‘Welcome to Frankie’s, laydeez and genulmen. And hello to you, you – and you…’ The ivories tinkled tentatively and the first warbled notes of Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ pricked the air. Most of the singer’s low notes got lost in Frankie’s luxurious scarlet deep-pile carpets, but at least one of his high notes jangled the crystal chandeliers, and cut through the convivial atmosphere like a misdirected firework. I swear I saw one or two diners duck. And, utterly oblivious to all of this, our tireless troubadour repeated his mantra, ‘thank you, laydeez and genulmen – thank you, you – and you!’
Now, I know cheese is a vital element of the Italian dining experience, but this was ridiculous. It seemed so out of place in what is an extremely tastefully finished restaurant. The joint venture of Italian jockey and sometime Dubai resident Frankie Dettori, and English chef, restaurateur and occasional TV celebrity Marco Pierre White is beautifully upholstered to create a relaxed yet lively feel. But the questionable music emanating from the bar area wasn’t the only anomaly here.
Despite ordering the sautéed Canadian lobster starter, the dish that my dining partner eventually received – to her inextinguishable delight – was the grilled lobster main course. Either that, or the actual main course here is a sea creature that could out-muscle a nuclear submarine. Even when we queried the matter, the waitress was adamant that the cumbersome crustacean was, indeed, an appetiser. So my friend duly whet her appetite by diving in headfirst in a flurry of claws and cracked shell fragments. In all fairness, I was on standby to intercept the occasional flying hunk of wonderfully tender meat, clove of sweetly roasted garlic and sliver of duskily roasted aubergine. All of it was magnificent.
Meanwhile, I had a job to do with a shallow bowl of stingingly fresh pea soup with two gently grilled and yielding scallops and a frothy lobster cappuccino. It took me all of two minutes to soak up the broth, by which time the lobster had barely been disturbed. Thankfully, when the real mains arrived, my friend’s homemade ravioloni with duck meat and smoked ricotta was a mere handful of pert pasta parcels arranged neatly under a drizzle of delicate thyme sauce. But my veal tenderloin was disappointingly overcooked and overly dry, despite its crumbly and flavour-packed gratin herb crust and toothsome girolles sauce.
Either Elvis Presley had risen from the grave and somehow got hooked up to a helium canister in the bar, or our pianist had begun indulging himself with a falsetto rendition of ‘Suspicious Minds’. Either way, I was far from wary of the bitter chocolate soufflé, which was filled with a sweet mixture of warm green apples. Likewise, my tablemate, who had initially expressed incredulity at the idea of banana foam, was soon spooning the stuff up with childlike glee, and shovelling it home with bundles of strawberry tartar and rich balsamic reduction.
The song ended with an ambitious vocal hike up the scales that was about as smooth and graceful as an eel climbing scaffolding, so we shuffled across Frankie’s deep carpets to the door. Between the start line and the finishing post, we’d enjoyed ourselves here, but it could have been so much better. Frankie Dettori may be accustomed to flat racing, but it looks like he’ll have a couple of hurdles to clear before his Dubai restaurant becomes a sure-fire winner. The formbook tells us it would be foolish to bet against him.
The bill (for two)
Mineral water Dhs20
Diet Coke Dhs15
Pea soup Dhs70
Lobster grill Dhs140
Veal fillet Dhs130
Duck ravioloni Dhs70
Chocolate soufflé Dhs38
Spuma banana Dhs34
Total (including service) Dhs547