gemstones encircled with a string of marzipan pearls.
It was the jewel in the crown of an astonishing meal in an astonishing new restaurant. When Michelin pays its visit to Dubai, we won’t be at all surprised if this gem is awarded a glittering treasure of its own.
2x Glass champagne Dhs230
1x Pascaline Dhs180
1x Gambas Dhs190
1x Lobster Dhs450
1x Veal Dhs320
1x Glass Riesling Dhs80
1x Auvergne cheese plate Dhs120
1x Texture Dhs110
1x Feuilletage Dhs110
2x Espresso Dhs40
Total (including service) Dhs1,930