Beef and Champagne at The Forge - Ritz Carlton, Abu Dhabi

About 3 months ago, I visited The Forge and while I enjoyed my dinner, one of the outstanding aspects was the staff. I went on to quote the inimitable Wolfgang Puck in relation to the staff: 
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. 

But one of the staff that stood out that night was the barman, Deepesh, who simply mesmerised with his creations at the bar. ( ). On this occasion,  I join him and the assistant sommelier, Jonathan, at the bar to see what they could come up with using their house Champagne, Henry Abelé Brut. I am in the mood for some serious cocktails, and my hosts for the first part of the evening waste no time in serving the first cocktail. 

The first cocktail for the evening recalls my last visit - interesting how memory is evoked without the taste of a particular dish or drink. A blow torch, cinnamon stick and a glass take me back to that wonderful evening in August. The end result: Cinnamon Smoke, as it is called, that has a hint of caramel and subsequent sweetness nicely balanced by the Henri Abele.

They show the same sort of enterprise as they create a Zest Mimosa. Think Mimosa but make it zesty and you have their second cocktail. What I marvel at is the way they work in tandem. There is not much need for words. There is an instinctual understanding of what the other wants. 

Henri Abelé Brut Rosé was used to create Strawberry Perfume. 
Brittany oysters with lemon sorbet - yum
Over the next hour, I will watch them as they fashion another three cocktails as part of their Champagne Couture evening. Strawberry Perfume, Passion Lady and Generation Y will greet my palate and offer tremendous contrasts, but all the time trying to maintain the essential integrity of the Champagne. There is no more appropriate a creation than Generation Y to sum up Deepesh and Jonathan's achievement on the night.  Generation Y, referring to the Young generation, is something quite special, or rather, eclipses the other very worthy drinks they present.

 They are the generation represented in this drink; it is almost autobiographical. At 22 and 26 they are irrepressible, idealistic and carefree, pushing the boundaries without fear. Thanks to the blue curacao it is a very lively and dashing blue colour. Intrinsic to this is the mango caviar and lemon juice that is added, before Jonathan tops it up with Champagne. What I value is the respect with which they both treat the Henri Abelé. It is easy to play around creatively with Champagne, but it is harder to create while keeping the core qualities of bubbly alive. Over the course of their five incarnations, they achieve this more often than not, a compliment to their skill. 

As I am led away for dinner to my table, I am left to reflect on what a difference, again, that staff make to an establishment, and in their case, a tremendous difference. Youth, often maligned as being irresponsible and lacking in discipline, is celebrated in my mind.

After my Champagne Couture, I am quite hungry, and my waiter for the night Riste introduces himself. While I struggle to pull myself mentally and emotionally from what has come before, I manage in the end. From a superb selection of appetisers, I opt for the Beef Tartar prepared table side. I love this. 
My beef tartar to be prepared table side. 
It is a natural chance for a waiter to engage with a guest, and he accepts it with aplomb. We talk about his home town while he mixes all the ingredients: egg, tabasco of course, dijon mustard, roasted pine seeds and sun dried tomatoes with veal bacon all make their way into the plate. The addition pine seeds bring a chewy and textural element to the dish. Really good! An unexpected joy that makes its way onto my plate is foie gras - Heaven. It is the presentation that again completes this dish for me.

 I forego the temptation to have  a red with my dinner and opt to continue my dalliance with the Henri Abele Brut. A journey that started a couple hours earlier with bubbles transformed by Deepesh and Jonathan,  continues in its purest form. 

In relatively small restaurants (The Forge can do around 50 guests) the chef plays a vital role. It is in this type of restaurant where he or she is able to bring that element of engagement to bear on the evening, something that was missing on my last visit when it was his day off. Argentinian Chef de Cuisine Gerardo comes to my table and we simply start talking - his time in Abu Dhabi, his wife's growing blog and of course what he recommends for my main course are some of the matters we cover. By coincidence I had decided on the Argentinian beef tenderloin.  

Chef's recommended temperature is medium rare but leaning more towards rare is spot on. The result is robust, tender but firm. With no sauces or seasoning added, I am thrilled with my beef. As I slice my beef, the thought of cows grazing in the Pampas brings a smile to my face as I can appreciate the tenderness of my cut. It is not a wagyu, but the way Chef Gerardo has cooked it, puts it right up there for me. 

It seems sacrilegious to have dessert after this evening, so I start my reflections. It was an evening of two halves, connected by Henri Abele; a Champagne Couture that would remain emblazoned in memory and a dining experience that again shows what the strides that The Forge has made in such a short space of time.  Again though, as was the case on my previous visit, staff showed their value. Even as I write this, the ingredients of some of my dishes are a bit hazy, but what is not hazy is my memory of the staff; Deepesh and Jonathan like a pair of artists behind the bar, creating memories on their Champagne canvas - Chef Gerardo with his big heart and Riste delving deeper than the usual banter one encounters with waiters. The Champagne, fine beef and flavours wowed immensely but I would gladly settle for a quiet evening with these four Ritz gentlemen, listening to their stories. 

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

Appetisers 38-150 Dhs

Mains 150-700 Dhs
Desserts 15-70 Dhs

* An article focusing on the Champagne Couture will be published in December's Glass of Bubbly magazine

Brandon Stoltenkamp