Chef Francisco's Tasting Menu: Catalan - Rosewood Hotel, Abu Dhabi
|The stunning interior at La Cava|
|The ceiling in Catalan.|
On this my third visit, there is something different in the air at Catalan. Is it the spirit of former Chef de Cuisine Antonio emanating from the walls of Catalan that creates a special feeling? Or, could it be, for that matter, the presence of Chef Francisco, a few meters away in the kitchen. maybe it is in me, knowing I am back at one of my two best loved restaurants in the city. Or could it be the familiar smiles of Lorena and Eric, two servers who are lodged in my heart...Of course it is all of these, but there is something else...Love is in the air. Yes, for the first time, I see Catalan as a romantic choice for a couple either beginning their journey of love, or celebrating its permanence. Tonight the lighting is softer, while the music has a more romantic note, so to speak, to it. I am seated at the window, with he waxing crescent visible.
It is paired with the Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut Cava which is such a good choice because it pairs well with most dishes. It has vey delicate beading and on sipping, is creamy yet crisp. Romance; the feeling again pops into my head. And it is more than just the influence of the bubbles.
With Pablo Naruda still on my mind, my next course. The Steamed cockles is a cold tomato based soup.The first taste reveals a silky texture. The next taste is all about the flavours. Red pepper and garlic sweep through my mouth, while there is a very subtle watermelon taste that also comes through. Chef's two drops of mint oil transform this dish even more. The steamed monkfish, despite the flavour extravaganza around it, retains all its natural appeal. However, for me it is about the Andalusian tomatoes in this dish.
The Carabinero Tartare is brought. As it is presented, I feel a sensitivity in Chef that nearly overwhelms me. Yes, all from this dish. This is where writing fails at times to translate a chef's work in a way that reflects the skills in those hands and the mind that created it. However, one tries. While this dish is all about the prawn, I hope that chef will forgive me for praising the whole dish wirh some elements that simply make you gasp. Tomatoes. In different shades of red and yellow, catch the eye immediately. Onion is there, but not too much to take the attention away from the prawn. Macadamia nuts can be found as crunchy pieces and also as fine shavings. Finally, beetroot. Yes, beetroot, served as a mayonnaise. The genius of this dish is that when I try the prawn, I still get the prawn unadulterated and unspoilt by the other glorious parts of this dish. Then, in keeping with romance and love that is on the brain, there is a sprinkling of rose petals. A dish that you simply must have.
I have a glass of Sumarocca Gewürztraminer 2012, a wine from Catalunya itself, made from 100% gewürztraminer. It is light, fruity and fresh. A smooth finish.
The Comte & Zucchini Ravioli follows. Cream of zucchini wrapped in lightly roasted zucchini is accompanied by a comte cheese cracker. Delicious. When I say cream, I mean a lot. As I poke the Zucchini, the cream just seeps out. I cannot resist but to take some bread and scoop up some of that goodness. Not that it lacked it, but a piece of Iberian ham brings that final touch of completion to the dish.
|Comte & Zucchini Ravioli|
|Mar i Muntanya|
|Oven roasted seabass|
The Oven roasted seabass is served. On a side note, I think I will always associate seabass with Abu Dhabi because I have had a couple of outstanding dishes here. I had no idea that trend would continue. Lorena describes the dish as she places it in front of me. It is served on pistonat pasta and vegetable concassé. It really is pretty with the vegetable cubes perfectly complemented in presentation by the pasta.
The seabass is cooked immaculately, and the added flavour and aroma from the ginger in the vegetable concassé drives the seabass. The dish confounds in an unimaginable way, for as I try the pasta and vegetable 'mix', I end up tasting mainly the vegetables which are crunchy. But you see the brain expects to taste the pasta. It is like dissonance between the brain and the taste buds. The same happens with the oyster leaf, which actually tastes like an oyster. Because the seabass is pan seared after being oven roasted, there is a beautiful texture to the skin, which belies the soft underneath. A memorable dish.
I drink a 2011 Bodegas Emilio Moro Ribero del Duero Finca Resalso. It is a bold choice that reflects the cutting edge approach to everything at Catalan. As a medium bodied red it actually goes superbly with the seabass. No more boring whites with fish. Cherries and black pepper make their way onto my palate. Smooth.
I know, of course, that at some point, red meat will have to make its way on to my plate. Before that though, I have a chance to reflect on Lorena, a waitress who dazzled my 8 year old as much as she dazzled me with her down to earth and honest manner on the floor last time we were here. Her kind of honesty speaks volumes for her developing character and if she does not know the answer to a question, rather than try and hoodwink the guest, she goes to find out. And not knowing an answer is rare. It is a credit to her and the other waiting staff who learned the new menu so quickly.
|Red deer and daikon|
The wine is, a Pas Curtei 2011 is, appropriately, the peace de resistance of all the pairings. It has a deep red colour. It is a gorgeous blend of Merlot, Cabernet and Carinena. So, it is not surprising that it is intense and full, despite its youth.
The beauty of the tasting menu is that the portions could not be more perfect, and when dessert comes, I do not feel bloated. For dessert, I have the Berry Melody and Crema Catalana.
|The Berry melody|
|Paired with the Berry melody.|
|Accompanied my final dessert|
Thus ended a night that ranks as my finest dining experience in Abu Dhabi. It was as if Catalan, through something simple like music and lighting, went from fine dining to romantic fine dining. The service, with the waiting staff from a previous visit standing side by side, each unique and with different strengths, but oh so complementary to each other. However, it was the dishes that were infused with a vigour and youth that made the menu fun and exciting.
Then of course, there was the Asian infusion that I perceived in some of the dishes. Such was the mood this night that Pablo Naruda kept creeping into my head. What Catalan showed me this night, apart from an inspired chef who will not dwell in the larger than life shadow of the wonderful Chef Antonio, but will win guests over with his own personality and plates, is that it is very much a place where romance can be celebrated. It is a romantic restaurant. At the end of my evening, this sonnet by Naruda seemed a fitting way to close my thoughts:
Imagine that special dinner here, cooked by Chef Francisco and you are waited on by Lorena and Eric; the lights perfectly dimmed with romantic Spanish songs in the background; a Cava's fine bubbles intoxicating you as you look at the glass; then you read this Naruda poem to her, go down on one knee, and with the eyes of 38 other guests on you and her, you ask her. She says yes.
Rosewood Abu Dhabi
02 813 5573
Chef Francisco's Tasting Menu 495 Dhs
Wine Pairing 275/375 Dhs