Someone once told me that one of the reasons chefs in upmarket restaurants like to use foam on dishes is because it quite difficult to do and requires specialist equipment. In other words, it’s not something that you can easily recreate at home yourself. This may, or may not be true, but when you specialise in British classics you’d better do them well because pies, omelettes, roast lamb and so on are staples of the British diet and dishes that people regularly cook at home. Celebrity chef Gary Rhodes has just taken over at Mezzanine and has spent his career specialising in ‘new British classics’, which are largely what his new menu is packed with.
Physically, the place is still lovely and the décor remains largely the same. There’s a sense of modern elegance to the with candelabras and miniature crystal chandeliers sitting among the minimalist white walls and floors. ‘It looks like something from The Matrix,’ said my dining partner and there is a feel of film set about the place. And you really get the idea they’re very eager to impress. An amuse-bouche of deep-fried smoked croquettes is brought out by one of the white-suited waiters followed by a quartet of truffled gruyère cheese in puff pastry sandwiching. The latter is wonderful, the former merely okay.
Despite the elegance of the surroundings, the menu is presented as something that’s blindingly simple. My starter was advertised merely as ‘Oxtail – braised oxtail cottage pie’. Surely it wouldn’t be a big steaming pie with a mountain of mash? Of course not. The pie was little more in size than an tiny espresso cup, with light, thin pastry and an ice-cream style topping of whipped mash. Buy why would anyone want to pay Dhs85 for a miniature meat pie when regular sized ones cost an eighth of that in a bakery? The fact that it’s a very good meat pie appears to be the rationale, and indeed it was good (all two mouthfuls of it) but there was a slight feeling that someone was having a laugh. It felt like going to a restaurant where the menu is ‘modern Arabic classics’ and they tried to charge you Dhs85 for a shawarma.
My dining partner’s lobster omelette thermidor was served in the miniature pan it was presumably cooked in and despite being a little on the salty side was a fine starter, but not as impressive as the next amuse-bouche. After the starters we were presented with little cups of white tomato soup, which genuinely were a great take on an old classic. There are old classics on the wine list too but thankfully, among the bottles that cost Dhs44,000 and the different vintages of Cristal champagne there are wines that are affordable, and wines that can be ordered by the glass.
For main course I had the roast loin of lamb with broad beans and mutton hash. The lamb arrived in the form of perfectly tender little medallions, while the mutton hash was presented as a small block and tasted fantastic. The beans came separately in a little pot for no discernable reason, and again the whole course tasted perfectly nice but at Dhs205 I wouldn’t say it represented good value. In fact, it was far too expensive for what it was. You can get a fantastic roast loin of lamb elsewhere for considerably less and with all the trimmings that were not included here. I know that this isn’t the pub-grub British cuisine of fry-ups, Sunday roast dinners and fish and chips but at the same time it just wasn’t especially impressive.
The roast monkfish on confit potatoes with a brown shrimp and tomato dressing that my dining partner had was something of a disappointment. In fact, it was a dish that would have been a disappointment in a restaurant at the lower end of the price range but here it was almost unforgivable. The cold bits of tomato did nothing for the average piece of fish and once again the cost of it just compounded the feeling of frustration.
Desserts were winners however. I had an excellent apple mouse with sorbet and my dining partner had a warm chocolate pudding with Baileys ice cream and sauce. And as we finished them off we were presented with complementary miniature scones that were still oven warm and had that aroma of teashops in small villages and were reminiscent, as Morrissey once sang, of coastal towns that they forgot to close down. Albion on a plate, with a side order of chunky strawberry jam and a firm blob of clotted cream.
Rhodes Mezzanine will do well because there are enough people who are prepared to pay a lot of money for good food. And at times the food here was very good but when you’ve grown up on ‘British classics’, being asked to pay a fortune for miniature versions of them can leave something of a bad taste.
The bill came to Dhs826 with two glasses of wine.
The verdict: Too hit and miss to justify the prices.