“Let’s eat French,” no millennial has ever said.
Unless we’re talking fries or croissants, casual French food has simply lacked va va voom in recent years.
While the cuisine is still seen as the epitome of elegance, it has plummeted in the age of casual dining – some chefs’ stubborn refusal to modernize recipes for meat in brown sauce has not succeeded either. to log in. Playing with a cordon bleu? Damn it !
Perhaps the fear of stuffy bistros and waiters in penguin suits extinguished a generation; or traditional dishes that are not suitable for delivery drivers. When was the last time a friend messaged you on WhatsApp: “Stressful day, need a couch. Bring the island of love and beef bourguignon later.
The rules regarding food and how it is eaten in France were established decades ago and it is forbidden to change them – it is still illegal to eat at your desk, you must go out and do it properly. Restaurants have clung to notions of slate menus, elongated chef’s hats and barking specials at customers.
While the country still dominates the Michelin Guide (627 restaurants with one star or more, and more), traditional French cuisine has given way to younger, more lively options among diners under 40. Thai takes over. Vietnamese upset fans with pho. Even the Americans have reinvented the hamburger. How can a duck à l’orange or a pâté fighting for eyeballs on Instagram against wood-fired pizzas and vibrant sushi bowls?
Enter Aadel Ouaoua, a chef from Lyon who is bringing aging cuisine into the 21st century at RSVP Restaurant, a new French-Japanese fusion venue in Dubai’s Boxpark.
Where to sit, what to expect
Its location in Boxpark, an area known for its casual restaurants and cafes, is a sign of things to come. RSVP sits between cool cafes, late-night milkshake bars, and laid-back hangouts serving fried chicken.
Inside, the restaurant hums. There is no free table in sight – and we are visiting on a Tuesday evening. This is a restaurant that has only been open for two months, should I add.
There are Scandinavian-style chairs and squashy leather booths under a huge abstract painting on the ceiling. There’s an open bar and kitchen, with cheerful staff meandering in and out of tables. It’s not the French dining room of old – although a waiter occasionally pushes a huge cheesecake on a cart.
The concise menu is anything but traditional. It breaks the rigid format of starters, mains and desserts, replaced by small and large plates, all designed to be shared. There are ingredients and dishes from around the world popping up everywhere: wagyu beef, Caribbean sauce, tuna sashimi, spring rolls, tom yum curry, guacamole, hummus. There’s pizza, there’s spaghetti, there’s even gourmet burgers – one is wagyu striploin and truffle, the other fried cod.
There are also typically French plates including snails, beef tartare and caviar, baked sea bream and French toast for dessert.
We dive into a mix of recommendations from the waiter and chef Ouaoua, who works the floor greeting diners like old friends with a cheerful smile on his face.
He pulls out the stracciatelle (chef’s choice) with challah, the tuna avocado tartare (from the waiter) and the artichoke and parmesan salad (mine).
The former is extremely cheesy, though light with raw tomatoes and a split dressing punch with herb oil; the tuna tartare is excellent, boasting a salty seasoning and a zing of yuzu. The bold citrus flavor is reflected in the salad, all savored slathered on the challah bread.
Then it’s snail time. They are served in their shells and dripping with butter and garlic. When a recipe works this well, don’t fix it. Chef Ouaoua has mastered a striking style of presentation – perhaps French cuisine can make its way onto Instagram feeds, after all. I grab a shell in the small stainless steel vise it’s served with before my table partner can snap a shot; the garlic puff is just too inviting to wait.
The snail is accompanied by a giant breadstick and aubergine gratin, thin slices of vegetables garnished with melted parmesan, pesto and tomato fondue. It’s exactly how it sounds: gooey, a little too rich and a must for cheese addicts.
Soon, main courses of lamb chops are served (more on them later) alongside a mountain of matchstick-thin fries.
We finish the meal with a chocolate fondant and two spoons. It’s velvety melted chocolate topped with custard, crumble and vanilla ice cream. It’s seductive and a fierce reminder of how the French never gave up their mastery in the pastry section.
When we tell Chef Ouaoua that we ordered the lamb chops, he beams and says, “Well, you’re about to be very happy.”
And, as five thick, pink chops arrive, we smile bigger than his.
Marinated in a sticky sweet sauce, blackened on the grill and given a kiss of spice, they are to die for. I throw my manners out the window and dive straight in with my hands – this isn’t 1970s Paris, after all. I gnaw away every last piece of bone, holding the fully stripped remains as a trophy for the turnaround story told here.
A conversation with the chef
Originally from Lyon, central France, Ouaoua says he discovered his love for cooking when he joined the two-star Michelin restaurant The Square by Phil Howard in Mayfair, London, more than 20 years ago. He recalled fond memories of his childhood spent at his family’s restaurant.
He describes himself as an “unconventional chef” and his passion for exploring European dishes and fusing them with the styles and flavors of Japanese cuisine is evident. He also invites diners to explore all the dishes to share, opting for the aforementioned stracciatelle and aubergine gratin for vegetarians, those oh-so-delicious lamb chops or wagyu striploin for carnivores and the cheesecake at Madagascar vanilla for dessert.
“We have only been open for a month and business has been very strong. We are very happy to see it busy and hope to continue to welcome guests throughout the week,” he says.
“People asked me why we chose to open at Boxpark, I said, ‘Why not?’ So far, the reaction couldn’t have been better.
With that in mind, if you listen closely, you’ll hear whispers of, “Let’s eat French,” echo once more.
Prices and contact details
Cold and hot small plates plus salad and sides cost between Dh35 and Dh95 ($9.50 to $25); the sector is from 75 Dh to 310 Dh; desserts are Dh50 to Dh60.
The RSVP restaurant is open from 7:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. Reservations can be made by contacting 04 265 5007 or visiting www.instagram.com/rsvprestaurant
This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant
Updated: November 05, 2022, 08:51