French fine dining at Bord Eau - Shangri-la Hotel, Abu Dhabi

There is a warmth and dare I say almost homeliness for me about Bord Eau, the French fine dining restaurant at Shangri-la, Abu Dhabi as I walk in. It is a somewhat surreal walk though as I know this will be my last chance to interact with outgoing restaurant manager Peter-Paul Kleiss. The old familiar reserved smile makes way to a  full smile, followed by a heartfelt handshake. I am the first guest this evening, and Peter leads me to my table. Instinctively, one of the waiters reaches for a little stool upon which to rest my bag, but Peter has beaten him to it. A small but symbolic moment; an instant that shows me the vacuum that Peter will leave, but based on the quick reactions of the waiter, I can see his legacy living on - an instinctive flair for service and ability to anticipate the guest's needs.

A glass of Bord Eau's house champagne, the NV Duval-Leroy Brut, is placed in my hand. I have always liked it. This Pinot Noir-heavy bubbly is extra dry and complex. Nothing frivolous about it. As I sip on it I am reminded of Madame Bollinger's immortal words: 'I drink it (champagne) when I'm happy and when I'm sad'. Appropriate. Tonight I am both.

Salmon tartar
The first of my two amuse bouches is served - it has to be: the Salmon tartar was my first ever amuse bouche here, then served by Peter himself. Meanwhile, I see Peter interact with a guest and hear as he switches to Dutch when it is clear the guest is from the Netherlands. It is interesting how at moments like tonight, we seek symbolism in every gesture or word. It cannot be avoided. I see quickly one of the elements that Peter has brought to Bord Eau. In a globalised city like Abu Dhabi, I am glad to know that in this European inspired restaurant, refinement, gentlemanliness and product knowledge are at the helm. 
Mushroom soup
My second amuse bouche is the Mushroom soup with pine nuts. A simple silky smooth and creamy soup with a nice texture provided by the pine nuts. 

Soon after my first curse is served- the Soulard Foie gras au Torchon. On my plate are groseille  berries, apple jelly and apple chutney - individual  elements that promise acidity and sweetness. They all come together nicely, but neither one of these overwhelms the foie gras. Balance.

Foie gras

Next up, I have the Trout and Spring vegetables. What a beautifully plated dish! It bursts forth with colour. I describe it as a happy dish. Artichokes, parsnip, carrots adorn the dish, as does celery purée. The fine Fereo trout has a gorgeous colour, on the surface, no pun intended,  easily mistaken for salmon. The dark skin continues the illusion, but this fish from Brittany wows. The skin is crispy, almost crunchy, with a delicious saltiness that contrasts with the rest of the trout. Firm but moist with barigoule sauce, it is one of favourite dishes ever at Bord Eau. It is another perfectly balanced dish - the acidity in the artichokes up against the hint of sweetness in the carrots and the crispy skin with the smooth purée.

 A pleasing thought flashes in my mind as I have the dish - Spring is also about new beginnings. While I feel  a sadness at the departure of Peter, I am anticipating his new beginnings and indeed, new beginnings at Bord Eau. It represents hope. My accompanying wine, the Cullen Margaret River 2011 is marvellously interesting for such a young wine, no doubt owing to its varietals of Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc and Semillon. A wonderful pairing. 

As I get up to go for  a short walk, I notice the staff working in tandem at a table where there are 6 guests. The posture, eye contact and verbal engagement is so natural, even with one of the fairly new staff members. Peter must be proud. It is a moment that allows me to ask him a  question. What has given him the most pleasure in his time at Bord Eau, I ask. In his typically humble manner, he talks about how he was challenged when he first arrived, for knowledge and service were not what they should have been for a restaurant of Bord Eau's stature. 

He talks about the painstaking process of sharing his perspective with staff and how they responded positively. He looks at them now, and he sees the growth. It is also a credit to him that he was able to tap into the individual strengths of his staff, rather than painting all of them with the same brush if you will. Two waiters illustrate this - PJ is a natural leader, and is capable of running the restaurant on Peter's day off. Saw, a sommelier in waiting, was identified by Peter as having such passion and interest in wine. I am looking forward to his certification. A manager is  a good one if he is able to bring out the unique strengths in his staff - that was Peter. 
Beef sirloin

For my main course, grade 8 Australian wagyu - Graine Fed Beef Striploin - is served with the signature Bord Eau sauce. All the cliches you would read about describing a perfectly cooked piece of high grade beef are applicable. As good as it is, my thoughts keep drifting to the manager who will soon be gone. I catch him quietly coaching one of his team in anticipation of a few guests who will be arriving. 

Dessert could really only be the Chocolate Extravaganza, this time the 2015. The use of seasonal fruit ensures a different experience every season, something I appreciate. The original chocolate extravaganza still ranks as one of my top 5 desserts in Abu Dhabi, and while I was not charmed by the 2014 interpretation, this excites me. Manadarin orange seems like such a natural accompaniment to the valrhona dark chocolate. Then there is also the red currants that give that acidic component. A little bit of vanilla ice cream brings sweetness to balance the dark chocolate. Finally, caramelised nuts add texture and extra sweetness to the dessert. A firm favourite of this writer.

No one person is bigger than a restaurant. That is true. Peter replaced someone before him and he will be replaced too. That is the nature of life. But sometimes it is good just to slow down, stop and acknowledge the impact that an individual has made to that restaurant. Peter-Paul Kleiss and Bord Eau are, for me,  synonymous - refined and elegant,  and under-threat species in a  world that is becoming increasingly casual and informal. 

The essential

Bord Eau,

Shangri-la, Abu Dhabi.
02 509 8511

Traditional 4-course blind tasting menu 375AED

Wine pairing 200AED/350AED

Brandon Stoltenkamp