The number of people who died during the Great North Run marathon last year in England was a staggering, four. Four! While the number of people who died happily eating at the Great North Run marathon’s many burger vans was a reassuring zero. Think about that for a minute. Getting fit and healthy can be bad for your health and while jogging attracts a passing interest from the grim reaper, he must really love the ski slopes. According to the National Ski Areas Association, during the 2004/05 season, 45 fatalities occurred in America alone. Meanwhile, anecdotal research reveals that the number of people in après-ski fondue-related injuries was a lot nearer the ‘none at all mark’, so that’s why I spent the evening sitting in Après eating fondue and pizza and watching people ski.
Fondue, however, is a Swiss invention so it’s natural to be suspicious. A nation that has spent decades perfecting a shrug of indifference when everyone else points out that serious criminals are hiding stolen money in their anonymous banks is a bit dodgy in my book. But ask them to whip up a pot of melted cheeses and you’ll be eating heartily before you can say ‘here you go Fritz, the account’s numbered so nobody will be able to trace it.’
For many though, fondue faded out of fashion in the 1970s, along with disco, Space Hoppers, Spam, Cinzano Bianco and teenagers using the words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, but here it is in all its viscous, gooey, glory. Bring on the cheese…
My dining partner and I ordered the fondue vaud which is a blend of gruyere and emmental with dry white wine kirsch and roasted garlic. It comes with chunks of Tuscany bread and there’s something wonderfully satisfying about spiking a chunk and using it to scoop out strong, melted cheese. It’s as near as you can get to play with food without looking rude. She ran though the skiing injuries she’s picked up since the slope opened (broken kneecap, several concussions, sprained wrist) and we scooped and twirled hot cheese, washing it down with a suitable bottle of Cotes Du Rhones. As we watched at a fat man discover that snow + gravity = danger, the pizza arrived — a calzone stuffed with spinach, mushroom, beef chorizo and mozzarella.
It was as good as any bar food we’ve tasted, and up there with the best pizza in the city but would it be as good after dipping it in the fondue? By golly, it really does work and by this point I’d realised my cheese intake was bordering on Gallic. Comfort food doesn’t get better, and with the music and bar crowd behind us providing a lively atmosphere there were few places I’d rather be. Certainly not out on a cold slope at any rate.
You can have sirloin, burgers, fish and chips, salmon, sausage and mash and several other dishes here also, but it ‘s the fine fondue we’re particularly fond of. After all, it’s in keeping with the theme of the place. At this point you might be wondering why I’m not in a fancy restaurant eating something delicate and artistic that was created by a smug man called Pierre. Isn’t that what food reviewers do? Well, no not really. You see you don’t have to go to a restaurant in a five-star hotel and spend more than a construction worker earns in a month to eat well. There’s great food and great drink all over Dubai, not least of all here having fondue at Après. And at Après, you also get the reassuringly bizarre view of cold people sliding and bouncing down a ski slope like winter sports edition of You’ve Been Framed in 3D.
So let’s recap: One fondue, awesome. One pizza, the best I’ve had in Dubai — apart from the ‘Italian hot’ at Roundtable takeaway. The best cocktails this side of Ginseng’s happy hour and not one injury. I’m not any healthier and I’m sure there’s half a block of gruyere about to clog up my arteries like Garhoud Bridge, but I am pretty happy right now. And while the grim reaper is out there waiting for snowboarders to push their luck, I’m going to sneak out before he sees me.
VERDICT: One of the simplest dishes in the city, but with the view, the atmosphere and the service it’s one of the most comforting.
The bill came to Dhs350 including a bottle of wine.
For 7Days Newspaper, December 2006