The Forge - Ritz Carlton, Abu Dhabi

On my last visit to Ritz Carlton, I experienced their French Bistro night. In that piece I mentioned the fact their chefs played an integral role in making it work as a bistro night. Furthermore, they changed my perception of the hotel as being too big and cold. That was the night I fell in love with the property.

Wagyu cow skin - yes, this is a steakhouse. 
Last night, when I visited The Forge, I witnessed that young love bloom into something magical. It was a night, similar to 3 other nights like this I have had in the city, where food and emotion were again shown to be inexorably linked; a night where the transformative power of waiting staff came to the fore. What was supposed to be a night out at a highly regarded steakhouse became so much more than that. 

Pre-dinner appetizer of wagyu on a skewer and beef tartar.
My evening starts off with a warm greeting at the door. Rather than go immediately to the dining area, I sit down at the bar. You know the cliche in Hollywood movies about the barman who listens to people tell their sad stories? Well, Deepesh the barman, has his own stories to tell, and they are stories of verve, life and joy. I find it so moving when I meet someone in this industry who is so passionate. It is not just a job. That comes through when you engage with him. He also has a rare creative energy that makes you as a guest want to jump over the counter, grab a shaker and try and create something.

 He sets out to make one of the gin based cocktails that is being promoted at The Forge at this time. He talks about a blow torch and cinnamon. I smile. He is serious. He pours some Grand Marnier over the cinnamon sticks and applies a flame. He covers it with a glass. Next, he adds Monin Caramel syrup, apple juice and of course, Tanqueray No. Ten gin to the cinnamon. Ice. All in a  Bordeaux glass - it is all about the presentation and nose he says. I try it. I get the smokiness first. Wow. It gets even better. I feel I am 9, sucking on an ice lolly in Johannesburg. There is something in the flavour, the mild sweetness that takes me back. Disbelief. The tone is set for my evening. 

Heavy, stylish plates with a pinkish reflection from a light source.
Metal recalling the forge identity.
I am lead to the dining area. A forge, a traditionally masculine place where metal is forged into a shape, is the inspiration behind this venue. In the context here, it is about forging metal to create fine steak knives.  When you walk into the dining area at The Forge, greeted by staff in their 'forge work clothes' you might think that the manly tone is set. But you would be wrong. In this forge where ceilings made of wood beams resemble a workshop, it is all elegance. Delicate touches here and there create a balance. Pinks and shades of red are evident in some of the chairs and light fixtures. The lighting in the glass and metal 'cellar'  gives off a warmth and  a glow that could recall the furnace in a  forge or simply that: warmth to leave the restaurant beautifully balanced. 

The menu is simple in presentation. A large mounted A3 sized menu. This is always a good sign - a restaurant that is so confident in its offering that there is no need to have too many menu items. Less is more, my favourite restaurant concept. Having said this, the appetizers look so good. As Jimmy Smith's 'Apostrophe' plays in the background, Mouhssine, one of the gentlemen serving me for the night, makes his recommendations. Trust is established immediately as he recommends two of the least expensive starters. I wish more waiters would realise that the best way to upsell is not to sell. Well done. I end up ordering  a tasting platter of starters: Burrata, seared Duck Foie Gras and his two recommendations - “The Forge” salad and Crab cakes. With such a varied starter selection, I give Cindy, the assistant sommelier based in the hotel's Chinese restaurant, Li Jiang, a challenge to come up with a wine suggestion. The foie gras is particularly a problem because it goes so well with red, but taking into account what I like at the beginning of a meal, she suggests the wonderfully enjoyable Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2013 from New Zealand. 

Bread in a metal basket - the forge motif. 
As I wait for appetizers, I meet Nay Zin, a Burmese native so at ease in her role as lady here (At The Ritz there are no waiters and waitresses. There are ladies and gentlemen). Those of you familiar with my blog will know that I respond to service that is real, knowledgable, unpretentious and from the heart. In Mouhssine and now Nay Zin, I have exactly that. We engage in a chat about Burmese icon, Aung San Suu Kyi. Her eyes light up. Something to remind her of home. 

Chef Kopali's wonder creation. 
Foie gras, crab cake, burrata and 'forge' salad. 
My appetizers arrive. The very well spoken Ashish, another of the gentlemen on duty, talks me through it. While we live in a  multilingual society, it warms my heart when I meet someone who is part of the serving staff and commands English so well. I start with the "Forge salad". There are some splendid individual elements - the feta cheese is creamy and not salty at all. The avocado tempura blows my mind. Apart from the creativity that works, my tempura is not oily. Nice. Also, the dash of beetroot vinaigrette adds some unbelievable colour and a light tanginess. Everything in the salad is held together by a lemon and olive oil dressing. Really zesty! I love it. 

The crab cake is so simple with tomato fondue and  a bit of lemon making this a dish that evokes , again, memories of an earlier time in my life. My mother. Food and emotion - once more. The burrata is undoubtedly the best I have had in Abu Dhabi. The creaminess has reached a  whole new level. The caviar on top is just the right amount and does not overpower it. I then try the foie gras on chocolate brioche. Oh how well this works together. The brioche also has a really toasty smell about it, making it even more complex. Finally, the raspberry thyme jelly brings that bit of sweetness to the foie gras and appropriately I hear the big band sound in Dean Martin's 'Until the real thing comes along'. It just did. Marvelously. 
Selection of steak knives.
The manager at The Forge is all about enhancing the guest's experience. I see her chatting to a young couple. She takes them to the kitchen, making sure all health and safety standards are met, and from a  distance I see them chatting to the chef. On quiet nights, why don't more restaurants do this? I like the demythologizing of the the kitchen area that I see this evening. 
Australian Master Kobe rib eye.
Ginger carrots
For my main, I have the Australian Master Kobe Beef Rib eye. Australian Master Kobe is probably one of the most sort after beef in The UAE. The distinction of Master Kobe as opposed to Japanese Kobe beef  is along similar lines to the fact that Champagne can only come from France - Japanese Kobe beef, legally,  can only come from Hyogo prefecture. 

Cindy, meanwhile,  comes over and opens up a Chateau Les Moines Medoc 2010. Strikes all the right Bordeaux notes. Cindy right on target again. 

Presented by Cindy, the very knowledgeable assistant sommelier. 
My rib eye is served. No sauce. I need to taste this in its glory. As I cut through it, I see evidence of a well marbled cut. Exceptional. Satisfies all the 'beef well cooked' cliches. Wow! Tasty. My side dishes, ginger carrots and grilled asparagus, are mere supporting players here. It is all about the beef. And wonderful as the staff are, this is a steakhouse first and foremost and I am thrilled that it delivers what is expected and then some. It makes writing this so easy. Kais,  a newer member of the team, clears my plate and we briefly exchange some words on Jordan where is from. Engagement. 

I request a pot of green tea and decide to leave dessert for another time. Nay Zin obliges but chooses to make  me a pot of 4 fruits tea - perfect. I go for a brief walk. I look at the marble staircase and expansive lobby at The Ritz. I see the  piano and the imposing pillars. It seems a world away from the intimacy I had at The Forge. But this is the beautiful irony I have now come to appreciate at The Ritz, thanks to the amazing staff at The Forge. The palatial building does not matter. It is just bricks and mortar. Look beyond this magnificent facade and connect with the people inside. That is the real Ritz Carlton for me, and while some guests respond differently and are attracted to a variety of aspects in a hotel, I focus on the staff. I am reminded of something my mother taught me to the effect that a house and a home are not the same. 

I return to The Forge to finish my tea. As I have a word with Anup, who looks at the training of the waiting staff, and I see how he and the manager, Enza, have before them a team to be envied. I am reminded of Wolfgang Puck's words when he says: 

It's very important in a restaurant to really do the right hiring because there's no restaurant that you have one cook and one chef and nobody else in the kitchen. Generally you have five, ten, 15 people with you. So what's really important is to train them right, but first you have to hire the right people.

They have the right people here. Invest in a structure and you create temporal beauty. Invest in people, and you have something that will endure, because as I walked out of The Forge, I knew that what would stay in my memory were the rich and decadent creations by the chefs, the words, the smiles and faces of the ladies and gentlemen. 
The bottom line

The Forge
Ritz Carlton, Abu Dhabi
+971 2 818 8282

Appetisers 38-150 Dhs

Mains 150-700 Dhs
Desserts 15-70 Dhs