Café Rouge is a French-styled, London-born chain, in operation in the UK since 1989. Now, it appears to have its sights set on expansion in the UAE, with this branch at the Souk Madinat Jumeirah the first to open.
In Dubai, the restaurant occupies a small indoor space, with Café Rouge’s signature look of red-toned Parisian brasserie, complete with booth seating. At the Madinat there is also an outdoor terrace, shared with other restaurants and offering shisha. This chain is not known for fine-dining ambition in the UK, and as such what you can expect here is a simple and convenient French dining experience. It is not high quality, but it is not high prices either. Service is not especially involved or engaging, but it is friendly, and it is efficient.
On the menu here you will find a very French, very classic and very simple brasserie selection of dishes. These includes items such as onion soup, steak frites, duck liver pâté, moules frites and so on. Utterly un-French, however, is having to pay for a bread basket, if you wish to start your meal with it.
A starter of onion soup was served as a very typical terrine of thick broth, filled with caramelised shreds as well as enough molten Gruyère cheese to sink a battleship. The salmon ceviche was a cold starter with ever so slightly cured, moist, sweet and plump chunks of salmon, dressed with clean and bright flavours of crisp, raw and red onion, the vaguest hint of chilli, coriander and lime. A decent enough ceviche, and a decent enough portion, for a great price of Dhs45.
The fish and chips had been a little French-ified with a mustard seed batter. The fillets of cod were meaty but moist, the batter was crisp and the mustard added extra oomph to the experience. From the selection of steak frites, the waiter steered us towards the rib-eye, suggesting this was the tastiest of the three cuts available. While there were quite a few gristly bits to cut out, it was not actually such a bad steak, nor badly prepared. At Dhs105 for ten ounces, it represented an ordinary, but quite affordable steak experience. Also on the plate is a satisfying and generous mound of French ‘frite’ style, thin-cut chips. Adding a USP to the plate was the pleasant but overwhelming overload of garlic, with a little copper dish of garlic butter and a whole, fat bulb of roasted garlic. In contrast, the truffle mayonnaise on the side (which cost an extra Dhs8 supplement), was the most disappointing thing to arrive at the table, with little flavour or aroma to recommend it.
Should you be able to handle dessert after all that beef and garlic (we couldn’t), you’ll find an equally French-sounding list, which includes crème brûlée and tarte tatin.
Not so surprisingly, UK conceived, Gallic themed chain Café Rouge is not a revolutionary restaurant. Neither does it offer the kind of French food that dreams are made of. Nevertheless, what it does do, and very well, is offer French food that is convenient, uncomplicated and at a very fair price for what you are served. Considering you can add a beverage into that experience, it is actually quite an accurate reflection of French café dining these days.
The bill (for two)
1x bread Dhs9
1x onion soup Dhs28
1x salmon ceviche Dhs45
1x rib eye Dhs113
1x fish and chips Dhs55
1x large water Dhs27
Total (excluding service) Dhs277