French Bistro night at Giornotte - Ritz Carlton, Abu Dhabi

As I am greeted at Giornotte, RitzCarlton with a welcome drink on arrival at their French bistro night, I have no idea how significant this night would be for me.  On a previous visit to Giornotte I experienced their Friday brunch and was surprised on so many levels. In that post I commented briefly on the excellent staff to guest ratio. The engagement by the chefs that night was also something worth noting.

The accordionist - nice touch.
This would be a different occasion though. While brunches are usually packed and have a buzz and an energy about them, weeknights are usually quiet and low on atmosphere. This evening, on the other hand, promised much. There was nothing like it in the city. I had one leading question in my mind as I was lead to my seat by the elegant hostess - elegant and cultured hostesses a Ritz Carlton trademark: will Giornotte succeed in making me feel that I was experiencing some elements of  a bistro in what is an opulent and grand setting? A bistro, by definition, is about home style cooking in a relaxed and small space. The tone, it must be said, is immediately set by an accordionist whose music linger in the background. I find myself seated in smallish space with 4 or 5 tables closely arranged. I like it. Intimacy. Maybe this will succeed as a bistro night.

Interestingly, countless restaurants in the city have theme nights. On closer examination it is really the same international buffet with a  few dishes to create the 'theme'. At this French bistro night, though, the French theme is well maintained throughout the evening with countless dishes typical of a bistro or at least the cuisine..

The chefs are integral to the success of the evening. Every meal is a chance to educate the guest. It is not just about food. It is usually the role of the waiting staff to to be the ones who engage the guest. However, this is changing at number of hotel restaurants as they seek that X-factor that will bring guests back. Giornotte is one of those restaurants where chefs, with their vast knowledge, can interact directly with the guests. Chef de Cuisine, Christian Antoine, did his rounds and epitomised exactly this.

I could go through all the dishes I had, but you what the outcome will be - exceptional. This is the Ritz. However, it would be amiss not to mention a few of the dishes. Firstly, the fin de claire oysters, again superbly shucked and served by Chef Ashley. After the oysters he presents me with some mussels which are just so memorable. They are different to the usual interpretation of mussels and garlic. Yum. Mussels and fries, typical of Northern France due its proximity to Belgium - very nice indeed. My waiter for the night, Abhilash, is very efficient and times everything well. A finger bowl is delivered with perfect timing - still one of few all day dining restaurants where you are given a finger bowl -  kudos to Giornotte.

There are times I forget I am at a buffet, and this accentuates the bistro feeling. Waiters are on hand with note pads and pens to get you anything, meaning you need never get up from your seat. Bistro-like. Nice.  This is crucial, and it works so well. On the table is an oversized glass cum beer mug with knives and forks. Very bistro-like. My waiter brings me another serving of mussels. Just as I am about to finish the mussels, Chef Antoine brings a palate cleanser. There are two things that strike me about this. First, the impeccable timing. Second, again breaking down the barrier between the guest and the chef. As for the palate cleanser? While it is supposed to be functional, I revel in the taste!

A palate cleanser that is more sumptuous than it is functional.
Frisse & poached egg with crispy turkey bacon. 
Foie gras

I notice a number of managers on duty. I also realise a few of them are French. Logical.  Who better to guide guests through the evening than managers who know French cuisine?  I have the good fortune of being guided by Thomas, a Nice native, whose passion and enthusiasm for the dishes is so infectious. His eyes light up as he recommends dishes.

Patae en Croute and Duck rillete 

In quick succession I try the foie gras, pate en croute and the duck rillette. No disappointment. The potato and truffle gratin with blue cheese dressing follows next and I must say the bite added by the dressing elevates an already wonderful dish. The ratatouille is as Provencal as it gets and is a fitting inclusion in so far as it adds to the bistro feel of the evening.

I nibbled on my tarte Tropezienne before I could get a pic. 
Sacrilegiously I decide not to have dessert and just visit the cheese station. Thomas seems to have read my mind and comes to check what I will have for dessert. He does not have a tough time persuading me to try two of his recommended desserts. It is a lovely moment because I realise that Thomas genuinely believes in the product on offer. Again, he shows that child-like sparkle in the eyes,  as he talks about La Tarte Tropezienne and then the oeuf en neige, the latter more commonly known as a floating island. What these two desserts have in common, other than being incredibly delicious, is that they are both incredibly light, and I end up finishing both. 

Oeuf en neige - the white island.
The evening ends and rather than reflect on the excellent dishes, my thoughts drift to the role played by staff in creating this bistro evening. Executive Chef David Gache presented dishes from his home country which reflected the diverse nature of French cuisine. The other chefs on the floor, the managers and waiting staff collectively did their bit in educating guests on this wonderful cuisine and bistro concept. I have mentioned before that restaurants are windows to the rest of a hotel. This evening showed me the power that staff have in unwittingly selling a brand. Intellectually I knew that the Ritz Carlton in Abu Dhabi, backed with a 30-year company reputation for class and elegance, was a fine hotel. The problem is despite previous visits to some of their outlets, I could not connect with the hotel on a soul level, something essential for me. I had found the hotel cold and impersonal, 

However, I will look back at 24 June when this perception changed dramatically. The impact made by staff like Chef de Cuisine Antoine and Chef Ashley, Thomas and  my waiter, Abhilash, was far-reaching for me. I fell in love with the Ritz Carlton, Abu Dhabi. 

 As I passed two hotel hostesses clad in their elegant evening work dresses, greeting guests, I could not help but reflect on the power that staff in the hospitality industry have to sway the mind and heart of a guest - be that staff member a chef or a waiter. It was supposed to be a bistro evening, but it ended up being more, so much more.

The bottom line

French Bistro Night Wednesdays
Ritz Carlton, Abu Dhabi
+971 2 818 8282