A journal, inspired by my love for my daughter, that embraces quality food, service and experiences which make life worth living. In the words of Tennyson's Ulysses, " I cannot rest from travel. I will drink life to the lees." Seeking that incredible dining or hotel experience and writing about it.
Brandon's Table at JW Steakhouse - Marriott Downtown Abu Dhabi
Less is more, is it not? If you loo back at your life right now, what are your most memorable moments? Do they involve a large group of people? When you reflect on your university days with fondness, is the source big parties with hordes of class mates? I imagine most of you will remember intimate moments with a handful of people. Yes, less is more. If you cast your mind back to your greatest love, I am sure you will come up with one name that is burned in memory. Yes, less is indeed more. JW Steakhouse at the Marriott Downtown Abu Dhabi was the setting for another Brandon's Table, an intimate dinner for 12 people, exploring the less is more concept - the level of intimacy and sharing when there is a small group of diners bound by a belief in the beauty of life, regardless of its challenges, brought out through conversation, food and wine.
Chef de Cuisine at JW Steakhouse, Stephan Benkendorff, used his incredible Tasting Menu as the vehicle for the evening written about previously, but which was to be a first time experience for the guests. I wrote about it previously - JW Steakhouse Tasting Menu However, as a gifted creative Chef, he does not simply copy and paste his previous success. On the night, he would set out to add experiences to this by tapping into people's ideas of what is normal and expected.
There was no menu. Instead, we experienced an interactive evening where guests revealed elements of the menu by referring to picture cards found underneath their place mats. We also received images short videos telling us about the next course on a specially created social media group. Again, guests' traditional ideas of what happens at a dinner were turned upside down.
Fun. There was certainly a lot of this and the moment that seemed to bring it to the fore was in the form of a dish, the Red cabbage with purple shiso which polarised the table and got people talking. Half of us loved it, the other half hated it. You see, this is the type of dish you want at Brandon's Table - a dish that stirs emotions; a menu item that leaves the safety of the trodden path and breaks out new ground.
Drinks pairings also confounded guests' expectations. I must admit that because I had tried the tasting menu a few months earlier, notwithstanding the innovations on the night, I had an idea of what was coming. So, where was my joy? Well, it was in the smiles on the faces; the look of wonder when something surprising happened and a guest had that look on his/her face. The drinks certainly did that. Wine, cocktails, bubbly and mocktails in sensible amounts, each in a unique glass, were used to achieve this.
The cheese course continued to challenge our traditional concepts of dining. The cheese course was served in three different locations around the restaurant - the lounge just outside the restaurant, the kitchen and the wine room. Amazing on a number of distinct levels. Chef divided us into three groups and sent us to these venues. Why should one be seated for a 3 or 4 hour dinner? Where is the movement? Where is the sense of adventure and discovery.Challenging expectations. I was part of a group that experienced an Afternoon Tea cheese course. Oh, those cheese macaroons and port poured out of a tea pot into traditional cups! There was also the diners in the kitchen had cheese done three ways. Finally, we had a group in the wine room having a fairly traditional cheese and wine experience, but even this had a wow feeling to it. On returning to the table, we all exchanged stories of our experiences. Indescribable.
To end it all, the cheese cake dessert experience. What can I say about this that the picture does not convey better? Actually, I can say quite a bit. What the picture does not show is the child-like manner in which we all went about putting our mark on dessert. Each guest had a task, from breaking meringue to adding coulis to putting fresh fruit on the table. What the picture does not give you is a glimpse of happy faces, a moment where the pressures of this life dissolved and we were immersed in the moment - nowness.
The JW Brandon's Table will live long in our mind and in many ways will be the benchmark by which we judge many dinners. Chef has assembled an incredible team of young chefs who understand his philosophy of taking experiences to another level. Every restaurant wants to offer more than just ingredients, but not every restaurant succeeds in creating an experience. When we met the team at the end of the evening, every guest instinctively applauded, for it was well deserved. Regretfully, none of the pictures I took on the night came out really good, but the chefs know how much we appreciated their efforts. A Head Chef is only as good as his team. And what a team they all are!
Conversation, that which is free to everyone, regardless of your standing in life, brought people together in new ways, matched by powerful images and flavours. Long may the art of conversing live on.
The Essentials Brandon's Table JW Steakhouse Marriott Downtown Abu Dhabi +971 2 304 7777 Brandon's Table is held once a month at selected restaurants in the city.
Brandon Stoltenkamp is a food writer and blogger based in Abu Dhabi